This research paper will discuss the use of digital media and social networking within the Public Relations sector and whether a global standard for social media communication by international public relations professionals is considered necessary and feasible. The unplanned cascade of technological and social shifts (Friedman 2002), and the rise of web 2.0 have ultimately changed global communication and the way public relations is practiced. The social media revolution has not only produced new potentials for the industry but also new challenges and pitfalls. The success of a global standard for social media communications being implemented is difficult to determine, due to the complexities of cultural variations, governing laws and regulations, the rise of the digital media citizen and the ease to which people have access to the Internet. A global standard is necessary, as according to Grunig (2009,1) ‘these new media have the potential to make the profession more global, strategic, two-way and interactive, symmetrical or dialogical and socially responsible’ practice in the future.
Social media has been deemed the responsibility of public relations practitioners, as it has the potential to develop into the prime facilitator of two-way symmetrical communication. Social media refers to ‘all online tools and platforms that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences and perspectives with other people’ (Lincoln 2009, 8). Since 2004 social media has grown enormously in popularity, connecting people from all over the world irrespective of time, distance, geography and language (Friedman 2002). ‘Globalisation is to be credited for moving the public relations body of knowledge toward greater cultural relativism in order to make it more relevant to practitioners who are faced with the challenge of communicating effectively with the diverse publics of the emerging’ (Sriramesh 2009, 1) and developed markets. A global standard for social media communication, that incorporates a vast array of environmental variables, would be ideal for public relations professionals.
Social media communication has become an essential aspect of any organisations public relations strategy. The rise of social and professional networking sites has seen Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn become an integral part of public relations campaigns in the 21st century. A study conducted by the International Association of Business Communicators (Wright and Hinson 2009, 2) revealed that over half of all Internet users were a member of a social network, with Facebook (2011) having more than 750 million active users. It has been dubbed e-democracy, as democratic governments across the world use the social media phenomenon in their election campaigns to gain civic engagement and public participation. President of the United States, Barack Obama, used social media to connect with the voters in 2008 (Macnamara 2010, 2), as did the Australian Labor Party in the 2007 federal election campaign. ‘The Labor Party claimed that the use of non-traditional media such as YouTube, blogs, ads on mobile phones and internet advertising were hugely influential in its victory” (Johnston and Zawawi 2009, 240). As politicians too indulge in social media to capture their publics, a global standard is necessary as it would ensure communications were keep ethical, especially in the case where the technique may be adopted by non-democratic governments that possess traits of corruption and strict censorship of an alternative party’s views.
In the realms of cyber space, it is essential that public relations professionals maintain their authenticity and transparency. By 2007 there were 100 million blogs globally and 94 million blog readers in the United States alone (Wright and Hinson 2009, 2). With this in mind public relations professionals pushed the boundaries of online ethics by introducing flogging (fake blogging) and astroturfing to the world of social media...
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