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Social Media in Public Relations: Reflections on Extending and Narrowing


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We live in the age where social media in modern culture
affect and influence everyone’s life. Today we could not deny the
impact power of social media and most people are viewing them,
reading them, commenting them, liking them, hating them, deleting
them, editing them, believing them and oversharing them without
bothering to validate the fact. The impact of this may cause the outcome
of our lives directly and indirectly just by the fingertip of the return
key. This year, the 7th International Forum on Public Relations and
Advertising in Thailand, could be the frame of painting canvas for
many quality educational institutions and professional people in
related fields to debate and to share the experiences of new social
media era, their impact that may affect our future society or even the
way we employ them.

The 7th International Forum on Public Relations and

Advertising is one of the most prestigious international conferences
in Asia-Pacific. This innovative forum is for anyone interested in
expanding their creative dialogue and opening up their minds for a
new era in social media impacts on culture and social communica-
tion. This year, Mahidol University International College has such
a privilege of hosting this conference under the theme of “Media
Impacts on Culture and Social Communication”. Despite the fact
of the unstable political situation in Thailand, we are so pleased to
accept the numbers of research papers from the quality educational
institutions and professional people.

As a representative of this year forum committee, we would

like to give all the participants a very warm welcome to the land of
smile. However, the conference will not be successful without the
support from our working staff committees for their dedication and
hard work to help organize the conference as a memorable one. We
also would like to thank Prof. Maleeya Kruatrachue, Dean of Mahidol
University International College for her generosity for giving advice
and full support throughout the conference, and Prof. Jan Servaes,
Chair Professor and Head of Department of Media and Communi-
cation, City University of Hong Kong for giving us the opportunity
to host the conference and assisting us on all phases. Also others we
might have forgotten to mention. Lastly, the forum committee sincerely
hopes that all participants will gain more or less useful knowledge
that can be applied for their future use.

Social media in public relations: Reflections on extending and narrowing relationships 11
Maureen Taylor and Michael L Kent

The female image in Hong Kong’s social media advertisements 20

Francesca Olivotti

Softpower, public diplomacy and the Chinese dream: Between ethics and strategic communication 32
Jan Servaes

Intercultural communication for sustainable development in a Buddhist perspective 43

Patchanee Malikhao

Theatre as a communication medium for sustainable social change 51

Wankwan Polachan

How American journalists in China domesticate their roleperception 57

Yuan Zeng

Sustainable marketing of Doi Tung Model 69

Chairawee Anamthawat Kierig

Evolution of “Chineseness”afterSuhartoFrom Cultural Repression To Renaissance in 78

Indonesian Ethnic Films
Minghua Xu

Effectiveness of Crisis Communication Strategy to Public Attitude across Crisis Types: 96

Revisiting Crisis Type and Perceived Goal of Communication in Chinese Context
Yi Hui ChristineHuang, Yu Li, Fang Wu and Hiu Ying Choy

Thailand destination image: Power of social media 121

Kaewta Muangasame and Laddawan Jianvittayakit

The-effectiveness-of-advergame’s-product-placement-proximity 132
Xu Min, Xu Fei and Pan Yixin

Social media and the public sphere: The example of printing 145
Peter Smith

The impact of social media on political participation: A case Study of decision to 155
join “Bangkok Shutdown Campaign”
Jintanant Chaya Subhamitr

Effect of humour on virality: Study of Internet memes on social media 166

Viriya Taecharungroj and Pitchanut Nueangjamnong

Mobile APP marketing mobile user behavior mobile advertising, 183

Networks effectiveness and user quality comparison in Singapore.
Liu Xing, Deng Jie, Wu Dan and Chan Sheng Wei

Evaluation of the Communication Strategies Used in the Promotion of 201

De La Salle University-Dasmariñas High School: Basis for a Public Relations Campaign
A. Adrias, F. Bistoyong, and E. Dela Cruz

