Satisfying Public Relations: The Promise of Social Media in the UAE

Satisfying Public Relations: The Promise of Social Media in the UAE

Badreya Al-Jenaibi (Department of Mass Communication, United Arab Emirates University, Al-Ain, UAE)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/jea.2013010101
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This paper assesses the state of PR in the UAE in relation to global media, and highlights needs in this area for both public and private enterprises. The paper explores the types of Social Media (SM) used for public relations in the UAE and what it plays in PR departments. The main research focus of this paper is how PR departments are utilizing social media to engage in advocacy work. Employing a qualitative method, interview data is taken from a cross section of 40 organizations throughout the UAE. It addresses perceptions of benefits, challenges, public acceptance, and future strategies of social media in relation to global SM as a whole. A limited number of research articles about the use of the internet in the UAE organizations have been published, but the author found no previous published studies specifically focusing on the use of SM in PR in this region, and this is the first paper that focuses on SM in 40 different organizations. It also offers suggestions for media planning and education strategies that can contribute to the future of PR in the UAE, and suggests further research focusing on the socio-economic effects of social media be conducted and incorporated by educational institutions in the UAE and by private businesses with a vested interest. These new technologies are critical for improving organizational and PR processes in the UAE.
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In the contemporary world, public relations have been shown to be an essential tool for business marketing. When large investments in marketing strategies have not yielded desired results in a timely fashion (Kaplan, 2012), corporations have been compelled to seek professional help (Harris, 2008) from the public relations expert. Traditionally, Public Relations intervention has taken the form of placing advertisements in newspapers (Motti, 2011). These efforts however are rapidly being replaced given the onset of Social Media Public Relations, or SMPR (Dave, 2008). Yet to date little research has been performed to date on the use of SMPR techniques in the UAE. This research critically analyzes the operations of SMPR departments in organizations in the United Arab Emirates. It adopts a multidimensional approach to offer a socio-scientific perspective on this subject matter. Both qualitative and quantitative methods were chosen in combination to produce optimal results (Meyette, 2003).

Social Media has been defined as the democratization of substance and / or content and the comprehension of the responsibility (Powell, et al., 2011) played by various people across the globe during the reading and propagation of information (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011). It is identified in part with websites like Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace which permit their clients to allocate content (Kaplan, 2012), Media along with many others (Caverlee, 2008), and with websites intended for photo and video sharing, like Flickr, YouTube, and Photo bucket (Jarboe, 2009). The Social Media category also includes news collection and online reference websites (Elavsky & Elavsky, 2011), like Digg and Wikipedia, and micro-blogging sites like Twitter (Garfield, 2010).

Overall, the online experience is becoming an ever more important means through which organisations relate to their customers and clients. Today, Facebook and Twitter marketing are considered vital constituents in a contemporary Social Media marketing strategy (Gillin, 2008). Given its potential to establish and relay certain attitudes, social media also can play an important role in public relations. Various researchers like Kaplan, Andreas, Michael and Haenlein (2010) have documented the dual role of Social Media pathways arising out of its interactive model. Social media is recognized as having the potential to both grant corporations an influential business presence (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011) and to act as centres for clients to locate and interact with a corporation’s services (Reisner, 2009) and products. Among its contributions to business presence is the ability of Social Media Pathways to assist corporations in creating and maintaining (Hill, 2005) a constructive social status. For example, entrepreneurs can craft and sustain their business profiles on social networking sites. Research shows that social media pathways can help a business entrepreneur to craft more cohorts (Gregory, 2004)and/or followers by leveraging its ability to collate information (Botan & Taylor, 2006) and send out updates on a regular basis (Dave, 2008). Such exposure helps to gain new customers while also avoid losing already established consumers.

To take full advantage of social media, PR must recognize and successfully incorporate the features that distinguish social media. As a means of communication, on-line interaction differs from traditional forms of exposure (Grosseck & Holotescu, 2008). In contrast to static and repetitive advertising and sound-bites, social media often entails instant and interactive correspondence (Grossman, 2009), including dialogue in place of monologue. It is comprised of a complex network of inter-related signs and symbols (Hobsbawm, 2009) with which browsers and users can instantly respond without recrimination. In such an environment, a company or organisation must respond to continual questioning (Ihator, 2001), appraisal, and/or criticism. Thus social media is distinct from traditional media in part due to the self-regulating nature (Weinberg & Pehlivan, 2011) in which social media often operates. Although many companies have set up websites on the internet to gain recognition in the virtual domain, many do not realise the potential of on-line interaction (Chafkin, 2007), and in some instances are not generating any business at all.

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