Social Media vs/+ Public Relations?

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Organizations, corporations and individuals use communication to express themselves in a variety of manners. A typical organization has a number of divisions which work towards enhancing its reputation among its publics. These divisions , such as public relations and sales, were considered to be two entirely independent branches with very little in common. Such an approach towards communication management was commonly adopted because historically these disciplines emerged independently of one another and dealt with disparate subject matters. However, over the years the scope of these disciplines expanded to the extent where some of their defining principles overlapped with each other and caused considerable confusion within an organization. Eventually, it is because clear that such a rigid communications strategy resulted in less than optimal utilization of resources and causes a lot of management overhead. The emergence of Integrated Communications was encouraged by the growing need for more holistic and flexible approaches towards communications management. The goal of Integrated Communications is to take into account the overall strategy of a company and combine traditionally disparate communication agencies of marketing, public relations, sales, advertising etc, and devise a coherent strategy that drives all these efforts towards the common goal of enhancing the reputation of the organization.

The power of social media is inexpressible these days. It has the ability to either elevate or depress a company. Social media sites like facebook and twitter have become a criteria to check before analyzing a candidate. Employees search for a potential employee’s facebook accounts and twitter handles before calling them for an interview. But has social media become a synonym for public relations? Or has social media become a completely different entity? Do we need have a future with these sites and what is the future of public relations?. Networking plays a vital role is improving business and clients. I have analysed two articles that talk about the impact of social media on public relations and analyzing the impact of social media: from facebook and twitter..An era when every company is expected to have a social media account, especially facebook and twitter, the competition in the market has increased. A lot of times, promotion on social media is more effective that the traditional approach.

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The article “the impact of social media”  (http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/03/21/impact-social-media-public-relations) portrays social media as an entity that has brought companies close to people. The goal has shifted from pulling crowd to going to the place where crowd is present. Molding audience to your thought was the classical approach whereas taking feedback and implementing their ideas is the new way. Nigel Ferrier, director, Optimise PR and executive chairman, FPCG says, “It used to be B2B and B2C but now it’s B2P, with P being people. Social media cuts across channels and is all about engaging with individuals, holding conversations not relying on press releases and launches”.  The author also emphasizes on the need of accurate privacy setting that does not create controversies. Every coin has two sides, in the same way, while on one hand, social media enhances the business opportunities of firms, it is evident that this also has ill effects if not handled properly. Instagram’s private policies lost out on a few million users.

Have social media and Public relations become synonyms?

The answer is no. I think that social media is one of the tools of public relations that bridges the gap between the company and the audience. It puts forward the mirror image of the companies thoughts. Every social media site has a saturation point, when one dies, the other rises. Orkut was kicked out of the market after the emergence of facebook. And facebook has one of the largest number of accounts on social media.Pete Goold, Managing director, Punch Communications observes, “The ideal is to have the appropriate areas working harmoniously and irrespective of which one leads the activity; ensuring that there is openness across the team is likely to create the best outcome”.  In my opinion, PR’s traditional toolbox lend the profession to leading the way in social media.  The article points out that PR pro must build on their technical and quantitative skill. Adam Lewis, managing partner, immediate future emphasizes that “Column inches, circulation and the dodgy old advertising equivalent value have been the mainstay of PR measurement for far too long. In contrast social media provides hundreds of potential KPIs, covering not just reach, but engagement, sentiment and loyalty. Understanding the value of social media means having a more analytical mind that can decipher the relationship between things like retweets, comments and authority. Most PRs are not naturally technically minded.- they are creative, people. But they need to know the difference between an API, BIT.LY, App, CSS and CMS for example.”

