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Effective Use of Social Media for Public Relations

Social media provides public relations (PR) professionals an outlet for interacting with customers and the public in general. In the past, PR professionals relied on strategies like press outreach to help shape the public’s perspective of their companies. While this strategy is still effective, it creates a stream of communication that only flows one way. On the other hand, social media enables a two-way exchange between a company and the public.

Social media savviness is vital as the channel blends the roles of communications, public relations, customer service and marketing. Additionally, it’s relatively easier to quantify metrics for social media than traditional methods. Regardless of whether you are one of the world’s biggest conglomerates or a one-person operation, social media can serve as an outlet for:

  • Customer service: Allowing companies to respond instantly to satisfied or dissatisfied customers
  • Crisis communications: Letting companies control crisis response in real time and helping professionals nip a crisis in the bud
  • Brand reputation management: Using social media posts to help shape public perception of a company’s brand

In an ever-evolving digital marketing landscape, the role of a communication professional is more multi-faceted than ever. Subsequently, an online Master of Science in mass communications emerges as a tangible way to gain the specific expertise needed for the more advanced roles for communication professionals. Such a degree helps break down the complex world of modern communications and even clarifies how to best use your talents. This includes, on top of traditional PR responsibilities, the most up-to-date ways to leverage social media.

The biggest differentiator of social media is its ability to create a two-way flow of communication. A handle on social media places businesses in the driver’s seat when it comes to controlling their message. So, as a public relations professional, how can you use social media as a tool?

Rapid Customer Service

Social media is integral to providing quality customer service. In recent times, social media has become a common platform for customers to air their thoughts on a company. Providing quick, effective responses to customer comments is one of the best ways to shape the public’s perception of your company. This approach holds for both satisfied and dissatisfied customers.

A prompt response is often all it takes to turn a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one, and a happy customer into a brand advocate who will recommend your company to their friends and family.

Influencer Engagement

“Influencers” are social media personalities with large digital audiences. Oftentimes, influencers can help promote a brand’s voice in a way that the brand could never achieve on its own. Given the public’s need for authentic messaging, influencer engagement is just as important as reporter outreach, if not more so. Brands can leverage influencers to promote products, protect their reputation and sway public opinion.

Social Listening for Reputation Management

Some companies take the role of social media one step further. Instead of waiting for customers to mention the brand, companies incorporate social listening as a way to manage their reputation. The brand can monitor the conversation and, if necessary, interject with a response, comment or even a well-placed meme.

Now, let’s take a look at a few companies that excel in tapping the power of social media to their benefit:

Southwest Airlines

A round-the-clock, social listening center at Southwest Airlines employs 42 people, with 31 focused on customer care. The goal of this center is to respond to disgruntled customers in 15 minutes or less. Additionally, this team keeps its ears to the ground for potential stories for goodwill PR campaigns.

In one scenario, 5-year-old Hudson Hughes made eye contact with a Southwest Airlines pilot and waved excitedly. Hudson’s mom documented the moment and shared it on Facebook. Southwest’s social media team came across the heart-tugging video and shared the story across the airline’s own channels. This piece of authentic, organic content was much more powerful than anything the advertising department could have created.

Granted, social media doesn’t always have to be serious.


Wendy’s uses its Twitter account to routinely insult and poke fun at competing restaurant chains. In doing so, it creates viral moments that help spread brand awareness. In a world where brands are expected to be professional and courteous, this semi-offensive approach goes against the grain.

It has helped Wendy’s amass nearly 4 million Twitter followers and inspired other companies to try a similar strategy. Wendy’s Twitter bio claims “We like our tweets the way we like our fries: hot, crispy, and better than anyone expects from a fast-food restaurant.”

Wendy’s isn’t the only major restaurant group that’s putting social media to effective use, though.


Chipotle has made its presence known on the popular video-sharing app, TikTok. The fast-food chain launched the #ChipotleLidFlip challenge after an employee clip went viral. In total, this challenge racked up 240 million views for the company. This level of exposure was made possible because an employee on Chipotle’s social media team was paying attention, recognized the opportunity and executed a strategy.

The role that social media plays in the world of public relations is growing increasingly complex mainly because social media blends aspects of public relations, communications, customer service and marketing. However, one thing is fairly certain: The job outlook for social media managers is strong, if the volume of job postings on LinkedIn is any indication, and savvy social media professionals can leverage the platforms to benefit the companies they serve.

Learn more about Murray State University’s Master of Science in Mass Communications with a concentration in Public Relations online program.

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