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The Role of Social Media in Public Relations

Much has changed in the online world with the introduction of new media, in
particular the explosion of social media. This has not only changed how people
interact and communicate with each other, it has also had a massive effect on how
consumers interact with organisations and businesses. With this in mind, public
relations practitioners must now consider how to engage their audience whilst
embracing social media as part of an integrated public relations strategy.
The term social media commonly refers to online social networking sites and
blogs and has been proclaimed as leading a universal change that allows
instantaneous worldwide, connected communication (Weaver Lariscy et al., 2009,
p.314). Where traditional public relations methods such as press releases and
statements, can be viewed as being structured and more of a scripted and guarded
approach (Anonymous, 2010, p.1), social media has the ability to facilitate a more
open engagement method tailored for the target audience, which can be effectively
implemented within a multi faceted approach to gain rapid momentum for the
organisation as it grows and evolves.
Ultimately social media can be the element of a public relations strategy that cuts
to the chase and delivers the desired messaging to the audience and engages by
provided an opportunity for two-way communication and a forum for public opinion,
both good and bad (Hudson, 2010, pp.210-1). With this in mind, social media tactics
must be aligned with the organisations overall campaign goals and branding and
work in conjunction with other tactics. An example of this would be the case where
Ben and Jerrys issued a brief to both a digital agency and a PR agency, from the
plans which were submitted, the largest difference was that one agency understood
social media better, and it was not the digital agency the PR agency simply
understood the brand more comprehensively (Bush, 2010, p.1).
Sometimes a social media campaign may not be anything to do with the product,
but everything to do with the brand something memorable, such as a gimmick or
event that would be seen as worth watching or sharing online can be all it takes to
make a companys brand go viral or to increase the popularity of their brand
through causing some hype. A good example of this would be the Cadbury Dairy
Milk Thanks a Million Facebook campaign (Moth, 2012). In this campaign Cadbury
was celebrating their brand reaching 1 million Facebook fans, with a goal to
increase engagement, they created a giant Facebook like thumbs up from pieces of
Dairy Milk Chocolate on a live-streamed feed they gained an additional 40,000
fans from the campaign with some fans even leaving the feed running live for
several hours (Moth, 2012).
Despite the success of campaigns such as the one above, where social media plays
an important part today and in future of public relations, traditional PR methods are
still required in order to produce an effective public relations strategy. As discussed
by Bush, understanding the brand is an essential element of any social media
campaign and of course the public relations strategy.

There is no doubt that new media has changed traditional marketing and will
continue to evolve the public relations practitioners approach, with an even greater
need to take on this role as a brand ambassador with a true understanding of the
brands position and value (Papasolomou & Melanthiou, 2012, p.326). Only by
incorporating this approach within an entire strategy can the opportunity be created
to potentially produce more positive customer experiences and attitudes and
ultimately enhance the brand.
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Anonymous, 2011. Study: Use of social media in public relations campaigns
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