In marketing, the key function is to spread information from the organization to the public. The organization spreads information that could be of interest to the public and that could be useful to sell its products, services or brand name. This spread of information is what is referred to as public relations. The topics on which the organization informs the public about may not necessarily require direct payment.
Thus, payment is usually indirect. For instance, an organization can persuade the public to buy its product or services. Marketing may also be used to persuade people to trust a company’s leadership. The payment for public relations in this case would be increased number of people buying the company’s products, which increases its sales and profits simultaneously (Coombs, 2007).
Public relations could occur in various ways, like speaking at conferences, passing on the messages through media houses and through websites. Over the recent years, social media has also increasingly become a part of media by companies. Communication has become easy due to technology (Newson, Houghton & Patten 2009). People who are far apart geographically can communicate effectively.
Social media has become the most commonly used means of communications. The organization is capable of reaching a large number of people and creating a large audience through social media (Coombs, 2007). Consequently, more people get the message about the firm’s products. This increases the likelihood of attracting more customers.
It is of no surprise that social media is now being used as a marketing strategy by business organizations. The social media has its advantages and disadvantages, despite the fact that it can be an effective marketing strategy and that it should be managed by organizations as part of public relations.
This article evaluates the disadvantages and advantages of social media as a mode of public relations. The paper will mainly focus on Facebook since this is the site that has the highest number of users. Other social sites such as Twitter and Google will also be discussed.
Advantages of social media to an organization
Social media marketing is simply getting attention from customers through social sites. It has become the new trend in the digital era. Organizations that use social media marketing do not rely on mainstream publications for advertising their businesses.
They can communicate directly with their customers and address specific needs and requests to increase customer satisfaction. Social media is beneficial to the organization, as well as to the customers (Bradley & McDonald, 2011). Here are some of the advantages of social media as a marketing strategy and as part of organizations’ public relations.
First, the organization is able to reach a large audience through social media. Social media has become one of the widely used means of communication over the last couple of years (L’Etang, 2009). Many people use various sites for communication, entertainment and as a tool for searching information. For instance, Facebook has the largest number of users among other social sites.
Facebook is currently said to have approximately one billion users. This is a relatively large audience that any organization would wish to reach out to. A multinational that spreads its message to such a large number of people is almost sure to market its products and services in many countries. Public relations is about passing messages about the organization to the public.
Any means that enables public communicators to reach a large number of people is of importance to them since it ensures effectiveness in marketing. One of the models used in public relations is referred press agentry or publicity model.
It is a one way communication that enables the public relation communicators to persuade the public (customers) to behave in a manner that the organization desires and that will get more customers to buy its products (Carter & Levy, 2011).
It is important to note that social media is a two way communication since the organization can communicate directly to its customers. On the other hand, customers can also communicate to the organization directly. However, the organization can use social media to persuade the public to buy its products, to use its services and to trust its brand (Carter & Levy, 2011).
The perfect model for social media is the two-way symmetrical model since it is a two-way communication model. Organizations’ public relation communicators use social sites to negotiate with the public in order to promote a mutual understanding between them and the customers.
For instance, companies have created Facebook pages where customers like and can communicate directly to the organization. Managing social media as a means of public relation is, therefore, advantageous to the organization since it enhance its marketing.
The second advantage is that social media is a cheap means of communication. Social media is relatively the cheapest means of communication that an organization can use. The organization only opens a Facebook page where it advertises its products and communicates to the public freely. The company is able to persuade the public to buy its products (Weintraub, 2011).
There is also an advertisement section in Facebook where the organization is required to pay a little amount of cash in order to advertise its products and services. Google is the recent upcoming social site. The site is also very effective as a means of advertisement. Google is the largest search engine and very many people visit the site daily in search of various types of information.
An organization can manage Google as a public relations means. A firm can avail its information on the site where it can persuade the public to behave in the way it wants. In addition, Google can be used as a means of advertising the organization’s products. The costs incurred by an organization that uses social media are low, making social media one of the cheapest means of communication for organizations.
The aim of every organization is to maximize profits. One way to maximize profits is to ensure that the expenses incurred remain as low as possible. Minimizing the expenses by using social media as a means of public relations is likely to increase the organization’s profits. The organization is able to reach a large audience and at the same time spend a little amount of money (Murphy, 2013).
An organization that uses social media as a means of public relations to market its products and services is able to create trust and increase the level of loyalty from its supporters. Creating loyalty and trust from customers is a competitive advantage for an organization. It is one of the most effective and efficient ways that an organization can use to build its brand image.
The fact that social media allow the public to share their view enhances their loyalty to the organization. Social media has feedback forums through which customers can voice their views regarding the organization’s products and services. For instance, Twitter has options where customers can reply, retweet, or expand on an organization’s tweets.