“Analyzing the Impact of Social Media:From Twitter to Facebook”  (http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/03/21/impact-social-media-public-relations) is a white paper written by Vocus. It is an interesting article as it highlights the nuances of the usage of social media and its impact. While online marketing has a upper hand on social media, carefully understanding the function is important.  The author quotes the example of Dominos, whereas the prank played by two employees of Domino’s pizzas created rage on social media. It not only costed them their jobs and a case against them but also brought bad reputation to the company.  Similarly, Mcdonalds idea to promote their brand through #meethefarmers and #mcdstories ended up being disaster. Users started posting their bad experiences on social networking sites. Its important for one to research before giving power to post in public and accordingly evaluate the work done. The author explains in detail the indicators of impact. Sharing is one of the common ways of measuring the impact of a story. The more the shares, the more people have gone through and have addressed it. A few methods measuring the impact  are by generating sales leads,  the word passes across various channels . As the market is growing , it is vital to coordinate with the marketing and sales department. Customer satisfaction and feedback is necessary in every industry. People, follow or like you only if the product has reached their level of satisfaction. This is a good way of understanding the fans or followers level. If the measure is good, let the world know about it.

As technology increases, the avenues for other fields also increases. Innovation and creativity are built on the bases of understanding concepts. Evaluation is the key to measuring the success or failure. As social media and Public relations go hand in hand, it is certain that there would be tremendous change in the way a product markets and brands itself.

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Social Media- A step forward

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Social media powered by social networking platforms such as facebook, twitter, instagram, tumbler and pintrest has become an extremely successful and powerful paradigm to bring people closer. We routinely encounter many facebook tales where a mother met a son after several years, people taking to twitter to revolt against their governments in countries like Egypt and Syria or a celebrity announcing the release of a new album or a song on Youtube before its announced in traditional broadcast or print media. Social media can no longer be ignored and has to be taken into consideration to engage people who are becoming more involved and active by the day. Over the years social media has been seen in different forms and has different applications.

In his article Social media as the next Web (http://www.briansolis.com/2012/12/social-media-as-the-next-web-2/), Brian Solis makes a convincing argument that social media is evolving the traditional definition and understanding of the web to include “a system of people in addition to HTML formatted documents”. He emphasis on the fact that social media is the future of communication. He contends that the personal nature of social media and the amount of time spent by an average person consuming and participating in social networks on the Internet creating an “EGOsystem” centered around the individual. Mr. Solis supports his assertions with data compiled by Neilsen and NM Incite which indicate an explosive growth of interest in social media by the average internet user. 

While Facebook is the dominant center of the social media and networking universe on the Internet, other social networking sites such as Twitter, Pintrest, Google+ and LinkedIn saw very high rates of growth during 2011 and 2012. The evidence points to the fact that online user behavior converges to forming communities that share similar interests. Brian uses the data to show that the future of social media consumption is headed towards mobile phones and apps. It started with PC and then shifted to laptops and then to mobiles and tablets. Between the years 2011 and 2012, the number of users visiting a mature social networking site like Facebook dropped by 4% on PCs while increased by over 80% on both mobile apps and Mobile web. Similar trends can be spotted on all the other major social networking sites including Twitter, Pintrest. To quote from the article, “consumers access social media from PCs mostly at 94% (down from 97% in 2011), mobile phones at 46% (up from 37%) and tablets at 16% (up from 3%). “
All this while the amount of time spent on social media sites actually increasing 24% which implies that uses are more engaged on social media sites than ever before. 

The advent of social media and the influence of the regular internet user was recognized and explained in a powerful article written by Jay Rosen, a professor of Journalism at NYU in the blog PressThink all the way back in 2006 (http://archive.pressthink.org/2006/06/27/ppl_frmr.html). The author links a number of articles found on the web to support his claims and makes a strong case for internet users of social media. Mr. Rosen, takes on the “Big Media” ( a reference to traditional print and broadcast media outlets ) and explains how the rise of social media has given power to the hands of the “The people formerly known as the audience” ( a reference to traditional audiences of Big Media ). The author mentions that the audience who were once on the receiving end have put their step forward and are experiencing the change. He argues that the advent of blogs has ensured that publishing is no longer in control of those who own printing presses and that podcasting now allows any person to setup a radio station and reach out to the world. He also notes that even video is now shot, edited or distributed by anyone with a video camera and an internet connection and audiences are being built by those who were formerly considered audiences themselves. News, the author observes, is no longer what is told to us, but what we choose to see or read and from our own choice of sources. The flow of information is now horizontal, peer to peer instead of a top down structure advocated by media agencies for decades before social media. 

Linking to a number of influential figures online and from traditional media agencies, the author attempted to describe this generation of enlightened internet users. Considering himself to be a part of this audience, Mr. Rosen quotes Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, to describe this group as “The Active Audience (“who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.”)” He says that the new generation of social media users are “more real, less fictional, more able, less predictable” and this these users have evolved to not just want the media when they are ready, but also demand media that is of better quality, without advertisements, and if necessary produce media when necessary or just to have fun. He asserts that the big media agencies no longer own audience’s “eyeballs” and that there is a ” new balance of power between you (Big Media) and us (Active Audience).”

The newest formula of social media is who connects with whom, how,where and when. The sheer power of major social media networks lies in the fact that they are among the most heavily trafficked sites on the internet, so an issue to the network or the way it operates affects millions of people. Social networks being hotbeds for personalized experiences, allow advertising companies to display targeted advertisements to its users. However, from time to time it has been noted that privacy concerns and lack of proper information management schemes have left many users vulnerable to Identity Theft. Social media has been marketer’s favorite in the past decade and still is. 

The question that arises is, what makes social media vulnerable? In an era when the story of communication has grown leaps and bounds, the apprehension of privacy of information still persists. The easy access, attractiveness, the effects of the freedom of speech and other features make social networking addictive. One tends to express their interests, private details, pictures on what the ‘world market’. The thought of uploading all these pictures and videos with the assumption that they are private is a myth these days. Social media provides great tools but the privacy concerns are numerous. What comes with privacy is safety. With the increase in malpractices and identification frauds, its important for socal networks to provide disclosure options for these details. 
Privacy breaches, both intentional and unintentional have become common and what was considered a safe haven for online activity has now become a privacy nightmare. The latest issue that caused a stir was that of Instagram’s.

In the article, “Users flee Instagram after privacy outcry” (http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/12/28/users-flee-instagram-after-privacy-outcry/) , the effects of a gaffe by Instagram are detailed. The article talks about the reaction of the outbreak of the news. Instagram is a social networking site that has been extremely popular amongst amateur photographers who can easily apply interesting filters to their pictures and “photoshop” then without much effort. As one of the most popular sites on the Internet, Instagram was acquired by facebook in September 2012 and was working on facebook’s terms. Their proposal to publicize and sell the images of its members to the advertiser came as a shook to the instagram community. With its sudden shift in privacy policy, they had to forgo over 4 million users. At a time when instagram had 575 likes per second, people uploaded more than 3 images at a time and at a total of 5000 images per day, instagram thought of changing privacy policy resulted in major loss.
People took to other social networks such as Twitter and started spreading the message to their fellow Instagram users and to spread awareness using #boycottinstagram. To quell this mass exodus of users, Kevin Systrom, the CEO of Instagram himelf had to assuage user concerns and revert the privacy policy. 

Not only did Instagram lose a number of users, even major celebrities like Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian showed their concern over these events and rallied up support from their followers. The power of social networking was in full display as a bunch of motivated users ensured that their public outcry and collective action ensured that the company listened to the needs of its users. I feel social media has put its foot forward in almost all walks of life if it still hasn’t touched an area, it sure will in the near future. What makes it unique that its connectivity. More and more people are joining popular sites every year. New innovations are taking place every now and then that interests and please audiences. It surely is the first step for promotional activities. As the three articles imply, as long as people ensure that proper measures are taken to protect their privacy, social media can be an extremely powerful and useful tool.