SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION AND FEEDBACK PLATFORM FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS (A CASE STUDY OF GUARANTY TRUST BANK PLC)
1.1. BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
Use of social media networks is widespread among public relations (PR) practitioners and comprises important tools in the public relations area. Social media helps public relations because public relations practitioners are able to build more new relationships across a wider landscape and in a sustainable fashion never before possible (Waddel, 2010).
The widespread use of social media has fundamentally changed how public relations practitioners communicate and share information for practice. Public relations departments in Nigeria are now more specialized since the Internet has transformed the way public relations practitioners communicate and interact with their different audiences.
Public relations practitioners and journalists have changed the way they communicate because of the various social media tools available. Google and other Internet search engines have changed the way people find information online.
The term Social Media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into an interactive dialogue and is often used to describe websites like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google, or MySpace and Instagram — all virtual places where people can interact and engage with others by simply logging on through a computer or mobile device, it can be defined as “blogs, social networking environments, person-to-person broadcasting messaging and other Web 2.0 applications” (Palen, 2008). Arguably, new social networking and social media technologies are widely believed to offer business a powerful means to improve their communications, processes, and ultimately performance.
However, there is a lack of empirical data on the extent to which public relations practitioners in Nigeria are utilizing social media networks, and in particular, how they are being deployed. Wright and Hinson (2009) studied extensively how social media tools are implemented in public relations and they perceived social media positively with respect to strategic communication for PR professionals.
In another study (Herger and Howell, 2007) on the importance of blogging in public relations, research results revealed what the potential of blogs can be used for rather than what public relations practitioners actually do with blogs, and showed that “from a public relations perspective, there has been limited investigation and understanding into the nature of cyberspace as a communications medium.” Researchers (for example, Weber, 2007) also highlight that the communications world is increasingly moving in a digital direction and those who can grasp this transformation will be able to communicate far more effectively than those who do not.
As such, and given the phenomenal usage of Web 2.0 platforms in corporate communications, it is critical for public relations professionals to understand how social media works. Public relations practitioners seek to communicate with and hear from consumers, as well as use social channels to share information with key audiences.
Social media tools provide researchers and public relations practitioners with a new and rich source of easily accessible data about individuals, society and potentially the world in general (Nicoli and Komodromos, 2013; Schoen et al., 2013).
A number of researchers (Key, 2011; Waddel, 2010) agree the role of public relations in the digital age requires understanding how your audiences are gathering and sharing information and then influencing them at key points. “Doing so, requires strategies that embrace the digital age” (Key, 2011). Public relations practitioners are shifting to social media as the lines between online and offline promotion becomes blurry. Social media afford public relations practitioners the opportunity of reaching out to and engaging with their publics in conversation (Eyrich, Padman & Sweetser, 2008; Hanna, Rohm & Crittenden, 2011).
The increasing number of Facebook users also suggests that the potential for organisations to reach and communicate with a number of publics has also increased commensurately, thereby impacting public relations efforts. Public relations have been widely accepted by many businesses particularly the banking and financial institutions. Banks tend to thrive on the knowledge and trust of their various stakeholders.
Considering that the practice of public relations deals with fostering mutual interest, increasing visibility and building a reputable brand name, banks, therefore, require the management function of public relations to achieve its set out goals and objectives. The banking industry needs a certain level of customer’s trust to flourish in its endeavors’.
It is as a result of this trust that customers are confident enough to entrust their funds in the various banks. Thus, the success of a bank depends on how it intends to build a positive relationship with its key publics. Some of the tools and techniques employed by public relations practitioners include press releases, blogging, newsletters, events, audio-visual releases, exhibitions, and social media marketing amongst a host of others.
In the era of instant communication, it is behooved of institutions in the Nigerian banking industry to employ the most appropriate PR tool(s) for disseminating key messages and information to customers. Thisis also required in addition to the issues mentioned above (digitization, new entrants in the industry et al.) faced by the Nigerian banking industry.
While other PR techniques are equally suitable for banking institutions, communication via social media remains a paramount platform for spreading information to customers. Social media which refer to a series of computer-mediated technologies (such as applications and websites) allow its users to share information on virtual platforms in real time. More recently, Social media allows for open and transparent dissemination of data with an organization and its various publics (Leben, Gardner, & D.Myers, 2015).
Its ability to facilitate a more direct channel between organizations and their targets bypasses the ambiguity and complexity associated with other media channels. Since the organization itself remains the most trusted source of its information, social media provides it with an opportunity to clarify misinformation and relay key messages while taking accountability. This paper basically tries to analyze the effectiveness of social media and its implications in the society. This paper also tries to find out the usefulness of social media as a tool for effective communication and feedback for public relation practitioners.
