Social Media & Public Relations

Public relations (PR) specialists have all sorts of means to get their message across to the desired target audience. The objective of this essay is to discuss the relationship between the social media and public relations. This essay will include the following: the definition of public relations, the roles of public relations, the definition of social media, the types of social media, the rise of social media, the reasons why the public relations industry use the social media, how the social media can influence public relations, and 2 case studies.

Since the beginning, many public relations professionals have offered definitions of the term “public relations” in hopes that one of which will eventually succumb to being the standard meaning. On one such occasion, Dr. Harlow (1976) mentioned that the longest definition of public relations consists of 88 words. A more precise definition of the term is  “the strategic communication that different types of organizations use for establishing and maintaining symbiotic relationships with relevant publics many of whom are increasingly becoming culturally diverse” (Sriramesh, 2009). In general, the numerous definitions that can be found of the term “public relations” have a similar concept – the practice of public relations focus on the communication between the organization and the public.

The public relations profession has a great many roles, some of which include the detecting of a crisis, responding to public critiques pertaining to the organization’s products or services, building and maintaining the good reputation and credibility of the organization, and efficiently communicating with the publics through mass media (Bussey, 2010).Subsequently, this communication not only limits to the media and the public, but also to various potential stakeholders, which may result in the expansion of their organization. The communication between these parties seek to establish a mutually beneficial relationship and to sustain it for a long- or short-term cause. Governments all over the globe, big and small companies, non-profit organizations, and the like are able to achieve their respective goals by employing experts in the public relations field, thus making the profession essential to organizations in order for them to stand out against other competing corporations.

Social media, or social network sites, are web-based services which allow us to “construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007). The social media are online websites that allow individuals to socialize and communicate with people worldwide, for business or leisure. Especially with the ever-changing needs and wants of the audience, new software and smartphones are being developed to make it easier to access these online networks.

There are many types of social media, and each can be classified into different categories: personal networks, interest-based networks, e-commerce, media-sharing networks, discussion forums, bookmarking sites, social publishing and online reviews.

Interest-based networks involve an online community where users can find other users with common interests. These social network sites include for music lovers, Wattpad for writers and book lovers, and Pinterest for those with various hobbies. (Sorokina, 2015).

Media-sharing social networks have the main purpose of uploading media – such as photos and videos – and sharing them with the online community. Photo-sharing social sites include Instagram and Flickr, where one can portray his photography or videography skills. The largest video-sharing social network is Youtube, where users watch over “4 billion hours worth of video each month, and uploading 72 hours worth of video every minute” (Dickey, 2013).

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter, even online blogs such as Tumblr, are also classified as media-sharing and social publishing networks, as users can upload and share photos, videos and long or short texts online as well as interact with other users through the comment sections. These sites are also used for social activities, such as chatting up friends and colleagues, meeting up with business partners, and at the same time, they are most common for spreading messages around the World Wide Web. For example, you enter a term or a business corporation into a search engine, and the results will show excerpts found on some of the social network sites mentioned above where people are or have been actively discussing the issue or talking about the organization.

Online review services include Tripadvisor, Yelp, Airbnb and Uber, where users can find others’ reviews for suggestions on the best airlines, great dining, good accommodation and transport services.

Discussion forums are one of the many oldest types of online social networks. Users seek help from the online forums available on these sites for comments, ideas and suggestions.

E-commerce social sites include Polyvore and Etsy, and are even found on social network sites such as Facebook. Users can browse through an online catalogue of apparels, housing furniture, kitchenware, gym equipment, even handicrafts (Sorokina, 2015).

One of the main reasons why there is a hiking popularity in social media usage in the world is because of the assertion that most social media sites are where users share information or data, such as expressing one’s opinions or sharing ideas and interests, for free. These social networking sites enable their users to interact with other users in the same community, post comments and updates on their social profile or mend ties with old friends and colleagues. Besides this general use, the social medias are very popular in breaking news updates and holds information of the latest happening in the world (ITU News, 2010).

