The Effect Of Social Media On The Practice Of Public Relations

Project and Seminar Material for Mass Communication

The Effect Of Social Media On The Practice Of Public Relations


The effect of social media has increased among consumers around the world, causing an increase in the adoption of social media as tactics and means of sharing information among many public relations professionals. Because this new form of communication is growing at such a rapid pace, it is important to analyze the effect of social media on the practice of public relations because communications world is dramatically moving in a digital direction and those who understand this transformation will communicate much more effectively than those who do not.” Public relations practitioners are in the business of communicating with publics and therefore must understand this transformation in order to communicate effectively. However, due to the fast-paced growth of social media, it is difficult for these professionals, as well as the universities training future professionals, to keep current. Blogs, for example, are increasing in popularity because they give independence from traditional editors and media gate keeping (Pavlik, 2007). The use of blogs as a means to gather information is increasing as well as the posting of blogs to better position oneself in he eyes of the public.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Although social networks, corporate websites, chat-rooms, email customer response facilities and electronic news release distribution are now viewed as standard aspects of public relations practice (Galloway, 2005) many public relations practitioners are struggling with the impact of new media, and especially the Internet. Research has shown that practitioners are not fully embracing new media, are ill-equipped to do so and have a fear of the technology (Alfonso & de Valbuena Miguel, 2006).The terrain of public relations practice is also shifting with new media bringing about substantial increases in stakeholder strength through facilitating communication within stakeholder groups and between different stakeholder groups (Van der Merwe, Pitt &Abratt, 2005). Information ‘pours out of digital spigots (Stephens 2007, p. 35) and news now arrives ‘astoundingly fast from an astounding number of directions’ (Stephens 2007, p. 35) and it is often free.

The Internet was originally developed in the 1960s at the U.S. Defense Department by a group of researchers headed by Dr. Robert W. Taylor. It was an extension of their network called ARPANET. The researchers soon realised the importance of networking and by 1986, the U.S. National Science Foundation established NSFNET to extend the network to more research institutions. ARPANET ceased to exist in 1990, but the Internet spread rapidly across the globe and grew to one million users in 1992 (Falk, 1994; Giovannetti, Kagami& Tsuji, 2003). The Internet began impacting on our ordinary lives only in the late 1990s, with the development of the World Wide Web (Gillies&Cailliau, 2000; Giovannetti et al., 2003). Since then, the Internet has been used extensively for accessing instantaneous information and communicating across geographical boundaries. Due to its characteristics of speed, efficiency and economy, the Internet began to be applied increasingly across industries ranging from retail and banking to the media (Giovannetti et al., 2003). The emergence of social media in the new millennium gave the World Wide Web a new name, ‘Web 2.0’ (Breakenridge, 2008). Though social media has various definitions, in essence, it is a medium for people to collaborate and share content via Internet tools ranging from video-sharing, photo-sharing and blogs to social networking websites, virtual worlds and micro-blogs (Mersham, Theunissen & Peart, 2009). Seitel (2001, p.298) cites British futurist, Peter Cochrane, who in 1998 predicted what the world was heading towards in the 21st century by saying, “If you are not online, you don’t exist.” It is beyond doubt that since the last decade, the Internet has evolved faster than any other communication channel and has dynamically changed our lives and professions. The practice of public relations is one such profession that has considerably been affected by this online revolution (Phillips, 2001).The contemporary practice of public relations was defined back in 1976 by the pioneer in public relations education, Rex Harlow, who examined close to 500 definitions and concluded that: 2 Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and co-operation between an organization and its public; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on, and responsive to, public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of, and effectively utilize, change; serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tool (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000, p.4) In response to this definition, Broom (2009, p.25) offers a more succinct definition of public relations referring to it as, “the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.” From the two above definitions, it is evident that public relations is essentially about communicating effectively in order to build valuable relationships and therefore the Internet being a medium for communication is bound to have implications for the practice. The impact of the Internet on public relations has been subject to considerable discussion (see 2.2 and 2.3) in the existing literature but the scope of the research has largely been limited to assessing the use of e-mails and websites in the public relations functions of media relation and crisis communication. The overall observation regarding the application of the Internet by public relations practitioners is that they tend to apply the online tools in a fashion similar to traditional media tools such as print and broadcast and fail to include the Internet in their strategic planning process (see 2.4). While several advantages of the Internet have been identified which include reduced costs, enhanced speed, customization and direct contact with the target publics, practitioners participating in earlier studies have expressed their concerns over several challenges such as the accentuation of crisis due to the globalized networking on the Internet and the difficulty in keeping up to date with the constantly evolving Internet world. Today’s public relations practitioners are confronted by a changing media environment that is significantly more complex, diverse and dynamic than the traditional media sphere and requires them to share information in a far more transparent and interactive manner than ever before. The implication for the practitioners is to acknowledge and understand the changing demands and perspectives of their publics and fully utilize the opportunities offered by the new media channels.

