Social media: risks and rewards in the public relations industry

This weeks question: Balance the risks and the rewards of social media in your planned profession.

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In the infographic above you can see just how big the role social media plays within businesses all around the world. Despite being only developed in recent years, this phenomenon has quickly become an evidently important tool when securing a place in both the digital and traditional marketplace (PRIA, 2013).

Most workplaces out there today are demanding its employees to not only be highly trained in their profession, however, to also know how to integrate these skills using social media.

viral-videos-can-help-content-get-found-on-social-mediaThere are many rewards that can come out of using social media in professional settings; however, there can also be many risks that these organisations and businesses have to be aware of before, during and after making the decision to use such a tool.

The power of social media is undeniable in today’s world.

                                                   – Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), 2012

One profession that uses social media as one of their main industry tools is public relations (PR). Communication between organisations and its publics is crucial. Social media can not only be used for marketing their brand but as a PR tool to express key messages, interact with stakeholders and grow on a personal and professional level. By posting via different social media platforms, users are able to like, share, comment, follow, tweet, retweet, hashtag or embed etc. to achieve these PR goals (Safko, 2012).

To use an example and be more specific, the crisis communication sector of PR, integrates social media into almost everything they do. When an organisation or business is in a situation that is threatening or could harm their stakeholders and/or damage reputations, the crisis communication team would step in with their action plan using social media as a tool to respond effectively with fast, direct and open communication (Fisher, 2013). The crisis communication PR team of an organisation shares media releases, product recalls, safety notices, press conference and apology videos and images to get their messages across via different platforms.

Online social networks are changing the way people communicate, work and play, and mostly for the better.

                                            – Martin Giles, The Economist 2010

This is a great way of informing the public during crisis situations, however, when turning to social media, risks are at an extreme high and there is potential for possible backlash and repercussions. This can be anything from negative consumer posts, employee posts or company posts that spiral out of control and receives extensive coverage across media platforms due to the publics interest.

It is suggested that in order for businesses to avoid these risky situations, a social media policy should be put in place (Safko, 2012). Shown below are some different examples of social media use in businesses causing risks that turned into crises.

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Johnston and Zawawi in Public Relations Theory & Practice suggest a 10-point plan for effective crisis communication when these situations occur.


An example of a crisis management situation that had both risks and rewards emerge from the use of social media was the infamous Dominos Pizza crisis in 2009.

Two Domino’s Pizza employees posted a video to youtube showing them doing vulgar things to the food whilst at work, making fun of the situation and joking about who would be eating it. The video below explains the situation in more detail.

Thousands of negative comments were posted on the company’s social media platforms that weren’t being monitored at the time, resulting in viral digital and traditional media coverage. This had a massively negative impact on Dominos reputation.

The company’s CEO issued an apology to their stakeholders via youtube and shared it across all of their social media accounts. The video received over 100,000+ views on Youtube and circulated across all media platforms. The video below shows the apology.

Not only was the crisis handled effectively but the CEO was also able to enhance the Domino’s Pizza image, connect to the stakeholders and reiterate the companies corporate social responsibility. The apology also caused a significant decrease in negative sentiments as seen on the graph below.

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The Domino’s Pizza crisis example, clearly illustrates how social media had a role in spreading both the company’s negative news and the apology. This situation also clearly demonstrates how social media use in the public relations profession has a balance of risks and rewards within the industry and how to deal with such situations.

Words: 650 excluding references and quotes


Fisher, S. (2013). 3 Great examples of crisis management on social media. SpinWeb.

Giles, Martin. (2010, 30 January). A world of connectionsThe Economist.

Johnston, J. & Zawawi, C. (2009). Public relations theory and practice. NSW: Allen & Unwin.,. (2015). Social Media and Public Relations – Public Relations Institute of Australia. Retrieved 3 March 2015, from

Safko, L., & EBL Ebook Library. (2012). The social media bible: Tactics, tools, and strategies for business success. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.


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