Social Media & Public Relations. A 21st century love affair?

Social Media and Public Relations are without a doubt, inextricably linked in 2016. There are few international brands which do not possess some sort of social media presence. The more savvy of these, will have been using it with some skill for a few years now. But do these brands use social media for their Public Relations for their own benefit, or of simple necessity.

Social media allows a brand to communicate instantly with it’s audience without the need to go through newspapers or advertisements. Equally, it allows a customer to lodge a very public complaint and within seconds a representative on the receiving end may see it, and respond. The use of twitter has become commonplace when complaining about maybe a train delay, a flight cancellation or a product malfunction. Whilst these conversations will be public only for the opening salvos of the conversation, this public sphere forces the company to respond in some manner satisfactory to the accuser.

An interesting exchange above, note how the PR doesn’t open the compensation floodgates.

These efforts to answer public inquiries are the price a brand has to pay in order to gain instant access to its stakeholders and is something that is not optional. A company which uses social media to communicate to, but not with, stakeholders will find that complaints made may snowball and badly tarnish a businesses reputation.

Valentini highlights a keen observation in the development of Public Relations alongside social media. Valentini has observed that as brands have attempted to appear more transparent the opposite effect has instead spawned. Consumers have become increasingly skeptical of organisations whilst becoming steadily more concerned regarding the use of private information online. This will result in consumers seeing and understanding the hidden messages promoted by brands. In short, this instant access to brands has led consumers to become resistant to the thinly veiled efforts made by brands to accommodate consumers.


Conversely of course, Allagui points out that efforts on social media continue to generate massive attention. A common example is the 360i  Oreo’s ‘You can still dunk in the dark’ which managed to gain 5x more impressions than the amount of people who viewed the Superbowl itself. This is one of many campaign pieces which have garnered media attention and audience engagement with minimal effort.

Whilst PR and social media have become nearly inseparable, problems do seem to lie in whether or not the effort made actually makes any meaningful difference towards a company’s public relations. Yes impressions are made, but whether or not consumers have become resistant to the underlying goal of these messages is in dispute and this conundrum may continue to be such for some time.