Lee, Nicole. M., Sha, Bey-Ling, Dozier, David M., & Sargent, Paul. (2015). The role of new public relations practitioners as social media experts. Public Relations Review, 41(3), 411-413. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.05.002


Social media has become a prevalent part of public relations practice. Research and observation suggest young public relations practitioners are often the ones to perform social media tasks. Guided by literature on public relations roles, millennials, and pigeon-holing, this qualitative study explored whether new professionals are in fact relegated to being social media practitioners. Analysis revealed several factors, including agency billing rates, mentorship, and personal attributes, which impact the tasks new professionals are assigned.


Face-to-face interviews were conducted with 20 practitioners in their 20s who had fewer than five years of professional experience. Data were collected between October 2011 and February 2012, using semi-structured interviews. The interview guide was divided into four sections: Personal background, feelings toward public relations, tasks performed at work, and feelings toward tasks performed.

Key Findings

  • Several participants admitted that they used social media for one-way message dissemination, although they recognized that this might not be the best use of such platforms.
  • Although many participants spent more time on social media than they did on traditional tasks, very few of them did social media exclusively.
  • Many participants attributed their social media use to agency billing rates, rather than specialized expertise. Senior practitioners have higher billing rates that do not fit into the client budgets allocated for social media.
  • Several young practitioners discussed the role of mentorship in their professional development. Those with strong mentors and advocates shared more diverse professional experience.

Implications for Practice

This study has two implications for the practice of public relations that can be immediately implemented by new professionals and their employers. First, professionals with the greatest diversity of experience and those that seemed the most satisfied with their careers were the ones that claimed that they had a mentor in their organization who advocated for their professional development. While the benefits of mentorship seem intuitive, this study is a reminder for new practitioners that having a mentor at their place of work can not only have an intrinsic benefit, but also an extrinsic one directly impacting the experience and skills they have the opportunity to develop. Second, the practitioners that seemed the most satisfied with their careers were also the ones that claimed they felt permitted to ask for new responsibilities or tasks that they were interested in or wanted experience with as well as the ability to ask for less time assigned to tasks they particularly disliked. Of course, all of these participants understood that not all requests could be met, but even the impression that their opinions were listened to seemed to make a difference.

Article Location

The full, published article is available for free at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277726510_The_role_of_new_public_relations_practitioners_as_social_media_experts

A longer version is also available for free at: https://www.academia.edu/2489655/The_Role_of_New_Public_Relations_Practitioners_as_Social_Media_Experts

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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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