Early Assumptions about the Implications of Social Media on Public Relations

I would like to take you back on a little time travel in the year 2008. Only four years have passed since then. Back then there was much ado about the implications of Social Media on Public Relations but the technological developments were so fast, that everyone of us is only focusing on the NOW, forgetting about the PAST.

“Forgetting the past is forgetting our roots and our basic structure” a quote I like very much – I think you get what I mean with that and why I am posting this…

I would like to refer to a paper written by by Donald K. Wright, Ph.D. Professor at the Boston University and Michelle Hinson, M.A. Director of Development at the Institute for Public Relations. Published in April 2008 by the Institute for Public Relations.

The work examines the increasing impact of Social Media on the Public Relations Practice and is a revision of a presentation originally held at the 11th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference in March 9, 2008 Miami, Florida.

About the Authors
Donald K. Wright, Ph.D., is Professor of Public Relations in the College of Communication at Boston University and an internationally known professor, author, speaker, researcher, advisor, and corporate communications consultant. In addition to teaching, conducting scholarly and applied research, and lecturing in 28 countries on five continents, Dr. Wright has worked full-time in corporate, agency and university Public Relations, and has been a corporate communications consultant for three decades. He also has been a daily newspaper reporter, weekly newspaper editor and a broadcast journalist.

Michelle Hinson, M.A., is the Director of Development for the Institute for Public Relations, an independent foundation dedicated to the science beneath the art of Public Relations, located at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

Findings & Conclusion of the Study
The third annual, international empirical examination of Public Relations practitioners (n=328) on the impact blogs and other social media are having on Public Relations practice once again finds these new media are dramatically changing Public Relations and the way it is practiced. Results of this year’s study find about two-thirds believe blogs and social media have enhanced what happens in Public Relations and that social media and traditional mainstream media complement each other. More than half of the study’s respondents (61%) believe the emergence of blogs and social media have changed the way their organizations (or their client organizations) communicate. Findings suggest these changes are more prominent in external than internal communications.

Many (72%) believe social media complement traditional news media, and an even higher number (89%) think blogs and social media influence coverage in traditional news media. Most (84%) believe blogs and social media have made communications more instantaneous because they encourage organizations to respond more quickly to criticism. Results clearly show traditional news media receive higher scores than blogs and social media in terms of accuracy, credibility, telling the truth and being ethical. Findings also show 75 percent expect traditional news media to be honest, tell the truth and be ethical, but only 44 percent hold these same expectations for blogs and other social media.

This study also asked a number of questions that had been included on our questionnaires in previous years. Results of these annual measures find:

  • Approval continues to decrease each year when our subjects are asked if it is ethical for employees to write and post on blogs negative statements about the organizations they work for. While 49 percent said this was ethical two years ago, only 29 percent agreed last year and only 25 percent agree in the current study.
  • There is significantly more agreement this year than last year on the question asking if organizations should permit their employees to communicate on blogs and other social media during regular working hours. Agreement on this measure was 38 percent last year and 44 percent this year.
  • Survey respondents continue to disapprove more each year when asked if it is ethical for organizations to conduct research about or monitor information that their employees are communicating via blogs and other social media. Three years ago 89 percent of the respondents agreed conducting such research was ethical. This approval figure was 73 percent in 2007 and is 63 percent this year.
  • The number of companies actually conducting this kind of research appears to be increasing. Only three percent of our respondents said their organizations (or their client organizations) were conducting this research three years ago. That figure increased to 11 percent last year and is at 15 percent in the current study.

Highlights of responses to the study’s open-ended questions include a recurring suggestion that blogs and social media have had a huge impact moving Public Relations into the direction of facilitating more two-way communication by opening up direct channels of communications between organizations and their publics. Others pointed out these new media create additional information channels thus making it more difficult for those who practice Public Relations to help organizations manage and control information dissemination.

Several suggested the emergence of social media has dramatically reduced the turn-around time when organizations are communicating with certain target publics. Others said the need to communicate more quickly has lessened the impact lawyers used to have forcing organizations to withhold information. Several respondents suggested blogs and social media provide excellent opportunities for Public Relations practitioners to build relationships with strategic publics.

And, as one wrote, Social Media “have provided an opportunity to truly put the public back into Public Relations by providing a mechanism for organizations to engage in real-time, one-to-one conversations with stakeholders. Additionally, they serve as a focus group of thousands, allowing offline communications to be more relevant.”

As a service for you I am providing the entire study here on my Blog as a direct download link:


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