For generations, the media was seen as having a massive amount of influence and control over varying publics, which public relations professionals used to promote and communicate their clients' messages. At one point, the media was seen has an entity that told the public what to think. At another point in time, it was seen as telling the public what to think about. In the last few decades, the concept how media works has drastically changed with the invention and subsequent takeover of social media.
The decline of traditional media is affecting mass communication professionals in all areas, including public relations. Public relations professionals are no longer assured their clients' messages will reach the intended publics simply by having them featured in a newspaper or magazine as more and more people are turning to social media for information. One of the reasons for this change is the fact that social media allows people to choose for themselves what they become informed about. In essence, people are beginning to serve as their own individual gatekeepers, “deciding to whom it will grant influence.”1
This thought process is at the heart of the uses and gratifications theory. It is defined as “the belief that people have the power to pick and choose the mass media channels that, in turn, influence their actions.”2 This is exactly what is happening as more and more people are turning to social media instead of traditional media.
Because one of the functions of public relations is maintaining the relationship between an organization and its publics, it is important for public relations professionals to not only be aware of changing trends among the publics, but also follow the trend in order to present messages to “specific audiences, using media those publics prefer.”3 The change from traditional media to social media is causing public relations professionals to evolve their strategies and tactics from a traditional media relations only model to one that encompasses social media to ensure continued “good relationships with the publics important to their success.”4
To do this, and do it well, public relations professionals have to become familiar with using social media and interacting...