Social Media in PR: Is it really necessary?

National Communication AssociationIn what ways have social media expanded the ideas of public relations instruction? How does social media challenge traditional models of instruction? How can social media impact research? Is social media even valuable at all? These questions guided the conversation today in the NCA panel entitled,”Bridging Social Media with Teaching, Research and Practice: Exploring the Challenges and Opportunities.”

Discussion leaders included Gee Ekachai, Sarah Feldner, Amanda Stageman, and Kati Berg (Marquette University), Mihaela Vorvoreanu (Purdue University), Kaye Sweetser (University of Georgia), and Michael Kent (University of Oklahoma).

Instruction using social media is not for the faint of heart. Social media in instruction (and in practice) represents a loss of control of the message. This loss of control can be rewarding for a brand, but it can also harm the brand’s image. Is the risk worth the reward? These presenters say, “Yes, in most cases.” But above all, brands failing to engage in Internet-based public relations may be the ultimate losers. Success is about participating, and participating well.

This dramatically impacts our teaching of public relations. Ekachai notes, “I don’t think you can teach public relations without integrating social media.” Perhaps she’s right. My strategic communication students are blogging, tweeting, and learning how to monitor the Internet for consumer-generated media. These seem to be the necessary skills for a current strategic communication professional.

Vorvoreanu led the conversation on research agendas,highlighting three main topics surrounding the impact of social media on research:

  • social media and its impact on users can be a research topic in its own right.
  • social media can provide tools and new methodologies for advanced collaboration among researchers and authors.
  • social media can serve as an entry point for interdisciplinary research endeavors with experts in fields outside of communication.

Social media and public relations are natural partners in the changing digital landscape. However, Kent raises the concern that perhaps we shouldn’t be spending our instructional time on social media or interactive technology.

Is technology as pervasive as social media gurus would have us believe? How does it really add value to an organization? According to Kent, the question is not “Should we be using social media?” The question is “Who should be using it and how?” What are your thoughts?


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