Bridgen, Liz (2011). Emotional labour and the pursuit of the personal brand: Public relations practitioners’ use of social media. Journal of Media Practice, 12(1), pp. 61-76.
Public relations practitioners are encouraged to use their feelings and emotions at work, historically when liaising with clients and journalists, but more recently in online interactions as well. Drawing on interviews with public relations practitioners, this article examines the extent to which professional online engagement can be analysed in terms of ’emotional labour’ (Hochschild, 1983). It explores whether the pleasure that practitioners derive from online work, the freedom it gives them to work remotely and flexibly, and the licence it offers to build a’ personal brand’ also serves to hide exploitation, legitimize long working hours and reaffirm existing gender roles.
This project used semi-structured interviews with seven UK public relations agency employees. All interviewees worked for small to medium-sized independently-owned public relations agencies (between six and 50 employees) and the interviews took place in 2010.
Interviewees were recruited on the basis that they were active in social networks (Twitter and one other social network) and were employees (not company directors or owners) of agencies.
1) Interviewees did not allow the 24-hour nature of new media to invade all aspects of their life but saw unpaid additional work as a necessary part of their job.
2) Since social media work could be carried out in a domestic setting, this aspect of a practitioners’ work could be seen as further compounding any gender or other inequalities as it kept success (and the number of hours worked) largely private.
3) The complex issue of using a practitioner’s personality, personal history and personal brand to promote the client was legitimised through the public relations industry’s desire for ‘transparency’—thus the emotions and domestic life of public relations practitioners have become, via social media, a ‘product’ possessed both by the individual and their employer.
Implications for Practice
The use of the practitioner’s personal emotions in their business interactions contributes not just toward the competitive success of an organisation but to the individual’s career success (and self-esteem) as well since they can network and build business relationships more effectively. However, this straddling of culture and economy possibly benefits future employers more than it does the practitioner since while the practitioner is being both exploited by the situation and exploiting the situation for their own personal gain, they are also ensuring that they can be exploited again in a future job since their networks are of value to future employers.
The article can be purchased at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/jmp/2011/00000012/00000001/art00004