Oversharing on social media: the impact on unfaithful advertising 221

on beauty products in Thailand
Norachai Nanthakij

A Descriptive research on the Practice of Public Relations in 236

the Philippine Independent Music Scene
Diana O. Dela Torre

A Case Study of Opinion Towards Video Media and the Practice in Media Use for 252
Public Relations of Community Activities in Krung Ching Sub-district,
Nopphitam District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province
Korrakot Chamnian

Social Media in Public Relations:
Reflections on Extending and Narrowing Relationships
Michael L. Kent1 and Maureen Taylor2

Abstract – Social media presents great opportunities for organizations to communicate with publics.
For public relations, social media are a tool to help build relationships among publics. It can foster
social change in relationships, communities and societies. Yet, there are also some negative aspects to
social media in public relations. This paper explores public relations’ use of social media for
communication and relationship building purposes. We argue that social media both extend and
narrow relationships. The essay draws upon the most recent scholarship in communication and public
relations to explore how social media impact social communication.

Keywords – Social Media, public relations, strategic communication

The fields of advertising and public relations have embraced social media as a relationship building
and sales tool, linking people to brands, people to people, people to organizations, and organizations
to organizations. For marketers and advertisers, social media are an inexpensive and convenient tool
for pushing content out to current and potential customers. For public relations professionals,
however, social media extend beyond traditional media relations and offer the potential to share
information, engage publics, and build relationships with publics. The types of social media available
to organizations and publics have the potential to both extend and narrow relationships.

When it comes to expanding relationships, in the US, the “big” social media are Facebook and
Twitter. YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram achieve a second tier status in terms of their
popularity. These tools may be dominant in Western nations, but Facebook and Twitter are blocked in
China. If an organization wants to build relationships with people all across the world, it will have a
narrow relationship potential if it does not think more creatively and be more culturally sensitive in its
selection of social media tools. Indeed, there are dozens of equally prominent international, cultural,
and interest specific social media sites that exist. These sites can play a much larger role in social
media in other nations than Twitter or Facebook. Social media including Google+, Alwahy, CyWorld,
PengYou, QQ, Reddit, Renren, Schtik, VK Youku, RenRen, WeChat, Weibo, Xt3, and others provide
millions of people with tools to develop relationships with others.

The new public relations tools have meant that a variety of new strategic communication tactics and
channels have emerged giving public relations professionals new ways to reach stakeholders, publics,
and the media. Additionally, individuals, activists, and non-profit organizations can also use social
media to influence organizations and attract media attention. Today, individuals and organizations no
longer have to rely solely on traditional media channels and gatekeepers.

Alongside the many obvious opportunities for public relations and relationship building, however,
new trends have emerged that require critical reflection: the influence of social media on identity
formation; the power of social media to expose people to, and limit people’s exposure to, competing
views and dissonant information; and the ability afforded by social media for individuals and
organizations to extend their relationships beyond what would be possible in a face-to-face setting.
These challenges are real but not often discussed in the public relations literature. This conference,
focusing on the new era in media impacts on culture and social communication, provides a timely
venue to raise these and other issues.

Michael L. Kent1, Department of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Tennessee Knoxville, USA
Maureen Taylor2, Department of Advertising and Public Relations, University of Tennessee Knoxville, USA

The purpose of this paper is to consider the social media trends that we see having an impact in public
relations. This paper explores public relations’ use of social media for communication and
relationship building purposes. It frames the analysis around both the extension and narrowing of
relationships among organizations and publics and applies this consideration to social and political

Building and Extending Organization–Public Relationships Through Social Media

The case for the importance of social media in public relations is made almost every day by thousands
of global scholars and professionals. An exact phrase search on Google for, “the importance of social
media in public relations,” returns 393,000 results in English. Searches in advertising and marketing
return 143,000 and 81,000 results respectively. Clearly industry and professional communicators
believe that something important is happening.

