June 22, 2022 — Not so long ago, most people thought public relations was all about media relations. In other words, the general public, not to mention a significant number of practitioners, believed PR pros should spend all their days working to place stories with news media outlets. Seeing an employer’s name in ink or a client’s product demonstrated on air was a crowning achievement.
Today, however, it seems public relations is all about social media. Somehow creating viral buzz on any of the major platforms is viewed as a grand and worthy accomplishment.
The number of news media placements secured and assigning a dollar value to this content as if it were advertising were flawed measures of success 10 or 15 years ago. So, too, are the ideas that generating followers, likes and other forms of engagement on social media is a singular mark of achievement.
Social media not to be ignored
There’s no question social media plays an important role in reaching the masses. With users constituting nearly 60 percent of the world’s population and interacting with platforms on average two and a half hours a day, social media cannot and should not be ignored. This is especially true considering nearly half of all Americans say they receive news via social media.
Nonetheless, context is important when viewing social media metrics. Take Twitter, for example. According to the Pew Research Center, “Much of the content posted by Americans on Twitter reflects a small number of authors. The 10 percent of users who are most active in terms of tweeting are responsible for 80 percent of all tweets created by U.S. users.” Moreover, Pew says Twitter users are younger, more highly educated and have higher incomes than U.S. adults overall.
Researchers, meanwhile, found just 12 people were responsible for most of the misleading claims and falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines that proliferated on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “The ‘Disinformation Dozen’ produce 65% of the shares of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms,” said Imran Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
Journalists are gateways
A series of glowing headlines and positive reviews from journalists were much appreciated in the good old days and were often considered evidence that the public approved of a product, service or policy. Never mind journalists were then … and continue to be … nothing more than influential gateways to larger audiences. Only sound market research could effectively measure the public’s true attitudes.
Even though social media has garnered much of the attention and resources in the practice of PR today, and because technology offers easily quantifiable metrics, context is still required. Engagement on social media requires a thorough understanding of who you are engaging with and how their attitudes reflect the larger audience.
It’s tempting to think an increasing numbers of likes and followers is a sign of success, but without any context, this rationale is merely today’s version of counting clips and calculating advertising equivalency.