Wright, Donald K. & Hinson, Michelle Drifka. (2012, Summer). Examining how social and emerging media have been used  in public relations between 2006 and 2012: A longitudinal analysis. Public Relations Journal, 6(4), 1-40.

Although others have examined the impact new communication media are having on public relations, the annual Wright & Hinson surveys represent one of the few attempts to study how public relations practitioners actually are using these emerging media. This seventh annual survey reports the use of these new media has increased each year between 2006 and 2012. Those who practice public relations continue to consider social networks – especially Facebook – the most important social media in the overall communication and public relations efforts followed by micro-blogging sites such as Twitter, search engine marketing, video sharing sites such as YouTube, blogs, electronic forums and podcasts. Communications or public relations continues to be the most likely organizational function to be responsible for monitoring and managing an organization’s blog and social media communication. Marketing was a distant second. Practitioners believe social and other emerging media have improved each year in terms of accuracy, credibility, honesty, trust and truth telling. They also think these new media effectively serve as a watchdog for traditional news media, impacting corporate and organizational transparency and advocating a transparent and ethical culture. The actual working time public relations people spend with blogs and other social media during an average workday continues to increase with 35 percent of the 2012 respondents spending at least 25 percent of their average workday with these new media. Only about half of 2012 survey respondents represent organizations where research is being conducted measuring what others have communicated about these organizations via blogs or social media and less reliable output measures clearly outnumber more valuable outcome research showing the impact these messages have on the formation, change and reinforcement of attitudes, opinions and behavior. In each year of these studies the most statistically significant demographic differences have involved age.


Results are based on responses from seven different annual online surveys conducted each year since 2006. Usable responses during this time period number over 3,500. Since 2009, subjects in this research have been PRSA members, IPR donors and other groups of practitioners including members of IPRA and the Arthur W. Page Society. Usable responses over the past four years totaled 2,238 (n=574 in 2009, n=563 in 2010, n=479 in 2011 and n=622 in 2012) an average of 560 respondents each year.

Key findings:

1)      The use of social media has continued to increase in public relations each year since 2009.

2)      Facebook was found to be the most used new communications media for public relations messages in 2010, 2011 and 2012, replacing search engine marketing that held this distinction in 2009.

3)      After Facebook, The micro-blogging site Twitter was the next most used new media site

4)      The current use of new communications media does not come close to matching how important public relations practitioners say these new communications vehicles should be.

5)      The study’s most statistically significant demographic differences were those based upon age. Younger respondents were considerably more likely than older ones to not only advocate greater use of social media in public relations but also to use social media and other Internet-based technologies in their daily searches for news and information.

6)      Less than half (only 43 percent of the 2012 respondents and less in previous years) represent organizations where research is being conducted measuring what others have communicated about these organizations via blogs or social media. The negative impact of this finding becomes even greater with the realization most of this research focuses upon communication outputs such as the amount of information being disseminated. Less than a third of this measurement focuses upon communication outcomes such as the impact these messages have on the formation, change and reinforcement of attitudes, opinions and behavior.

Implications for Practice:

Given the important role new and emerging media now play in public relations and many other aspects of communication and business, this study is valuable to practitioners because it shows how new media use in public relations practice has changed and developed each year since 2006. Results of the individual and cumulative annual research studies reported on in this article can be used as benchmarks for organizations that want to compare their use of new and emerging media with others. In addition to developing an awareness and understanding of which new media are being used (and/or should be used) savvy practitioners also will want to make certain they develop effective ways to use social and other new media effectively through two-way communication that develops relationships with important strategic audiences.

Article Location

The full article is available for free at: http://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Documents/2012WrightHinson.pdf

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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One thought on “Examining how social and emerging media have been used in public relations between 2006 and 2012: A longitudinal analysis

  1. This is a good work, its very enlightening and educative.I am doing research in the area of adoption of the new media among Nigerian public relations workers. I would want information that may be available on African public relations workers and their situations generally. Going back to Wright and Hinson’s study, one area I think one would like to get more facts is the ratio of public relations effort, time and money spent on social media to that spent on the traditional print / broadcast media presently. I hope future studies will take this .

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