Social media has experienced a dramatic growth since it first had been created. According to statistics from comScore, American people spend a quarter of their online time on social media (comScore 2012). Not only in America, the wave of social media spreads over the whole world. The widespread use of social media has fundamentally changed how people communicate and share information (Qualman 2013). Consequently, virtually almost every industry starts to explore ways to get themselves engage in the social media. Not surprisingly, Public relations also take advantage of social media to manage more effective communications between organizations and customers. There is no doubt that social media is going to play a big role in public relations. So, this report intends to provide best social media practice recommendations to public relations. The report mainly contains three sections, first of all, section one gives a brief overview of social media. Secondly, the key characteristics and affordances of social media are explained based on three social media platforms. Following, the third section provides the best social media practice for public relations.
2.1 Overview of Social Media
Social media are generated and widespread used based on Internet. Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010, p.61) defines social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content”. In simple terms, social media is virtual communities and networks, in which people can create, make comments and change ideas and information. Social media utilize mobile-based and web-based information technologies to create highly interactive platforms (Wang 2011). With these social media platforms, individuals and organizations are able to engage in and interact with each other. Interactivity is the most essential feature of social media.
Besides interactivity, there are some other general features of social media, including accessibility, immediacy and permanence (Wang 2011). Interactivity refers social media is a two-way communication, it enables audiences to interact with them, such as making comments, audiences are able to highly interact with social media. Regarding to accessibility, general public can access social media easily, for instance, ordinary people can post their ideas and perspectives on social media (Borrino, Furini & Roccetti 2009). About immediacy, social media has capacity to make immediate reaction. In terms of permanence, social media is able to easily alter published production by re-editing or comments.
Because of these advantages, social media enables to help public relations to remove the gap between customers and them (Wright & Hinson 2008). However, social media is a double-edged sword, it also brings challenges to public relations industry. Following part is based on three real social media platforms to discuss and explain some specific characteristics and disadvantages of social media from public relations perspective.
2.2 Analysis of Social Media Affordances (based on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube)
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube shares two same advantages for public relations. First of all, the platforms provide by Twitter, Facebook and YouTube is free. It is one of the most favorable reasons why public relations use them as a new public relations tool (Wright & Hinson 2008). Secondly, all of them obtain grand scope users, which public relations can take huge advantage of. Twitter has over 519 million registered users across the world and 340 million posts every single day till 2013; over one billion users visit YouTube every month; and Facebook has more than a billion active users so far (TechCrunch 2013). Large number of users enables public relations to reach and connect with new audiences.
Beyond that, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook has own characteristics that can be used in public relations.
Twitter was created as an online social media networks for users to post and read mini text contents. It has gained global popularity since it was first launched in 2006. Twitter now is no longer just a place for users to post or follow worthless information, it now has been used as a vital public relations tool.
- Conversational Marketing
Twitter creates platforms for public relations practitioners to continuously interact with their customers in a casual way. They show their clients’ real face and voice to customers. The relaxed atmosphere that Twitter builds enables to effectively shorten distance between PR and customers. Conversational marketing is one of the most attractive characteristics of Twitter.
- Effective Feedback Channel
Compared with filling a feedback form, it is much easier and more comfortable for customers to give 140 characters feedback with Twitter. Public relations can receive the direct responses in time. So that allows public relations to figure out what are their customers really want.
An American cosmetic company makes great use of Twitter. It creates own brand channel on Twitter, so that their brand customers can get together. It is easy for company to release and promote new productions. Also, their customers in Twitter group can interact with each other, for instance, making production reviews and sharing some personal experiences. Customers’ good reviews are more effective than advertising (Zhi 2012). It is useful to maintain existed customers. On the other hand, Twitter’s immediacy and shareability spreads their productions’ information to other groups that with similar theme. It is useful to gain new customers.
- Challenges of Twitter
In Twitter’s world, bad news always travels faster than good news (Zhi 2012), which means the public relations’ mistake will be magnified and spreaded at lightning speed. Twitter makes public relations seem stupid more than ever.
You Tube is the biggest video-sharing website, which publishes over 100 hours of videos in every single minute. It is a stage for ordinary people showcase their passionate about life. As YouTube is booming, it is has been leveraged by an increasing number of public relations to launch varieties of campaigns.
