Participatory media has changed the way people are communicating. Communication has and is increasingly becoming more public as people share their thoughts and conversations online.
Participatory media includes weblogs, social networking sites, microblogging sites, email services, SMS (short message services, podcasts, videoblogs (or vlogs), among others.
Some of these conversations revolve around brands and are therefore having an impact on organisation and brand reputations.
People are sharing information on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, and expressing their opinions on organisations and their products and services. What they say, ultimately has an impact on the reputation of organisations considering the fact that people tend to listen and act on what their peers tell them.
Katz and Lazerfield (Fawkes in Theaker, 2006: 28) argue that people are more easily influenced by the people they know or trust, such as friends and family.
Journalists are also increasingly using participatory media as a source of news for the mainstream media.
If such negative information leaks into mainstream media as is often the case, it could even have much disastrous effects for organisations or anyone who has a reputation to uphold.
It is therefore important that public relations practitioners embrace the new media rather than viewing it as a threat.
Weaver-Lariscy et al’s (2009) research on how organisations are monitoring public opinion in cyberspace revealed a ‘large gap in the use [of participatory media] and perceived importance between practitioners and a slow awakening among even non-user reticent to adopt as they realise its potential value’.
Lariscy, Avery, & Sohn (2007) in Weaver-Lariscy et al (2009) states that ‘given the unrestrained voice social media grant publics, practitioners will face mounting pressure to monitor their organization’s presence online to keep their fingers on the pulse of public opinion and engage in “virtual environmental spanning”. Just as practitioners can’t ignore activist voices that may reach the tipping point, social media demand a new form of surveillance and monitoring on behalf of organizations, particularly given that tools such as blogs may be a vital source of information for journalists.’
A survey conducted last year by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) found that ‘mastering social media skills’ was one of the top three issues for public relations practitioners for the next two years.
All the more so for a call for the subject ‘Digital Media’, ‘New Media’ or whatever you want to call it, to be made compulsory for all public relations students.