Equally remarkable is that a similar search for the combinations of words “critique of social media in
public relations” (including criticism, risks, problems, etc.) returns zero hits. This number is
surprising because there are roughly 300,000 articles and web pages that address “criticism/critique of
social media” in general. Indeed, there are nearly as many people in public relations talking about
how important social media are, as there are critiquing social media in all other disciplines combined.
Clearly many communication professions are cheerleaders for social media, but we are perhaps
lacking in our examination of the limitations, risks, and harms from social media use. The next two
sections take up both issues: a review of social media in public relations as extending relationships
and supporting social change, and then a review of the risks of social media in public relations that
have the potential to narrow relationships.

Researching Social Media

The field of public relations has seen social media as a useful communication tool since the late '90s
with the emergence of organizational blogs. Research suggests that many organizations use social
media to build relationships with publics (Sweetser & Metzgar, 2007; Trammell, & Keshelashvili,
2005). Indeed, more than 250 articles about social media have been published since 2010 in the
Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Journal, and Public Relations Review.

The public relations social media scholarship has focused primarily on uses of social media tools by
professionals and key publics. However, “relationship building” is more nebulous than sales and
marketing, and more difficult to measure. As a result, two methods tend to dominate the research:
content analysis of social media messages and tools, and surveys of practitioner and user perceptions
of social media.

Content analysis research has examined the messages produced by practitioners (Muralidhara,
Rasmussen, Patterson, & Shin, 2011; Rybalko & Seltzer, 2010; Smith, 2010; Waters & Jamal, 2011;
Xifra & Grau, 2010). Studies have also asked practitioners about their impressions of social media
(Sweetser & Kelleher, 2011; Wright & Hinson, 2008, 2010). Wigley and Lewis (2011) confirmed that
public relations researchers have studied two social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook, more
than any other social media.

Many fields of academic study and professional practice make claims about social media being
valuable communication tools. Kent defined social media as “any interactive communication channel
that allows for two-way interaction and feedback” (2010, p. 645). The two major features of social
media are that they are relational and involve some kind of feedback or interaction.

As a strategic messaging tool, Trammell (2006) noted that social media are valuable because they
provide another avenue to reach the public. “Practitioners need no longer rely on media for
transmitting those messages and reaching their public” (p. 402). There is also a belief that public
relations tactics “such as electronic pitching, podcasting, and blogging, [will] prevail over traditional
news releases and media kits” (Turk, 2006, p. 31). Nevertheless, the historical use of social media by

public relations professionals has been primarily one-way communication, sharing many of the same
assumptions as advertising.

More recently, some scholars have begun to talk about the public relations features of social media
that take them beyond advertising and marketing support tools, describing how social media can
extend relationships, build social capital, enable genuine dialogue, assist activist organizations, and
improve on government–citizen communication efforts. Social media often link people together who
would not otherwise come into contact with each other. There are many different venues in which
social media can broaden relationships and assist public relations.

Social Media Build Social Capital and Relationships

Social capital emerges as a result of communicative relationships between organizations and publics.
Social capital refers to the benefits that emerge out of the interaction and shared ideology of
individual citizens and organizations acting together to deal with collective goals. Social capital has
been studied by communication and public relations scholars (Heath, 2006; Taylor, 2011), as well as
by business and management scholars (Burt, 1992), economists (Coleman, 1988), political scientists
(Putnam, 1995, 2000), and sociologists (Bourdieu, 1986; Lin 1999, 2001). The idea of behind social
capital is that networks of individuals share information and benefit from their relationships.

Early on, social media were used as part of strategic communication efforts such as action alerts or
raising awareness of issues. Social media still are used for this purpose by organizations like World
Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and local activists groups through messaging on social media.
However, very little social capital is built simply by reposting a message about a humanitarian, social,
or political cause. Social capital requires what public relations officially defines as a “public”: a group
of people who come together around a shared goal or cause and believe that their participation can
make a difference. In other words, genuine social capital is not just a bunch of people who have
“liked” or “friended” an organization’s Facebook site. However, rallying a million people in a shared
goal or around a shared experience can be an example of “social capital.”

