Social Media’s Role in Public Relations

Is social media part of public relations? Many people, even professionals, ponder what umbrella social media falls under. Is it public relations, advertising, marketing, or its own category? As a public relations student, you know that “public relations” and “social media” aren’t interchangeable terms, but what differentiates them? Social media plays an invaluable role in public relations, but not all purposes of social media fall into this field. 

The Importance of Social Media

There is no doubt that public relations and social media are intrinsically related in the modern age. Social media is often the first platform that one thinks of when building mutually beneficial relationships. It elevates the spread of public opinion at a rapid speed and an international level.

With 78% of consumers agreeing that it is the fastest and most direct way to connect with a brand, social media isn’t just for keeping up with friends anymore. Still, it isn’t only used for marketing metrics. Strong customer service — an effort that may often be facilitated by public relations practitioners — was shown to be a hallmark of an exceptional brand on social media. Sprout Social shares that “in order to take advantage of all that social has to offer, marketers need to demonstrate how insights from social positively influence strategies for every department.” This displays the sentiment that social media’s presence in business is still evolving and will likely play an even larger role in communications in the future. 

Differentiating Social Media Purposes Across Industries

So how is social media different in public relations than in other types of business? It depends on the goal of social media for an organization. Scott Elser, a business professional and contributing writer to Inc. Magazine, wrote about the different uses for social media within public relations and advertising. He summarizes that if social media is used for message delivery and reputation management, it is a public relations function. However, if social media is connected to day-to-day business strategy — such as return on investment, product news, and customer segmentation — then it is an advertising function. 

On deciding which purpose is best for an organization, Elser says, “it really comes down to what you are looking to accomplish in social in the first place. The best way to decide is to look at the goals you use to define success. Are shares of the conversation and buzz generated or customer care metrics the ideal measures of success? If so, your efforts may be more PR oriented. But if you look ahead and see social playing a greater role in generating responses, sales, and other metrics that you would typically associate with advertising, then you’re thinking of social as advertising and should be developing plans, metrics, and messages as part of your overall marketing communications efforts.” The goal that the organization has for their social media channels is what differentiates each usage. 

Social Media within Public Relations Strategy

Methods of social media usage within public relations can fall into various sections of the PESO model, a popular strategy model that represents the Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned media methods within public relations strategy. In social media’s core form, it resides in shared media. When paid ads on social media are integrated into strategy, it becomes paid media. Influencer and blogger relations lie in earned media,  and user-generated content from customers and employees can fall into owned media. Social media usage can easily be intertwined into all elements of the PESO model. 

As an industry-changing technology, social media has cemented its presence within public relations, but has not overtaken it. Public relations professionals can use social media to their advantage depending on the goal and purpose of their organization or client. It will work to your advantage to consider social media usage within your public relations strategy. 

Melina O’Neal currently serves as the vice president of career services for PRSSA National. She is a fourth-year student at West Chester University of Pennsylvania pursuing her Master’s degree in communication studies after graduating in 2023 with her Bachelor’s degree in media & culture. Previously, she has served as a district ambassador and National Publications Committee member for PRSSA National alongside her responsibilities as vice president and treasurer for her collegiate Chapter. You can connect with Melina via LinkedIn, Instagram, or Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *