The topic of public relations and new age media has attracted a lot of attention from different scholars across the globe in the recent past. Public relations (PR), as Theaker (2003) puts it, simply refer to the practice of managing image and reputation through the spread of information. It is such that specific information can be allowed to spread while different information can be controlled or kept from the public for the sake of building a good reputation. When this practice crosses borders in an attempt to stabilize information and hence relationships with other nations, it is called international public relations. New age media, on the other hand, has had controversies in its definition. However, it has been generally agreed as the collection of all electronic communication techniques that exist, and those that will exist in the future (Stuart & Airi 2014).
Major world organizations, amounting to over 79% of authoritative firms, have prioritized the practice of public relations (Marcos 2014). The rising growth in the number of organizations that have adopted this technique is attributed to increased awareness of the importance of good public relations. All professional firms are concerned about their image; they know that their success and failure is greatly dependent on the perspective that the public will have about them. This essay, in discussing the challenges that new media platforms have presented to the public found out that anonymity is among the greatest challenges that PR practitioners face every day. Poor internet connectivity in remote areas, and controlling the speed at which information travels are major issues that face todays PR practitioners. On the positive side, the development of digital media has enabled communication symmetry by promoting two-way communication over the internet, providing a lot of information, and enabling personal services.
Anonymity is a big challenge facing PR practitioners, whether international or otherwise. Regester and Larkin (2003) argue that PR practitioners are supposed to design their communication according to the effects they desire to stir up in their target audience. However, it becomes hard to target when anonymity is prevailing. International PR, which involves cross-border image building, is particularly hard since some people may pose as if they are in certain locations, even if they are not. Accountability and authenticity of information shared via the new age media can also be put to question when the people behind it are faceless and veiled. Toth and Heath (1991) explain that in most cases, there will be more than one account for varied organizations on social media; this is already a messy challenge since it becomes hard for the audience to distinguish between the official social media account of a specific company, and a cloned, or fake version. Lack of a standard verification system can be blamed for such problems.
Secondly, poor internet connectivity in many remote areas and developing nations poses a barrier for effective international and within-border PR practice. Many nations such as Nigeria, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe have poor communication infrastructure, which creates a barrier for international PR. Such a barrier requires PR managers to stick to old methods when their target groups are from such areas, as Kaul (2013) reveals. It is, however, costly to maintain and run different PR methods within the same firm. Additionally, PR lacks effectiveness in such areas. As cited by Croft (2007), the Grunig and Hunt Theory (1984) explain that two-way symmetry, which is pertinent for successful PR, helps to create understanding between two parties. Consequently, the expectations of each party, in this case, can be met, when they are all understood by each side; this is how PR succeeds (Letang 2006). Slow internet connection and generally poor communication infrastructure hence create a hurdle of information and communication asymmetry.
Inability to control the speed at which information travels cannot be left out when talking about challenges of PR with the advent of new age media. As simple tweet or Facebook post can destroy an organizations profile, or even cause social distress, within a very short time. Curtin and Gaither (2007) explain that PR practitioners should be careful to analyze each and every piece of information in their hands before disseminating it to the public. Otherwise, once the public receives information, it spreads quickly across the globe. The danger of new age media is well explained by the social turmoil that has been witnessed in nations such as Tunisia and Egypt in the past, where social media was used to cause unrest (George & Nance 2015, p. 13). Aside from being careful with the information that goes out of the company, PR managers are also faced with the task of handling varied intensities of high frequency generated messages from customers, spammers, and different internet users. This is another delicate issue while trying to maintain the face of the organizations, since the PR practitioner is supposed to deal wisely with both known and unknown people motivated by all manner of good and ill-intentions.
On the positive side, the growth and development of social media make it possible to have an easy two-way conversation between businesses and their clients, or target audience. Businesses, as (Theaker 2003) explains, find this opportunity tremendously unique since they can easily get to understand the minds and expectations of their target community, or audience. Live interactions that may occur through live chat platforms, email chats, twitters conversations, Facebook pages and groups, and other new media platforms make it possible for both the business and the customer to have a one-on-one conversation. Curtin and Gaither (2007) purport that such advanced methods of interacting with the audience create trust and increase the strength of relationships, hence helping PR achieve its core purpose. Key brands such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and LOreal have managed to create a strong online presence that has contributed to the visibility of their brand, increased customer loyalty and consequently a rise in the number of their sales, as Marcos (2014) puts it.
Availability of information through the internet and new age media is another way in which the digital era has promoted communication symmetry. Earlier on, information could only be obtained through research centers and specific institutions such as government archives, and organizations that deal in specific areas. It was hence, difficult for both the common man and the corporate world to get desired information at any time without incurring huge costs, as George and Nance (2015) explains. For example, a company would have to hire a research firm to administer questionnaires to a targeted niche, to get information about how these people feel about a particular product. They lacked two-way contact, which Croft (2007) says is very important for successful communication to take place. The new age media has brought an end to the ancient system of gathering information through the introduction of digital techniques for collecting information. Kaul (2013) explains that a simple keyword can be used to gather reliable information from countless sources from varied sources, and at a higher speed than before. It is easier, for example, for a company to get product reviews on their good through the internet, rather than going out to administer questionnaires and interviews. In fact, the cost of using the new age media is way cheaper for both the customer and business, hence making information easily and readily available.
The advancement of media and technology has reduced incidences of poorly targeted communication. Unlike the past, where one would simply air out information, firms can now select their target audience and communicate to the selected group only, which is not only efficient but also cost-effective. While some techniques of PR like fliers and billboards are still in use, they tend to target the general public, hence not very suitable for organizations that are only interested in a specific niche (Stuart & Airi, 2014). However, firms can now use techniques like keyword and algorithm targeting to reach specific groups, without spilling information across the delivery channel. Customers also expect personalized services from firms; this increases consumer confidence in a brand, while giving the organization an opportunity to get a first-hand experience with the customer, hence understand their needs and wants.
A close look at Grunig and Hunt theory reveals that the two-way asymmetrical model is common among marketers whose only interest is to persuade and sell. However, good PR requires clear communication and understanding, so that both the audience and the PR practitioner can achieve the best of their interests. Old PR methods such as billboards and fliers were mainly concerned with spreading a word about the organization, without getting feedback. However, modernity has revealed that feedback is as important as the information being disseminated, since it gives a clue of what the audience expects. New age media has hence promoted a two-way symmetry model, which ensures that both the target audience and the PR manager can mutually benefit from each other, through one-on-one, or any other form of feedback communication. This explains why many firms like Unilever conduct intense internet promotion; the interplay is a key to developing a positive image. Companies like BP hurt their reputation by failing to effectively manage their PR on social media. This was after they had a major oil spill, and dismissed it as a small accident whose costs they would cover. The public, however, did not take this lightly, but went ahead to conclude that BP was careless, and lacked good risk management strategies, resulting in a massive shareholder withdrawal from BP, which saw their share price fall to a 14 year low, losing $95 billion. PR managers are hence required to be slow to respond, yet fast enough to curb situations that may affect the firms reputation. This clearly shows that even with the multiple benefits of new age media, the task of mitigating risks is tough.
The advent of new media has resulted in major changes in the way the world practices PR. Both negative and positive effects of this type of media have already been felt. However, there is no doubt that the advantages of electronic media outweigh the associated challenges. It is a high time PR manager focused on developing their image through proven new age media while at the same time looking for ways to counter the challenges that may occur as a result of relying on this type of PR media. Although some parts of the world are still inaccessible, it is without question that such places will soon open up as the world continues to advance. Challenges such as anonymity and control over information can be handled through good management practices and PR policies.
Croft, A 2007, Emergence of "New" Media Moves PR Agencies in New Directions. Public Relations Quarterly, 3(2), 16-20.
Curtin, P., & Gaither, T 2007, International Public Relations: Negotiating Culture, Identity and Power. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
George, J., & Nance, L 2015, The Ever-Evolving Ethics of Social Media. Public Relations Tactics, 7-21.
Kaul, V 2013, Plugging In: New PR Technologies. SCMS Journal of Indian Management, 33-53.
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