Ultimately, the details of how to build social capital via social media need to be more fully worked
out. However, the potential ability to build relationships and elicit support around shared goals
represents a powerful force in public relations.

Social Media by Activists, Non-profit Organizations, Stakeholders and Publics

The evolution of the Internet, World Wide Web, and social media has been a boon to tens of
thousands of activist and non-profit organizations worldwide. Thai, Chinese, and Asian activists use
social media to communicate issues. Before the Internet, only the largest, and most well-financed and
well-connected non-profit and activist organizations could attract much attention outside of their state
or region. Before the Internet, all activists and non-profits were beholden to the mainstream media for
coverage. And before the Internet, the ability to have large networks of members, donors, and
supporters was contingent on organizations maintaining large but costly mailing and contact lists.
Social media have fundamentally transformed the practice of activism and the success and failure of
many non-profit organizations.

Connecting Government to People and People to their Governments

One of the major findings about the future of technology and social media from a Delphi study of
communication and technology professionals conducted by Kent and Saffer (2014), was a recognition
of the potential for technology to help democracy. As mentioned previously, social media as a tool for
building social capital and democracy is well established, as is the generally accepted “potential” of
social media to function democratically to help people form and maintain better governments.
The argument made by many is that the more voices we have, the better the conversation. The more
people can “participate” in their democracy, the more involved, more informed, and more passionate
they will be. However, how to do all that with social media remains a mystery. What we see now in
many places are voices of reason drowned out by political partisans and “Trolls,” politicians using
social media for self-serving, non-democratic purposes, and an inability of the major news media

outlets to enact democratic ideals on their own, for profit, Web sites. A much broader and keener
understanding of social media and its potentialities is needed in public relations.

Unfortunately, this issue, like so many of the previous issues, points to the lack of understanding
about how to actually use social media well. Some experts do exist who understand how to raise the
important information and voices up out of the primordial communication muck that characterizes so
many social media outlets (cf., Kent & Saffer, 2014), but those experts are few and far between.

Social Media as a Dialogic tool

The idea of social media being dialogic has long roots in public relations, going back to a special
issue of Public Relations Review from 1998, where a number of scholars first explored some of the
possibilities of public relations mediated through the Internet (cf., Coombs, 1998; Heath, 1998; Kent
& Taylor, 1998). Since that time, dozens of scholars have conducted research examining the dialogic
“potential” of social media. Additionally, over the last two decades, a paradigm shift has taken root in
the field and scholars have gradually come to believe that rhetorical and dialogue based approaches to
public relations are more ethical than the two-way symmetrical approaches that dominated in the '80s
and early '90s.

The dialogic use of social media revolve around being able to build ethical relationships with
stakeholders and publics. However, where dialogic social media differ from so much of the current
and previous research on social media in public relations is in the scale of social media relationship
building (Kent, 2013; Taylor & Kent, in press). That is, many of the scholars who have studied
dialogic public relations (Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Rybalko & Seltzer, 2010) have taken as a given
that social media are “dialogic” tools—often because Kent and Taylor suggested that they could be—
without giving too much thought to what the basic tenets of dialogue were. Recent scholarship has
sought to correct that assumption and has begun to raise concerns about calling something that is a
public activity like social media “dialogic,” when dialogue is an interpersonal or group activity.

The next section takes up what might be called the “negatives” of social media in social
communication and change. While virtually all of the positive and potentials for social media
described above come with caveats suggesting that “more research is needed,” or that public relations
professionals have a greater role to play. The next issues to be discussed focus on the topics that have
been ignored, the risks and harms from social media, and the places where public relations
professionals have a much greater role to play.