On Facebook, the public can comment on the posts made by the public relations communicators, message them or even post on their walls (Haydon, Dunay & Krueger, 2012). Organizations on the other edge, managers and marketers read the posts by customers, learn what the customers need and respond to those needs.
This increases customers’ loyalty to the organization, making customers buy its products and services. Managing social media as a means of public relations can therefore help it to build its brand image. Consequently, its sales and profitability increases.
An organization is able to integrate different parts of digital marketing through social media. There are different methods of marketing, which include mass marketing, direct marketing, and one-to-one marketing among others. Social media has the ability to integrate all these methods to ensure that they work towards common goals (Richardson, Gosnay & Carroll, 2010).
All those involved in marketing should pass the same message to the public. They should, therefore, work in integration to ensure effectiveness of the process. Through social media, marketers and public communicators can link with each other, integrate effectively and ensure that the same message is passed to the public. Social media enhances a hybrid approach of marketing.
It is important to note that a hybrid approach can generate a large and meaningful digital footprint for building a brand image. Integrating the marketing mix transforms marketing to a center for making profits. It reduces the cost of marketing and increase revenue for the organization.
The organization is able to monitor its brand with mentions through social media. ‘Google alerts’ is the best known application that can enable the organization track the number of times keywords have been mentioned on the website. Despite the fact that it is not very comprehensive, tracking the number of mentions is one of the most effective solutions in terms of cost.
An organization monitors the relevant keywords that are relevant to its brands. It can decide to increase the number of keywords to increase advertisement effectiveness. It is a cheap method that an organization can embrace to increase its profitability. This is another reason why social media can be managed as a method of public relations (Hong & Ki, 2007).
Disadvantages of social media to an organization
Social media has a number of disadvantages that can be harmful to the organization. Social media has developed in the era of technology. Technology is associated with numerous disadvantages. The following are the disadvantages that an organization can encounter by using social media for public relations.
Social media sites are prone to hackers and virus attacks. The organization’s websites and blogs can be hacked by people who wish to use the available information to their advantage. Important information can leak to the wrong hands. In addition, hackers can commit fraud, launch spam and commit virus attacks on the websites. Losing important data can be costly to the organization, especially if it does not have a backup.
Hackers could be the organization’s competitors who want to take advantage of the information to gain competitive advantage over the organization.
Rivals can learn the strategies used by the organization and launch other counter strategies or improved strategies that give it an advantage. Competitors can also use that information to improve their operations. Using social media as a means of public relations can, therefore, be risky to the organization (Coombs, 1999).
Social media have been known to expose the public to online scam predators. There are people who impersonate themselves to cheat the public and take advantage (SHRM, 2012).
Such imposters steal the organization’s identity and use it to make money from its consumers. The effect of such scams is that they can reduce consumers’ loyalty to the organization. This leads to loss of sales and revenue by the organization since customers move to competitor products.
Social media is not as easy to use as it sounds. Using Facebook and other social site as a tool of public relations or for marketing is usually challenging. First, it requires the marketers to conduct an extensive research, invest a lot of time and have vast experience in social media site development. Companies have to put much effort on social media marketing for them to have any chances of reaping rewards (O’Dwyer, 2005).
For effectiveness, one has to spend a reasonable amount of time on the social sites. It is approximated that a minimum of 6- 8 hours per week are required on social media for effectiveness. An organization should keep on updating and tweeting frequently. There should not be large gap of time between posts. Creating such gaps will leave customers wondering if they will be treated with the same level of ineffectiveness.
One of the major reasons for using social media is to create and build customer relations. An organization loses credibility before customer if it does not keep in touch with its customers through updating its posts regularly and keep responding to consumer questions and requests (Khodarahmi, 2009).
Finally, there is a high risk of negative comments directed to the organization. Since there is freedom of commenting and tweeting in social media, some customers may post negative comments towards the organization (Moloney, 2001). The negative tweets can be seen by other customers and lead to destruction of the organization’s reputation. An organization, therefore, needs to act fast and respond to such comments.
The company should either remove the posts or respond by countering the negative comments. Failure to respond fast might lead to loss of customers and sales.
It might be difficult for the organization to control bad messages, considering the fact that information in social media spreads very fast. If quick action is not taken, the information will have reached so many people that potential damage will have been caused by the time the public relation communicators realize.
Social media is the new trend that is being used by organizations to market their products and services and communicate with the public. An organization can reap a lot of benefits from the social media. However, it has to link its business objectives well to the social media strategies. Public relations is all about passing information to the public.
In an organization, public relations is important for marketing a company’s products and services. Public relations communicators, therefore, use any means that can help them reach a large audience. Social media is used by many people and is, therefore, suitable for public relations and marketing purposes.
Despite having many advantages to business organization, there are some disadvantages associated with social media. Managers, therefore, need to weigh between the advantages and disadvantages of social media and come up with strategies to improve on the disadvantages and maximize the benefits.
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