1.2 STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
Social media can be deployed and applied in a variety of situations, particularly in the organisational setting. Indeed, organisations are embracing social media use for diverse activities including building brand awareness, promoting brand recognition, customer relationship management and market research (Chikandiwa, Contogiannis & Jembere, 2013). Consequently, various scholars, through research, have explored ways in which social media can be used for brand building and reputation management, customer relationship management and market research. A case in point is Bruhn, Schoenmueller and Schäfer’s (2012) online-survey of three distinct industries – tourism, telecommunication, and pharmaceuticals – examining the comparative effect of brand communication on brand equity through social media, in contrast to traditional media. Bruhn et al, (2012) found that communication by organisations through social media affected brand perception significantly. Undoubtedly, branding has implications on customer relationship management, and scholars have endeavoured to explore how social media can be used in managing relationships with customers. Regarding customer relationship management, Baird and Parasnis (2011) carried out two online surveys, firstly with 1,056 customers in America, Europe and Asia, and secondly to 351 business executives in similar locations. From their findings, they argued that organisations that embrace a more social form of customer relationship management are likely to create increasingly cooperative and valuable experiences with customers. Further studies have also explored the use social media in marketing research, Patino et al, (2012). Nevertheless, as social media continues to grow in usage, studies that explore the application of social media for organisational-public relations remain scanty (Briones, Kuch, Lui & Jin, 2011). Also, the use of social media websites, as a tool for public relations and how these relationships are evaluated seem hazy, as most organisations underutilize the technology (Lovejoy, Waters & Saxton, 2012) especially in the African context. Banks are using social media platforms to achieve this communication objective and customer relationship with its key stakeholders. Social media provides banking institutions with a compelling and interactive interface which aligns with the values and needs of its customers hence, its adoption as a suitable tool for ‘humanising’ content and maintaining a positive relationship with customers. Hence, this study aims to contribute to this knowledge gap by investigating how organisations use social media as a public relations tool for effective communication and feedback in the banking industries.
1.3 OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY
The major aim of the study is to examine social media as an effective communication and feedback platform for public relations. Other specific objectives of the study include;
- To examine the extent Public Relations consultants adopt social media as an effective communication tool.
- To examine the effect of social media on the effective communication and feedback for public relations practitioners.
- To examine the implications of social media as a formal channel of communication in the banking sector by Public relations practitioners.
- To examine the relationship between social media usage and effective communication of public relations practitioners in Guaranty Trust Bank.
- To examine how social media as a tool of communication may be harnessed to enhanced public relations in Guaranty Trust Bank.
1.4 RESEARCH QUESTIONS
- To what extent has Public Relations consultant adopted social media as an effective communication tool?
- What is the effect of social media on the effective communication and feedback for public relations practitioners?
- What are the implications of social media as a formal channel of communication in the banking sector by Public relations practitioners?
- What is the relationship between social media usage and effective communication of public relations practitioners in Guaranty Trust Bank?
- How can social media as a tool of communication be harnessed to enhanced public relations practices in Guaranty Trust Bank?
1.5. RESEARCH HYPOTHESES
- There is no significant effect of social media on the effective communication and feedback for public relations practitioners.
- There is a significant effect of social media on the effective communication and feedback for public relations practitioners.
- There is no significant relationship between social media usage and effective communication of public relations practitioners in Guaranty Trust Bank.
- There is a significant relationship between social media usage and effective communication of public relations practitioners in Guaranty Trust Bank.
1.6 SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY
The current study anticipates advancing research and knowledge by finding out the impacts of social media on effective communication and feedback platform for public relations within the banking sector. Public relations at the corporate level today are confronted with an astounding array of new communications channels. Internet-based social media tools like blogs, podcasts, and online video. Social networks are giving voice to the opinions of millions of consumers. While mainstream media continues to play a vital role in the propagation of information, even these traditional channels are increasingly being influenced by online conversations. The new influencers are therefore beginning to tear at the fabric of marketing as it has existed for 100 years, giving rise to a new style of management, communication and marketing that is characterized by conversation and community.
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SCOPE AND LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
The study is restricted to social media as an effective communication and feedback platform for public relations, a case study of Guaranty Trust Bank in Lagos state.
1.8 LIMITATION OF THE STUDY
Financial constraint: Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview)
Time constraint: The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. This consequently will cut down on the time devoted for the research work.
1.9 DEFINITION OF TERMS
Social Networking: The use of internet to make information about yourself available to other people especially people you share an interest with to send messages to them.
Media: Are all those media technologies that are intended to reach a large audience by mass communication. “They are messages communicated through a mass medium to a number of people
Public Relations: A unique management function for establishing and maintaining mutual communication lines and understanding between the public and the bank.
Social media: They are web-based applications where people create profiles and connect with others (with profiles) in a closed system.
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