Critiquing Organization–Public Relationships in Social Media

The scholarship critical of social media is thin. Scholars have questioned various types of social
media such as Blogs and Twitter, and whether social media is as powerful as suggested (cf., Kent,
2008; Yang & Kent, 2014). Scholars have examined new technology and social media and whether it
lives up to the hype (cf., Kent & Saffer, 2014; Taylor & Kent, 2010). Some have questioned the way
that various social media activities are enacted and defined (Theunissen, 2014; Theunissen & Wan
Noordin, 2012). But as we examine the way that social media are used in more detail below we find
very different perspectives on what concepts like “interaction,” “feedback,” “relationship,” and
“dialogue” mean to scholars and professionals.

The vast majority of professionals treat social media as a one-way, information dissemination tool
(cf., Taylor & Kent, 2014). Although social media excel as asymmetrical sender-to-receiver tools, the
problem comes when we realize that the telos of public relations is not sales or marketing, but
relationship building and organizational counseling.

When one examines the basic definitions of public relations, words like “communication,”
“negotiation,” “management,” and “relationship” are found, rather than terms like “persuasion,”
“promotion,” “market,” “sales,” etc. that we see in marketing and advertising. More importantly,
public relations has historically been characterized by the use of “uncontrolled” media, that is, the
placement of messages into the mass media because of the inherent newsworthiness of the content.

Social media have altered that time-honored ethical tradition and turned public relations and
communication professional’s attention toward the more potentially manipulative forms of
communication and interaction possible through social media qua advertising and marketing.

Perhaps the biggest oversight in how social media are currently being reified among communication
professionals is to ignore the role of stakeholders and “publics.” Today, many treat all social media
users the same—as “mass publics,” a journalistic concept that only two decade ago was seen as
antithetical to public relations. For many rhetorically trained scholars and industry professionals, the
notion that reality is socially constructed, and that language has the power to alter the beliefs, values,
and attitudes of people is well established. Thus professional communicators are expected to follow
an assortment of ethical principles and have an expectation that messages needed to be shaped and
targeted in order to reach multiple stakeholders and publics. In essence the assumption is that publics
and people are different. Social media has changed from that assumption to an assumption that one
size (message) fits all.

The Influence of Social Media on Identity Formation

As a recent Delphi study of new technology by Kent and Saffer (2014) explained, “citizens’ identities
and social relations are bound up with their technology” (p. 572). Some have argued that new
technologies have lead to increased narcissism (Kent, 2008) among users, as users strive to have the
most “likes” and keep up with the exiting lives of their friends. The Pew Research Center has pointed
out that users, especially young users, now spend a considerable amount of their time linked to social
networks and experiencing life “collectively” (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zichuhr, 2010).

Three issues stand out for more discussion. First, there are nonmainstream or second tier social media
like news blogs, cultural blogs, nationally specific social media, industry blogs, YouTube, etc., where
a fairly coherent core of members, known to fellow members, exists. Yet, these social media have
been largely ignored by scholars and professionals (cf., Kent 2008). The long-held notion that public
relations professionals should understand the demographics, psychographics, and infographics, of
stakeholders and publics before communicating with them has been largely ignored with
communication intended for social media. Yet, number of outlets where information about
demographic and psychographic identity is fairly easy to obtain is massive, and the potential for a
professional communicator to have influence among a more coherent group of people who share the
same general interests and psychological traits has been ignored.

Second, the mainstream social media like Weibo, Facebook and Twitter, where tens of thousands,
sometimes millions, of members exist, possess no sense of community, collectivity, identity, or
identification with shared goals and values. Giant aggregate groups of publics are simply that, “the
public,” they are of more interest to journalists than public relations professionals. By understanding
how identity formation works in social media we have the potential to create better messages that
resonate with stakeholders and publics, as well as engage in more effective persuasion, increased
relationship building, and creating groups of individuals and publics who actually share the same
values that our organizations do.