1.2 Statement of Problem

The Internet gives public relations practitioners a unique opportunity to collect information, monitor public opinion on issues, and engage in direct dialogue with their publics about a variety of issues. (McAllister & Taylor, 2007) However, much of the academic literature has an overall tone of lament that practitioners were simply transferring traditional approaches and models of public relations practice to the web and were not evolving their practice. With past evidence suggesting that public relations practitioners were open to using new technology (Porter &Sallot, 2003), it seems incongruous that even a traditional mainstay of public relations practice like media relations is not taking advantage of the possibilities offered by the web and social media’ is in view of this that the researcher intend to investigate the effect of social media on practice of public relation.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective of the study is to ascertain the effect of social media on practice of public relation. But to aid the completion of the study, the researcher intend to accomplish the following sub-objective;

  1. To ascertain the effect of social media on the practice of public relation
  2. To ascertain the impact of social media on the growth of public relation profession
  3. To evaluate the relationship between social media and modern public relation profession
  4. To evaluate the role of social media on the efficiency of public relation profession

1.4 Research Hypotheses

For the successful completion of the study, the following research hypotheses are formulated by the researcher;

  1. H0: social media does not have any significant effect on the practice of public relation
    H1: social media does have a significant effect on the practice of public relation.
  2. H02: social media does not have any significant impact on the growth of the public relation profession
    H2: social media does have a significant impact on the growth of the public relation profession

1.5 Significance of the Study

It is believed that at the completion of the study, the findings will be of great importance to the public relation profession and practitioners as the study seek to enumerate the effect of social media on the profession, this is because social media has integrate and simplify the formal nature of public relation, the study will also be of importance to public relation officer of organization, as the study seek to simplify the job of the public relation officer by enumerating the merit of social media to the profession, The study will also be of great importance to student who intend to embark on a study in similar topic as the findings of the study will serve as a pathfinder to them. Finally the study will be of great importance to students, teachers and the general public as the finding will add to the pool of existing literature.

1.6 Scope and Limitation of the Study

The scope of the study covers the effect of social media on practice of public relation, but in the cause of the study, there are some factors which limited the scope of the study;

(a) Availability of Research Material:

The research material available to the researcher is insufficient, thereby limiting the study.

(b) Time:

The time frame allocated to the study does not enhance wider coverage as the researcher has to combine other academic activities and examinations with the study.

(c) Finance:

The finance available for the research work does not allow for wider coverage as resources are very limited as the researcher has other academic bills to cover.

1.7 Definition of Terms

Social Media

Social media are computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. The variety of stand-alone and built-in social media services currently available introduces challenges of definition; however, there are some common features.

Public Relation

Public relations are a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Public relations can also be defined as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics.


The Internet is the global system of interconnected computer networks that use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to link devices worldwide. It is a network of networks that consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.

1.8 Organization of the Study

This research work is organized in five chapters for easy understanding as follows

  1. Chapter one is concern with the introduction which consist of the (overview, of the study), statement of problem, objectives of the study, research question, significance or the study, research methodology, definition of terms and historical background of the study.
  2. Chapter two highlights the theoretical framework on which the study it’s based thus the review of related literature.
  3. Chapter three deals on the research design and methodology adopted in the study.
  4. Chapter four concentrate on the data collection and analysis and presentation of finding.
  5. Chapter five gives summary, conclusion and recommendations made of the study.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Introduction

It is important to ascertain that the objective of this study was to ascertain the effect of social media on practice of public relation.

In the preceding chapter, the relevant data collected for this study were presented, critically analyzed and appropriate interpretation given. In this chapter, certain recommendations made which in the opinion of the researcher will be of benefits in addressing the challenges encountered by public relation practitioners.

5.2 Summary

The public relations practitioners of Nigeria participating in this study demonstrated ambivalence towards the use of Internet in their practice which is similar to the trend identified elsewhere in the world. While they saw advantages in using the Internet to facilitate direct communication with their target publics and enhancing the overall speed of communications, they were equally anxious about the time pressure that the social media exerted on their roles and the loss of control over the information circulated about the organizations that they represent.

The study pertaining to the extent of use of social media tools reflected similarities with a recent study conducted among American practitioners revealing that just like in the U.S., practitioners in Nigeria are more comfortable with the employment of established Internet tools such as the email and intranets whereas they are evidently lagging behind in their adoption of social media tools. Even within the social media sphere, the practitioners exhibited a lack of interest in presumably niche tools such as virtual worlds and online gaming, and felt more comfortable using blogs.

5.3 Conclusion

The full ramifications of new media for public relations and its continuing evolution are far beyond the scope of this study. Responding to the demands of emerging media in an environment where traditional media demands on public relations practice are not reducing significantly will be a major area of concern in coming years. Evaluation challenges that have been articulated in the public relations literature over the past two decades will be further complicated by the seeming fluidity of both the new media technologies themselves and the conventions of their use. Generally, studies included in this review paper that found practices somewhat lacking did not deeply investigate why the situation was as they found. Further research is needed to ascertain whether it was lack of technological knowhow, reluctance on the part of the public relations practitioners to integrate new media into their practice, or communication management role. Indications are that if public relations practitioners do not step up to the mark, then others will do so. There is a clear threat in some quarters to the domain of public relations from other specialist areas within organizations as new media technologies cut across disciplines. The public relations terrain may seem more attractive, and be more prone to invasion from those outside the profession, if a perception develops that the area is now more technology-driven and less about ‘touchyfeely’ communication or traditional media.

5.4 Recommendations

Because social media are viewed as untrustworthy, inaccurate and not credible, it is recommended that more research should be conducted on those using these new media outlets, especially those who publish blogs. Another track would be to investigate how to raise credibility – perhaps through code or oversight. Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge (2009) state in their book Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: “with the rapid rise of blogs, calls for standards and reform are firing in from the journalism industry, as well as the people, companies, and brands affected by sloppy, overly opinionated, misleading, hostile, biased, motivated, or incentivized blog posts. Many people believe that like journalists, bloggers should be held to the same standards for the content they post online; however, this topic is very controversial because social media are fueled by opinions. Currently, no organization is in place to govern the blogosphere and therefore individual organizations have formed to hold personal standards for ethics in blogging.

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