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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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414

Introduction

New media technologies, especially social media technologies, have fundamentally changed the way we communicate and enabled everyone to become message creators.

Government, business, and individual players of the new media environment are in constant search of the most effective ways to reach their audiences.

Public relations practitioners, as those who build and maintain relationships with key audiences, are at the center of this new media communication environment. Some of

communication venues available to an average public relations practitioner today include:

discussion forums, message boards, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, Real Simple Syndication (RSS), photo sharing, audio and video sharing, search engine marketing, wikis, social networks, professional networks, and micro-blogging, to mention only a few. Sometimes, blogs, podcasts, and RSS seem to be widely adopted by public relations practitioners already, and other programs such as Facebook (social networking), LinkedIn (professional networking), and Twitter (microblogging) seem to be the next line of technologies that might help public relations practitioners reach their audiences most effectively.

Researchers have examined the adoption of new technologies among public relations practitioners (Curtis et al., 2010; Eyrich et al., 2008), the potential and current impact of new technology on public relations practice (Wright & Hinson, 2008, 2009), and challenges and new opportunities new technology brings (James, 2008). This study reports public relations practitioners’ technology adoption using one of the most current data and examines various factors associated with the adoption. This study intends to add further information to the literature explaining constantly changing new media environment and its impact on the public relations industry.

Related Studies

New media technology has transformed the communication environment in the past decade, and the ways we communicate have been transformed accordingly. With technological advances, audience members now actively generate their own content on the web and demand to participate as message creators. In particular, audience members have strongly responded to social media technologies, and online social network sites have grown nearly 6 times since 2005 (Smith, 2009). As use of social media technology increases rapidly, studies have also observed both attitudinal (e.g., high self-efficacy) and behavioral (e.g., civic and political participation) changes among social media users.

As audience members become content producers and publishers, public relations practitioners have gone through the process of transformation as well. Public relations practitioners today produce print news releases, newsletters, and brochures using InDesign and edit audio and visual materials with Avid. In addition, they seek out multiple communication venues using blogs, virtual worlds, wikis, and online social networks.

Recent developments including online social networks and PDAs expand the parameters of communication and provide public relations practitioners with a wide range of options for reaching the public. At the same time, Web 2.0 technologies enable audiences to become active participants in the communication process, and thus, challenge public relations practitioners to re-think their relationships with their audiences. More specifically, many public relations practitioners welcome the potential of new media as technological advances enable them to 415 directly communicate with their audiences without going through traditional media gatekeepers (Gillin, 2008). On the other hand, public relations practitioners have to give up control over their messages and allow audience feedback and participation while determining the most effective way of reaching their target audiences.

Whether public relations practitioners are ready to embrace new media technologies for their practices or not, technologies seem to be advancing at a faster rate than ever and these technologies are widely embraced by the industry. A survey of working public relations practitioners found that, although the rate of adoption varies, new communication tools are continuously being adopted by practitioners (Eyrich et al., 2008). Some of the more established tools such as e-mail and intranet, the study found, have been widely adopted, and the newer tools such as blogs and podcasts are adopted at an increasing speed. Practitioners, however, seem to be a little slow in adopting the more complicated and unfamiliar technologies such as virtual worlds and text messaging, the authors found.

This growing use of social media is not limited to the United States. A survey of European countries noted an increase in social media use in communication management from 2008 to 2009, with web videos and blogs growing the fastest. The most used social media, online communities (social networks) remained the same both years at 32.8%, while online videos increased from 24.6% to 28.9%. Weblogs increased 19.9%to 24.8%. Twitter was not measured in 2008, but commanded 14% use in 2009 (Zerfass et al., 2009).

With a wide spread interest in incorporating new technology in PR campaigns, practitioners’ attitudes towards new technology and its impacts on their work are also important to note. In a survey conducted recently, Wright and Hinson (2008) found that a large number of practitioners (61%) believed that the emergence of social media including blogs has changed the way their organizations communicated. About 66 percent of participants of this study also believed that blogs and social media have enhanced public relations practice. When the two researchers conducted a similar study in 2009 (Wright & Hinson, 2009a), an even higher percentage of respondents (73%) stated that social media technology has changed the way their organizations communicated.





Although the adoption of latest technology is clearly happening, it is too early to predict the implications of this adoption. As target audiences and mass media demand various ways to obtain required information, public relations practitioners need to prepare materials faster and more accurately in a newly demanded format (James, 2008). This means public relations practitioners should continue to possess the ability to determine the message content and the delivery methods most effective in reaching their target audiences (James, 2008; Weber, 2007).

The uses of and attitudes towards new technology among public relations practitioners are continuously changing as the media environment changes continuously. To update and

chronicle the changes, this study asked:

RQ1. Which technology do public relations practitioners use in their work activities?

RQ2. Which technology are public relations practitioners familiar with?

RQ3. Do public relations practitioners view themselves competent to use new technology?

RQ4. Which technology do public relations practitioners view significant in their practice in the near future?

RQ5. Are there factors associated with frequent use of technology?

RQ6. What are public relations practitioners’ attitudes towards the impact of technology on their work?

416 RQ7. How do respondents’ companies handle new technology-related issues?

–  –  –

An online-based survey was conducted among working public relations professionals. A link to the survey site was sent via e-mail to the members of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), and 186 usable responses were collected by the cut-off day in February 2009.

