With the introduction of the internet comes new media, which in recent years have seen PR practitioners having to adapt and change their approach to cater to the online community. According to Dewdney & Ride, new media can be described as “the preferred term for a range of media practices that employ digital technologies and the computer in some way or another (James, n.d.). New media also provides a wider reach than traditional media, being portable and easily accessible. This essay seeks to explore the opportunities and threats presented to PR practitioners with the introduction of new media.
Using a local case study, this essay will also discuss how new media has changed the way PR practitioners engage with their organizational stakeholders, as well as how it has impacted public relations practices today.
Case Study – SMRT
In 2011, SMRT trains experienced periodical breakdowns during the months October through December. The most prominent incidents being the December 15 and 17 breakdowns, believed to have been the worst train breakdowns in 24 years of operations, sparking angry netizens to take to social media platforms such as Twitter to express their outrage over the unreliability of the train service (Low, 2011). These breakdowns affected some 5,000 commuters during the evening peak hour (Sim, 2011). Netizens were further enraged by the surfacing of a photo on Twitter depicting a photo taken on an SMRT taxi which shows the message starting with “Income opportunity” before explaining the breakdown (Barimen, 2011).
Prior to the episodes, an announcement was made by SMRT to increase train fares starting the following year. This fostered a sour attitude towards SMRT among Singaporeans, and negative comments were buzzing around the various social media sites.
Impact of New Media on SMRT’s PR Practice
Throughout these incidents, SMRT continued to disregard feedback on their official Facebook and Twitter pages, instead going on to offer vouchers to its subscribers and followers. The only “official” responses to confused commuters among the chaos seem to be coming from only one SMRT Ltd Feedback, a troll account which emerged during the crisis. Without any clear answers on SMRT’s official channels, the comments from the troll account only further added to the public’s confusion and doubt. Only after 15 hours have elapsed has SMRT began providing information and responding to the situation.
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The organization, in its failure to communicate timely with the public in times of crisis, has lost their trust. This is despite the fact that there have been no major episodes in their history of operation. The incident has shown that organizations should have a tested plan in place to be able to communicate with the stakeholders efficiently in times like this. Because of the fast transfer of information in the age of new media, employees who manage the social media platforms have to exercise discretion on the appropriate times to put up certain content. In the case of SMRT, instead of responding to queries during the crisis, employees instead put up voucher offers, which was of no help clearing the air of doubts.
Opportunities for Better Engagement with Stakeholders
Despite the negative impact that new media has on public relations practices, it has also presented a series of opportunities for PR practitioners.
Because of its wide reach, organizations can now use new media to launch a direct dialog with their stakeholders with ease. Platforms such as forums and blogs allow for PR practitioners to establish a two-way communication, allowing them to better understand the feedback of the public. When the public is engaged in this process, it creates brand awareness and a word-of-mouth effect. It is also easier for the organization to rally support from the public, by empowering them to make certain decisions. This will result in a higher number of people who would champion the organization’s cause.
When there is a need for fast transfer of information, like in times of crisis, organizations can harness the use of new media to get their messages out. This allows for control of the situation on the organization’s part. The organization can even garner the public’s comments and come up with better solutions to solve the problem.
Social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook can also be used as publicity vehicles. One such example is from Coca-Cola, which in 2012 released a YouTube video titled “Hug Me by Coca-Cola”. In the video, several Singaporeans can be seen obtaining a bottle of Coca-Cola from a vending machine. Instead of the traditional vending machine which dispenses with the slotting of coins, this particular machine dispenses upon a hug to it. The video generated more than a million views, with many netizens praising the organization’s creativity.
Threats to PR Practices
In spite of the opportunities for PR practitioners to effectively use new media as a source of communication with the public, certain threats are present as well.
Janal (1998) argues that “too many companies go on the web without a set of goals”, suggesting that there are no incentives to move the public to be committed instead of just curious. In such cases, Theaker (2004, p. 264) suggests that PR practitioners work with the marketing department to ensure that sites are tested before they are fully launched, instead of conducting such testing on the public.
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PR practitioners also have to work harder to keep up with the trends to be able to fully understand the social media lingo. On top of that, they have to be more responsive because of the fast transfer of information with lesser effort. Organizations also have to work harder to establish credibility with the reduction of face-to-face interaction, which may create misunderstandings easily.
In the age of new media, there are many considerations and skills PR practitioners have to be sensitive to and develop to better reach out to their intended public. However, with proper research and strategizing, new media can be a very powerful tool for PR practitioners.
Apart from this, PR practitioners also have to remember that having a better engagement with the public will lead to better reach for the organization. Instead of using new media to generate a large number of likes, genuine engagement of the public will ultimately lead to brand loyalty.
The use of new media can be a double-edged sword in cases like SMRT. If PR practitioners are able to be well attuned to the sensitive nature of it however, new media can be effectively used to reach out to a wide number of stakeholders, thereby establishing their organization’s reputation.
Barimen, A. (2011, December 21). Not So SMRT: A Case Study of Communications Failure. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.skribeproductions.com/2011/12/21/not-so-smrt-a-case-study-of-communications-failure/
James, M. (n.d.). A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and education. Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, 8. Retrieved April 7, 2015, from http://www.academia.edu/1529188/A_review_of_the_impact_of_new_media_on_public_relations_Challenges_for_terrain_practice_and_education
Low, I. (2011, December 16). Singapore’s MRT Breakdown Chaos Leaves Thousands Stranded. Straits Times Indonesia. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/archive/singapores-mrt-breakdown-chaos-leaves-thousands-stranded/485081/
Sim, R. (2011, October 18). In Singapore, 5,000 Commuters Affected by MRT Disruption. Straits Times Indonesia. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://thejakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/archive/in-singapore-5000-commuters-affected-by-mrt-disruption/472390/
Theaker, A. (2004). Using the internet effectively in public relations. InThe Public Relations Handbook(2nd ed., p. 264). England, Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge.
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