Social Media Use in Public Relations: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with Dr. Donald Wright

On Thursday, Dr. Donald Wright, the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations, kicked off this semesters’ Communication Research Colloquium Series with a lecture on the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media in public relations. He shared his findings and thoughts regarding his ongoing research on social and new media over the past twelve years.

Dr. Wright is one of the first communication scholars to conduct research on how new and emerging media is transforming public relations, a field he has a wealth of experience in. In addition to teaching at universities for more than 30 years, he’s worked professionally in various aspects of in-house and agency public relations, as well as in journalism and broadcasting. Dr. Wright has also conducted numerous scholarly and applied research studies – he has more than 30 papers on the use of social media in public relations to his name.

For this large, annual, international trend survey of PR practitioners, Dr. Wright works with his colleague Michelle D. Hinson, CCO at NxGen Global. Each year, they survey hundreds of PR practitioners who are members of professional organizations such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and the International Public Relations Association (IPRA). Dr. Wright shared several major findings with the lecture’s attendees.

“There is an increasing agreement suggesting social and digital media have enhanced public relations practice.” he said. “And results suggest this particularly is the case with Facebook and Twitter.”

Dr. Wright also summarized long-term social media trends noted in his research. “The amount of time PR people spend working with digital media continues to increase each year,” he said. “Facebook has been the most frequently used site each year except 2014. Twitter is second, LinkedIn third, YouTube fourth and Instagram fifth.” He also pointed out that most organizations package their social media platforms together, so the same message appears on all of their social media feeds rather than using specific messages for each platform.

Dr. Wright used these trends to explain why the new media revolution is important for public relations professionals to understand. “Online merchandizing dramatically changed the way people buy items and conduct business,” he said. “The rules of business have been changed.”

During the concluding Q&A section, attendees were interested in Dr. Wright’s experience conducting the survey, and he didn’t shy away from voicing the problems he faced. “Part of my frustration of this research project is that many PRSA members don’t want to participate in this survey,” he said. “They want public relations to have the same place with manufacturing, legal, HR, or other functions in the organization, but they don’t want to take 15 minutes a month to respond to a questionnaire.” He encouraged attendees interested in public relations careers to contribute to research to better the industry.

“By participating in the research of other people, we can learn a lot about what we should do and not do.”


Linlin Pang, staff writer

Linlin is a graduate student in COM studying Public Relations. She loves writing and her dream is to be a bilingual writer and publish her own books. She likes coffee, cats, and communication.

Comments are closed.