Third, as professional communicators and ethical communicators, public relations professionals

should take a more active interest in the wellbeing and values of our stakeholders and publics. As
professional communicators we build social capital (Sommerfeldt & Taylor, 2011), and we are part of
the self-image and identity of millions of people. We have a responsibility to understand more about
social media than the one-way features. Why, for example, have youth started to shift away from
macroblogging to microblogging?; why have younger technology users become more fragmented in
their social media use?; and what are the organizational consequences of increased social media use in
general? Is it more engaged or less engaged stakeholders and publics (cf., Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, &
Zichuhr, 2010).

Questions like these, as well as developing a better understanding of how social media influence
identity formation will be crucial to the success of future communication professionals. If social

media are truly creating isolated narcissists as some scholars have argued (Lasch, 1979; Spinney,
2012), and altering how individuals interact with others and with the world around them,
communication professionals need to understand these processes.

Exclusion and Selective Exposure

Another issue that has been fairly well known for some time has been the issue of social media and
technology being used to exclude people. The story told about the Internet, the World Wide Web, and
social media, in the classrooms and the mainstream media has been that they are great equalizers that
would unite people and bring people together (cf., Kent, 2001). Indeed, the metaphor of a connective
“Web” is contained in the name, just as “social media” are assumed to be social communication tools.
Unfortunately, both of these metaphors are false. Social media are often used to segregate,
discriminate, and limit the information that people are exposed to (cf., Rainey & Smith, 2012;
Spinney, 2012).

People all across the world now use social media connecting themselves to dozens, even hundreds of
people that would only a decade ago have been unavailable to them. Research shows that social media
are not used to question the views of oneself or others, to engage in political or social discussion, or to
learn about new things (Rainey & Smith, 2012). Instead, because social media “friends” are largely
interchangeable (Kent, 2010), people who raise uncomfortable issues or question long-held beliefs are
simply unfriended or dropped. Social media have largely become “antisocial” tools of narcissism.

Selective exposure to ideas is also a challenge. Public relations professionals, especially activists and
non-profit organizations interested in attracting public attention and influencing public policy issues,
need to find a way to break through the wall of narcissism and selective exposure that are social
media. Again, currently, our models for public relations social media practice are based on advertising
and marketing goals. Information dissemination and commercial advertising models are what
characterize nearly all-corporate social media practices. As noted above, the big social media are not
designed to offer more interactivity or the ability to customize content. Sites like Facebook and
Twitter have evolved to follow a broadcast model of information and entertainment that relies on
meeting the needs of advertisers and corporate interests, rather than the needs of the user. When
people shape the news that comes into their life, and the exclude any information, sources, or facts
that are uncomfortable, then they become isolated. Social media can narrow people’s relationships
and information sources just as much as they can expand them.

Weak Relationships
Another erroneous assumption about social media is that they link people together into synergistic
networks of shared goals and interests. The features of social media that allow it to connect people
together (cf., Kent, 2001, 2010) into large collectives (time shifting, anonymity, etc.), are also the
same features that diminish the value of individual members and make many social media largely
impotent as organizational tools (cf., Kent, 2010). Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar
suggests that the average person is not psychologically capable of maintaining more than about 150
relationships, and yet, social media tools have given people the illusion that they have thousands of
“friends” and contacts. The massive networks that some professionals have amassed could be used
dialogically, for problem solving, trend analysis, research and information gathering (cf. Kent, 2008),
and achieving organizational goals, but only if we figure out how to do that. Right now, public
relations and communication professionals just continue to add more-and-more social network
profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, ResearchGate, etc.) and platforms to their list of professional
media, and continue to receive little benefit.

We hope this essay has shown how social media present great opportunities for organizations to
communicate with publics. For scholars of public relations, social media are a tool to help us study
how organizations engage in relationships with and between publics. In advertising and marketing,
social media provide a direct link to consumers. Yet, we have also identified some of the negative

issues related to social media. Social media can actually isolate people and ideas from broader

Thank you for your time today. International conferences are a way to build greater relationships
among international scholars. We look forward to hearing about your research and observations about
social media in your countries.

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