The Role of Social Media in Public Relations Practice – a New Zealand Perspective
MetadataShow full metadata
This study investigates the trends in the use of social media in the practice of New Zealand public relations and sheds light on how New Zealand public relations professionals evaluate the role of social media in their profession. It followed a triangulation approach by combining a document analysis of 148 award-winning communication campaigns and in-depth semi-structured interviews with ten New Zealand public relations practitioners. The findings show that New Zealand public relations practitioners have not significantly changed the ways they have adopted and used social media over the last decade. Practitioners still seem to focus their efforts on established social media platforms and refrain from adopting new ones. Their adoption of new social media platforms appears to follow fashion trends; for example, applications like Instagram and Instagram Stories were adopted quicker than others. In-house practitioners also seem to generally lag when adopting social media platforms due to a control paradigm that is still prevalent within organisations. Return on investment and resource restrictions are identified as important influencing factors on the practitioners’ application of social media platforms. The practitioners appear to concentrate their social media efforts on a selected number of most popular platforms that offer more advantages, such as reach. The results of this study suggest that practitioners are using social media more strategically than in the past. But the findings also show that practitioners use social media predominantly as a separate broadcasting channel for promotional communication and the dissemination of organisational information, rather than for two-way communication in the form of conversations with their publics. Encroachment between public relations and other disciplines such as marketing is identified as a potential reason for the prevailing dominance of promotional tactics. This study demonstrates that social media has outgrown earned media as the most important media type in New Zealand public relations, followed by owned media. The findings further indicate that the introduction of algorithms has significantly increased the importance of paid tactics on social media. Moreover, the results suggest that the commonly used PESO model, which categorises communication tactics into paid, earned, shared and owned media, might be flawed for the New Zealand public relations practice as it neglects the importance of interpersonal communication. Consequently, a PESOI model is developed to fill this gap. In sum, this study demonstrates that although New Zealand public relations professionals have largely embraced social media, they still do not use them to their full potential.