Because of the numerous reasons to use the social media, there have been improvements made on software and applications so they could be easily accessed on the smartphones and tab devices where one can access these social sites on the go. These combined with the developments of new social media applications, the rise in the number of users in the social media world is inevitable. (ITU News, 2010).

With the rising number of consumers in the cyber world, PR specialists have taken to using the social network sites to effectively communicate with the public. In the world of PR, where the practice is defined as “the communication and relationship between the organization and public”, the social media is a strong channel which has the capability of breaking the news before the actual publication or broadcast in the media. Within minutes, users all over the world will have read the “Tweet” or post on Facebook and shared it with the rest of the social network community. In addition, the social media can “influence the way people think…the way they shop and purchase, and can be used to call like-minded people to action in ways that are extremely efficient…” (Bussey, 2011). This is a strong reason as to why public relations find the social media extremely useful pertaining to relaying messages to the public about their client, casting a good light on the organization to better their image, and also responding to the crisis and managing it through these online networks. Basically, through the online social networks, public relations specialists can find it easier to communicate with the public consumers due to its unfaltering popularity with the consumers and potential consumers alike. Cathy Bussey explains the use of a blog, a type of social network, in the PR industry:

Blogs can be a very useful way of sharing opinions and views, generating comments, input and opinions from the people [the public relations specialists] are trying to reach – [their] customers or the customers of [their] client – and building an online community (Bussy, 2011).

A blog is a type of social media, and because the social media is easily accessible and reaches mass audience, PR practitioners use the art of blogging to spread the good word about their clients. Blogs and custom-made websites are useful in gathering information about an organization, hence many PR specialists have taken to using these available services to start a blog or website for the company to create a positive image in the eyes of their consumers. The use of blogs are extensive. As mentioned by Gordon (2010), PR specialists are able to send information to the media, and are also able to talk directly to the public, view the public’s responses, and act accordingly. Also, in a study conducted by Wright and Hinson (2009), it states that the PR specialists would set up an approach in the social media, which involved interviewing the bloggers, to find out what was being said about the organization, and that if any false information were found on postings, to make a point to respond on these social networks and provide the correct information.

The PR practitioners can make or break the organization’s relationship with the public, depending on the communication between the PR and the public. These days, it is considered a norm in the social media when there are some in the public who will respond aggressively or criticize the organization. When handling these matters on social media, it is important that the PR specialists know that they are “not simply talking to [their] customers and potential customers who passively digest [their] messages”. These customers, the target audience, “are talking back” (Bussey, 2011). This is one of the most crucial factors as one of the PR’s roles is to create and sustain a favorable image, hence, when the public talks back, sometimes it can be difficult to put out the fire. Online social sites are powerful and can change the public’s perceptions on particular controversial issues and if not handled well, can result in poor PR management.

On the other hand, based on a study, researchers Wright and Hinson (2009) found that many organizations mention the effects social media has on the “influentials or opinion leaders and the impact on attitudes, opinions or behaviors of current and potential customers.” (Gordon, 2010). The social medias have also contributed to the changes and adaptations that companies and PR specialists have made in order to effectively communicate with the consumers in the new trends of the social network.

Case Study #1: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

The non-profit organization for the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -diseased turned out to be making huge profits as a result of the viral campaign on popular social media, the ‘ice bucket challenge’. The campaign aims to spread the message in donating to the ALS funds for research to find a cure (ALS Association, n.d.) for those with this fatal neurological disease (NINDS, 2013). The challenge itself comprises of four easy steps – accepting the challenge, dumping a bucket of iced-water onto himself while calling out the names of the people he chooses to do the challenge and having the entire process recorded in a video, which is then uploaded into any social media, usually accompanied with the hashtag “IceBucketChallenge” (ALS Association, n.d.). The most popular social medias where these recorded challenges can be found are Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This well-known cause has been going all over the Internet, receiving attention from more than 2 million people on Facebook alone and was a monumental success as the association made $220 million from their campaign (Chowdhry, 2015). With the use of social media as a medium in promoting this cause, the ALS Association was able to fund their research. What boosted the exposure of this cause was the participation of numerous notable individuals and celebrities in the ice bucket challenge (Firozi, 2014). This was a great strategy into getting the public involved in contributing to the cause as well. This case study is a great example of how the social media is powerful for the public relations and their clients.