In order to determine the extent to which public relations practitioners are adopting new media technologies in their work activities, respondents were asked to rate their use, familiarity with, and perceived significance of 21 technological tools. Eighteen technology items used in Eyrich et al.’s study (2008) were adopted and additional three items were asked. They were Email, intranet, web browsing, videoconferencing, photo editing tools, audio/video editing tools, layout tools, web page production tools, text messaging, blogs, podcasts, video sharing, photo sharing, social networks, micro-blogging, wikis, social event, social bookmarking, RSS, gaming, virtual worlds. Common software names were provided when examples are needed (e.g., Twitter as a micro-blogging tool).

All three concepts (use, familiarity, and perceived significance of new technologies) were measured on a Likert scale. Technology use was measured on a 7-point Likert scale [1 (never), 2 (less than once a month), 3 (once a month), 4 (2-3 times a month), 5 (once a week), 6 (2-3 times a week), and 7 (daily)]. Respondents’ familiarity with each technology was measured on a 5point Likert scale where 1 indicated “not at all familiar” and 5 indicated “extremely familiar.” Respondents’ perceived significance of each technological tool was measured by asking the question, “How common a public relations tool do you think this technology will become in 5 years?” Respondents were asked to indicate their perception on a 5-point Likert scale where 1 indicated “not at all common” and 5 indicated “ubiquitous.” Respondents’ attitudes towards new technology were measured by asking them to indicate how much they agree with eight statements relating to the impact of new technology.

Four statements explained positive impacts of new technology on their work and the other four statements were related to negative impacts.

In addition to these foundational questions to get a picture of technology adoption among PR practitioners, other questions regarding how their companies are coping with technology adoption, how their companies are distributing works involving the latest technology, and what type of technology-related support is provided in their companies.

Findings

Of those who reported gender (n=186), more females (n=101, 66.9%) than males (n=47, 31.1%) responded. Respondents who indicated their age (n= 139) were on average 44.5 years old (S.D.=10.584). Those who reported the years they have been working in public relations industry (n=149) worked on average 16.88 years (S.D.=9.17). Less than a half (41.6%) of those who indicated whether they are accredited in the field (n=149) had such titles as APR or ABC.

Respondents in the study were highly educated with 95 percent possessing university or graduate degrees. Of those, 43 percent had B.A. or B.S. degrees. Among those who reported their majors from university degrees, 75 percent had journalism or communication related majors such as public relations, journalism, communication, or journalism or communication with public relations concentration (sequence).

417

Which technology do PR practitioners use in their work activities?

The average frequency in respondents’ use of 21 technology tools was 3.28 (S.D.=1.77), which indicates that respondents used these technology tools a little more than once a month.

More specifically, E-mail (99.4%), web browsing (95.8%), and Intranet (63.9%) were used daily by a large number of people in the survey. Text messaging, social networking, blog, and photo editing tools were other frequently used technologies. Although less than half of respondents reported that they used text messaging (43.5%), social networking (34.7%), blog (22.6%), and photo editing (9.5%) tools daily, many respondents said that they used these technologies at least once a month [social networking (68.3%), text messaging (67.9%), blog (63.6%), and photo editing (57.1%) tools].

On the other hand, such technologies as podcasting, video conferencing, wikis, web page production, social bookmarking, audio/video editing, gaming, and virtual world were used least frequently. Respondents reported that they used these eight technologies less frequently than once a month (M=1.99, S.D.=1.46). Respondents almost never used gaming and virtual world technologies in their work activities with over 95 percent of respondents answering that they used gaming or virtual world less frequently than once a month or never used them [gaming (95.8%), virtual world (96.4%)]. Closely following technology on this list was audio and video editing tools. More than eight out of 10 respondents said that they used the technology less frequently than once a month or never used it (82.1%).

Which technology are PR practitioners familiar with?

Respondents’ average familiarity with all of 21 technology tools was 3.30 (S.D.= 1.15) on a scale where 1 indicated “not at all familiar” and 5 indicated “extremely familiar.” Naturally, technologies frequently used by public relations practitioners were the technologies they are familiar with. Six of the seven technological tools respondents said they are familiar with were identical with the tools they use most frequently. The technologies were e-mail (M =4.98, S.D.=.135), web browsing (M =4.90, S.D.=.338), Intranet (M = 4.59, S.D.=.825), text messaging (M =4.22, S.D.= 1.135), Social networks (M =4.02, S.D.= 1.136), blogs (M =3.99, S.D.= 1.075), and video sharing tools (M = 3.69, S.D.= 1.208). Average familiarity with the seven technologies was 4.34 (S.D.=.84) on a scale where 4 indicated “quite familiar” and 5 indicated “extremely familiar.” Again intuitively, the technologies with which public relations practitioners expressed their unfamiliarity were often the technologies they rarely use in their work activities.

Respondents stated that they are not familiar with virtual world (M =1.70, S.D.=1.096), gaming (M = 1.80, S.D.= 1.07), audio/video editing tools (M =2.25, S.D.= 1.31), social bookmarking (M =2.40, S.D.=1.35), web page production tools (M =2.52, S.D.= 1.39), wikis (M = 2.83, S.D.= 1.40), and layout tools (M = 2.76, S.D.= 1.41). The overall familiarity with these seven technologies was 2.32 (S.D.=1.29) on a scale where 2 indicated “somewhat familiar” and 3 indicated “familiar.” 418

Competence to use new technology



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