Luo, Yi, Jiang, Hua, & Kulemeka, Owen (2015). Strategic social media management and public relations leadership: Insights from industry leaders. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 9, 167-197.


To understand how social media are reshaping the public relations profession, it is vital to examine the perceptions of public relations leaders who are typically involved in decisions integrating social media into communication programs. This study explored how social media use has affected leadership behaviors of public relations leaders in the U.S. Four key dimensions emerged from interview results on how public relations leaders can strategically use social media to establish leadership roles: exhibiting expert power, gaining decision power by demonstrating tangible outcomes, displaying leadership vision in social media use, and establishing leadership among peers.


This study conducted in-depth interviews with 43 in-house public relations and communication leaders working in diverse leading U.S.-based organizations. These individuals work on the client side of public relations (e.g., companies, charities, government agencies).

Key Findings

  • Almost all public relations leaders have well acknowledged some fundamental functions of social media in public relations practice, such as message promotion, building participative, interactive, and problem-solving oriented community, monitoring stakeholders, and crisis management.
  • Social media use helped the public relations leaders demonstrate their expert power through displaying their strong expertise in technology, understanding of publics, and effective online engagement with strategic publics.
  • Most participants stressed that social media along did not increase the likelihood of them being involved in top-level strategic planning. Rather, it was the strategic alliance of social media use with solving business or organizational problems and achieving tangible outcomes (e.g., profit, donations).
  • This study revealed a neoteric facet of public relations leadership—innovative use of social media, charismatic forward thinking, and cultivating social media strategists.
  • Many public relations leaders noted the increased recognition of the value of public relations by other management functions when they demonstrated leadership among peers through strategic use of social media.

Implications for Practice

Public relations leaders in this study assumed E-leadership through their visions of new technology (e.g., social media), creative use of the interactive platforms, and their ability to influence top management’s perception on the efficacy of strategic social media management. The key to linking social media and leadership resided in the issue of how to demonstrate expertise in social media and how to strategically integrate social media into communication programs. Public relations managers can advance their leadership though three mechanism: exhibiting expert power in technology, linking strategic social media use with bottom line, and demonstrating leadership vision of innovation and forward thinking.

Article Location

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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