Connecting to Publics with Social Media

National Communication AssociationPublic relations practice has been dramatically impacted by social media. Papers presented in the Public Relations Division at the National Communication Association 2010 annual conference tied social media and web-based tools to core functions of public relations practice – using a variety of theoretical frames.  Each provides unique insights into the theory and practice of public relations in an increasingly digital environment. Read on.

Influence in a World of Unknown Influencers: Attenuating Uncertainty by Engaging Personal Media in a Public Space
Jeffrey Treem (Northwestern University)
Social media creates an opportunity for public relations practitioners to engage in dialogue with publics. However, the industry seems reticent to participate. Treem attributes this reticence to the following issues: (1) social media strategy lacks commercial outcomes; performance doesn’t require a stable public; and (3) the use of social media favors the negative comment. To incorporate social media, public relations must focus more on volume and speed of interactions, and make a shift from considering “publics” to considering “communities.”

Practitioner Perceptions of the Importance, Function, and Actual Utilization of Dialogic Internet Tools
Sheila McAllister-Spooner (Monmouth University)
The Dialogic Theory of Public Relations (Kent & Taylor, 2002) suggests that content on the Web should incorporate mutuality, propinquity, empathy, risk, and commitment.  Building on her previous research, McAllister-Spooner conducted survey research among public relations practitioners. The survey demonstrated clear differences between the functions of a website and social media tools. An institution’s website was perceived to be a source for (in order of perceived importance)  providing information, promoting image, engaging and interacting with publics, conducting media relations, and fundraising. However, social media tools were perceived to be an outlet for engaging and interacting, providing information, and promoting image.

The Role of Social Media in Non-profits’ Relationships with their Publics
Catherine Capers (University of Georgia), Lesley Anne Fenton (University of Georgia), Kristin Eichbauer (University of Georgia), Rebecca Holton (University of Georgia), Lauren J. Miller (University of Georgia), Kaye Sweetser (University of Georgia)
In public relations, we tend to draw lines between relationships and action. Prospective publics were surveyed to determine the functions of a website design in non-profit goals of fundraising. In almost every case, human voice was the significant factor related to satisfaction, trust, and commitment. In addition, a link for donation on the non-profit’s website increases volunteer trust and commitment to the organization. This suggests that fundraising might be improved with a clear and accessible opportunity for donor response on the home page.

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