Tracking How Social and Other Digital Media are Being Used in Public Relations Practice: A 12-Year Study

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This blog post is a summary of “Tracking How Social and Other Digital Media are Being Used in Public Relations Practice: A 12 Year Study” by Dr. Donald K. Wright and Michelle Drifka Hinson. For the full study, please visit the PR Journal.

After the explosion of social media in 2005, its wake left dramatic changes in the practice of public relations and concerned researchers took the opportunity to quantify and analyze.

“Tracking How Social and Other Digital Media are Being Used in Public Relations Practice: A 12-Year Study,” is a social media-centered research article written by Donald K. Wright, Ph.D. and Michelle Drifka Hinson in the latest edition of Public Relations Journal. This study focused on the evolving usage of social media within the field of public relations. Wright and Hinson drew their findings on the responses to a questionnaire which they distributed continually since 2005.

More than 4,000 PR professionals’ responses were recorded. As noted in the article, this is an exceptionally large sample size. Along with its longitudinal design, this paper makes a much-needed contribution to a dearth of highly-credible PR research.

The major findings outline how social media is used and perceived among PR professionals. Over the years, the research showed that an increasingly substantial proportion of professionals agree that social media is changing the way PR is practiced. Facebook was found to be the most popular platform used by professionals, with Twitter close behind. Other platforms like Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are used, but not near to the level of significance of Facebook and Twitter.

Regarding how often PR professionals use social media during their work day, only 2 percent responded “not at all”. Interestingly, 4 percent responded that it takes up 75 percent of their work day or more. Most respondents, 36-43 percent, reported that social media management occupies 11-25 percent of their time.

When asked whether their companies measure social media use, 52 percent of respondents said “yes” in 2015, this figure lowering to 48 percent in 2017. When taking measurements, companies primarily conduct content analysis. Toward these findings, Wright and Hinson commented that more measurement should occur.

From these findings, one takes away a better understanding of how social media has established a presence within public relations activities. Facebook and Twitter have clearly become instrumental in establishing mutually beneficial relationships for PR clients. Through trend analysis, this influence has grown throughout the years, and leveled off in 2017 as social media became normalized.


Summary by Whitney Mecca, a public relations student at the University of Florida.

Infographic design by Angel Kennedy, student assistant for the Institute for Public Relations.

Posted in [Blog].

One Comment

  1. It is amazing to see the way the whole concept of Public Relations (PR) has changed over the course of time. The entire way marketing and propaganda is now spread is so much more effective and widespread with the new evolving digital media avenues. These social media platforms are now able to connect you with hundreds of people making networking a new phenomenon. It really beats the traditional resume in hand approach.

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