(Prince, 2014).


(Firozi, 2014).

Case Study #2: J.P. Morgan’s Poor PR Approach
This case study, however, looks into the poor strategy attained by the bank, J.P. Morgan. The company was looking to reach out to the public and its consumers directly, as a way to improve their social business culture (Borges, 2013). While this certainly seemed like a great way to engage with their consumers and potential consumers, announcing that they would be having a questions-and-answers (Q&As) session with the public on Twitter backfired on them as it came after the scandal where the aforementioned bank was fined 9 billion U.S. dollars to keep their former deal manager from whistle-blowing about the bank’s financial cover-up (Taibbi, 2014). The questions that came up were mostly regarding the bank’s scandalous issue and humiliation from their actions in attempting to keep their secrets safe. Not only did the Twitter Q&As increased the negative views of the bank, it also goes to show how unprepared the company was regarding the timely session and the moods of their consumers upon receiving the news about the huge fine. The PR specialists of the said bank took matters in their hands when they retracted their announcement for the Q&As on Twitter and publicly commented that it was “a bad idea” (Borges, 2013). This case study is an example of how the social media, although powerful, could leave a bad stain on an organization, and how the PR managed the crisis that follows.

borges (Borges, 2013).

As public relations involve communication and interaction with the public regarding an organization, the mutually beneficial relationship between public relations and the social media is highly important. It is crucial to keep a close tab on the consumers through the social media and detect any unforeseen circumstances or crisis which could give the company a bad name, hence, the roles of a PR practitioner is quite extensive. The social media is an asset to the practice of public relations, as they are most commonly used to harvest new information and data about the consumers and potential consumers, even the most likely of stakeholders. These web-based services enable PR specialists to spread the (good) message about their clients, and because communication via social media is a two-way street, the responses from the consumers will prove to be helpful in the improvement of the organization. Aside from providing the organization an access to the public’s thoughts and comments regarding their products and services, the social media is also increasingly popular and this made it convenient for the practice of public relations to reach out to the mass. Social media has indeed changed the way the PR and public communicates, but they have proven to be of good use to many businesses worldwide.


Books & Journals

  1. Harlow, R. F. (1976). Building a public relations definition. Public Relations Review, 2(4).
  2. Sriramesh, K., & Verčič, D. (Eds.). (2009). The Global Public Relations Handbook: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed.). New York, US: Routledge.
  3. Boyd, D., & Ellison, N. (2007). Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. 13(1). 210-230. doi:10.1111/(issn)1083-6101
  4. Bussey, C. (2011). Brilliant PR: Create a PR sensation, whatever your budget, whatever your business. Harlow, England: Prentice Hall/Pearson.
  5. Gordon, J. (2010). Use, Value and Impact of Social Media on Public Relations Practitioners in the Fox Cities (Unpublished master’s thesis, 2010). University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.
  6. Wright, D. K., & Hinson, M. D. (2009). Examining how public relations practitioners actually are using social media. Public Relations Journal, 3(3).
  7. Borges, B. (2013). 5 Big Social Media Fails of 2013 (and What We Learned). Hubspot.
  8. Taibbi, M. (2014). The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare. Rolling Stone, (1222).
  9. How To Take the Ice Bucket Challenge. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  10. Chowdhry, A. (2015). Remember The Ice Bucket Challenge? Donations From The $220 Million Campaign Enhanced ALS Research. Forbes’ The Little Black Book Of Billionaire Secrets.
  11. Prince, S. J. (2014). The 10 Best Celebrity ALS Ice Bucket Challenge GIFs. Retrieved from
  12. Firozi, P. (2014). Watch: 20 great celebrity ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos. Retrieved from
  13. The rise of social networking: Changing the web as we know it. (2010). Retrieved from
  14. Sorokina, O. (2015). 8 Types of Social Media and How Each Can Benefit Your Business. Retrieved from
  15. Dickey, M. R. (2013). The 22 Key Turning Points In The History Of YouTube. Retrieved from