- Dynamic Video Content
Dynamic is a unique characteristic of YouTube compared with other two social media platforms-Twitter and Facebook. YouTube enables public relations to express “live” information. Dynamic video content is more eye-catching than word, also it helps audiences understand better of information with voice tone, gesture and music used in it. For instance, if a company intends to launch a social game campaign, it is much easier and more effective to explain the game flow and rules through a YouTube video. Furthermore, video content enables to show more sincerity. Hence, many public relations leverage YouTube to complete crisis management.
- Viral Effect
Because YouTube videos are easy to share, they can go viral just in a short time. That enables public relations to reach extensive audiences and increase the influence as well while they launch campaign.
A big global chain of fast food had received some questions and bad reviews about their food. In order to control this situation before it becomes a crisis, the public relations practitioner of this company made a series of videos to answer and explain some representative questions, and put them on YouTube. Millions of people viewed those videos within only a few days. The public relations of that company not only reply customers’ complaints, more importantly, they protect the company’s image with YouTube.
- Challenges of YouTube
YouTube allows anyone to leave subscribers under videos. It is hard to control what audiences think about the videos. If public relations post a video on YouTube, which audiences do no like, so they make negative comments. It may leads a crisis. Even worse, that may damages brand image.
Random advertisements before video is another challenge, public relations are not capable to control them. As a result, audiences may lose patient or interest to watch the video.
Facebook is a social networking site with the largest number of users across the world (Brown 2008). Facebook creates a mature connecting network between person and person, organizations and person, organizations and organizations. The potential of Facebook for public relations is undeniable.
- Closer Relationship
Public relations are all about relationships, not only the relationships between organizations and customers, but also the relationships between public relations practitioners and media. Facebook is a good medium for public relations practitioners to build good relationships with media professions. For instance, linked with Facebook, PR practitioners can figure out what topics and angles that interest key journalists and bloggers. That will increase the PR practitioners’ opportunity to interact with these journalists and bloggers.
A current founder and president of a public relations firm shares some her experiences in her former life. When she was a practitioner of another PR firm, she built a close relationship with some editors and journalists by linking to their Facebook. She found out that it enables to remind journalists and editors of her, by constantly “like” the things done by them (Skerik 2011).
Public relations practitioners may feel chained to Facebook once they use it as a tool to keep in touch with key journalists and editors. They may check the information and respond to them all the time. It will be hard for PR practitioners to keep their work and personal life separate.
2.3 Best Practice Recommendations
- Always effectively use social media to turn a public relations crisis into an opportunity. It is unavoidable for a company to get negative feedback and complaint, even rumors. Public relations can easily reply complaint and counter rumors by explaining in an honest manner through social media. For instance, seriously clarifying why the things that customers complained happened and what measures you are going to take to rectify this situation. Customers will be moved by your sincerity. So your customers spread the positive reviews to their followers and friends, such as how your company value customers. As a result, your company will obtain public recognition as well as economic benefits. This is an accomplishment that any paid adverts could never reach. So social media can be used as a customer satisfaction management tool to protect brand and reputation from damaging.
- A significant recommendation to public relations practitioner, leveraging social media as a medium to keep interact with media professions, such as journalists, editors and producers. According to the recent data from PR Newswire Study, approximately 79% of all journalists use Facebook to search out potential stories in the first place. In addition, 64% percent and 58% percent of journalists like to collect stories’ resources respectly from Twitter and LinkedIn (PR Newswire 2010). Furthermore, the percentage of journalists using social media to write story is still growing. So the social media is going to be the latest trend for public relations practitioners to interact with media professions.
- Public relations practitioners should comprehensively research and analyze their target audiences before using social media. More specifically, PR practitioners have the responsibility to choose the appropriate social media platforms through classifying market. For example, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been banned in China. So if their clients intend to launch a campaign to target Chinese customers. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube would be the wrong platforms, which are not able to reach Chinese customers effectively. Instead, PR practitioners are supposed to utilize the social media platforms that Chinese customers use, such as Weibo (a Chinese’s version of Twitter).
- Always keep an eye on information and contents that related to your clients on social media. Public relations practitioners should make some time to search of key words associated with their clients’ brand everyday. For example, if a public relations practitioner search for a cosmetic brand with “makeup” and “TV” on Twitter, he may find out a famous TV host is already a follower of his client on Twitter. So it will increase the possibility for his cosmetic client to cooperate with this celebrity.
As a conclusion, the characteristics and advantages of social media allow public relations practitioners to use it as an effective tool in public relations. Even though social media platforms exist different kinds of limitations, social media is able to minimize the limitations and generally provide better and more opportunities for PR practitioners to increase the brand awareness as well as maintain image of their clients. In a word, social media is going to be the latest trend in public relations industry.
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