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Journal of Developmental Entrepreneurship

Vol. 19, No. 2 (2014) 1450011 (9 pages)


© World Scientific Publishing Company
DOI: 10.1142/S1084946714500113

A STUDY OF PR PRACTITIONERS’ USE OF SOCIAL


MEDIA TOOLS IN CYPRUS
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MARCOS KOMODROMOS
Department of Communications
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School of Humanities, Social Sciences & Law


University of Nicosia, 46 Makedonitissis Str., 1700 Egkomi
Nicosia, Cyprus
m.komodromos@gmail.com

Received June 2012


Revised March 2014
Published July 2014

This study is aimed at both researchers and public relations (PR) practitioners. The use of social media
tools and technologies — such as blogs, social networking, microblogging, podcasts, etc. — is a very
important factor for PR practitioners, helping them to improve important organizational processes. The
research employs a mixed methodology, with data being analyzed both quantitatively and qualita-
tively. A sample of 25 senior PR practitioners was purposively selected from different sectors in
Cyprus using a mixed methodology approach. Understanding how PR practitioners use social media
tools in organizations in Cyprus can have a positive impact in terms of more effective branding,
stronger brand loyalty and improved marketing, including stronger customer dialogue, reduced in-
ternal communications costs, ability to mine and analyze customer data more effectively, improved
customer service and support, increased customer satisfaction, and better product development (such
as social networking). Previous studies describe the implementation of social media in terms of yes/no.
This paper is original and innovative in that it explores how PR practitioners use social media in
Cyprus (and to what extent), and how this can benefit their organization as a whole.

Keywords: Social media; social networking; social media technologies; public relations strategy;
public relations practitioners/professionals.

1. Introduction
Use of the Internet and social media networks is widespread among public relations (PR)
practitioners and comprise important tools in the PR area. Social media helps PR because
PR 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 PR practitioners communicate and share infor-
mation for practice. PR departments in Cyprus are now more specialized since the Internet
has transformed the way PR practitioners communicate and interact with their different
audiences. PR practitioners and journalists have changed the way they communicate
because of the various social media tools available. Google and other Internet search

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engines have changed the way people find information online. The term social media is
often used to describe websites like YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Googleþ, 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. Social media 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 PR practitioners in
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Cyprus 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
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PR 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 PR, research results revealed what the potential of blogs can be used for rather
than what PR 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 PR professionals to understand how social
media works.
PR 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 PR 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, 2005; 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, 2005).

1.1. Social media today


Today, PR practitioners need to challenge standing organizational ecosystems and use
social media to reinvent PR by making relationships matter again (Friedman, 2013). The
author suggests that the future of public relations lies in shareable experiences. Nicoli and
Komodromos (2013) quoted that the challenge for PR practitioners is not just trying to find
the best way to incorporate social media strategically, but also to determine the best way to
measure it and evaluate it effectively. Considering that a primary objective of PR is to
realize effective two-way communication and mutual understanding between an organi-
zation and its intended audience (CIPR, 2013), organizations are now called on to focus
not only on the networks themselves, but also intently on the people in them and their
cultures, lifestyles and behaviors (Jones, 2013). Most authors recognize that when people

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PR Practitioners’ Use of Social Media Tools

think of social media, most think of Facebook and Twitter. However, there are many more
platforms; social media is “an umbrella name” (Tench and Yeomans, 2009), and
according to Kaplan and Haenlein (2010), it includes: collaborative projects or wikis (e.g.
Wikipedia), blogs and microblogs (e.g. Twitter), content sharing communities (e.g.
YouTube), social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), virtual game worlds (e.g. World of
Warcraft) and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life). Apart from these, there are also
communities and forums, including discussion-based forums (e.g. Moneysavingexpert.
com), review communities (e.g. TripAdvisor) or DIY communities (where individuals or
groups create their own social network using services such as Ning or BuddyPress), and
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geo-social networks such as Gowalla and Foursquare (Jones, 2013). Additionally, social
media is a dynamic, organic force that transforms over time as long as new channels are
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constantly introduced (Solis and Breakenridge, 2009).


Tench and Yeomans (2009) suggest that organizations must recognize the unprece-
dented opportunities opened up by social media for targeting very specific markets and
particularly youth markets, following the opportunities provided through direct commu-
nication with audiences (Briones et al., 2011; Nicoli and Komodromos, 2013). As quoted
by Nicoli and Komodromos (2013), Tuten and Solomon (2012), who added a new ‘P’
(participation) to the existing four ‘P’s’ of marketing (product, price, place and promo-
tion), argue that active digital engagement is becoming crucial in an organization’s
communications mix. Mangold and Faulds (2009) argue that social media can be called
“the new hybrid element of the promotion mix.” Today, PR is more about people and
relationships, and PR professionals must focus on two-way communication and mutual
understanding because monologue has changed to dialogue, and bloggers are gaining
recognition as industry authorities, earning the same respect and reach as traditional media.
The industry will continue its quest to understand the online environment and how best to
integrate online tools with traditional PR.
This study aims to give a better understanding of how and to what degree PR practi-
tioners use social media tools in the Cyprus market, and if such an approach helps them in
their overall PR strategy for their organizations. However, Cyprus lacks empirical research
on organizations’ use of the social media tools and technologies that underlie social
networking and social media.

2. Methods
A mixed methodology was used for the purpose of this study. The study was conducted in
two stages. First, in January 2014, an online survey was conducted investigating PR
practitioners’ and organizations’ use of social media tools in the Cyprus market. An e-mail
invitation and the survey link were sent to a sample of 25 senior PR practitioners.
A qualitative approach was chosen considering the aims of this study were primarily
related to questions of how and secondarily to the extent of use. Another reason for the
qualitative focus was the dearth of qualitative research in this area.
The qualitative study took place in February 2014. In-depth interviews were conducted
with a number of working practitioners to further explore their practices and their

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perceptions on the growth of social media trends in PR practices in Cyprus. Our sample
was purposively selected, from different sectors in Cyprus, using a mixed methodology.
Fifteen were invited to participate from three sectors (and 10 from the large consultancies
sector) to gain a range of perspectives reflecting the field of practice: large consultancies,
corporations and government.

3. Results
A total of 25 senior PR practitioners were interviewed to explore their practices and their
perceptions on the growth of social media trends in PR practices in Cyprus. Our sample
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included eighteen women (age range: 30–53) and seven men (age range: 33–57). All
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respondents indicated they have been practicing PR for an average of 8–12 years and they
all hold a Master’s degree.

3.1. Research questions


RQ1: How often are public relations professionals using social media for their organi-
zations, and for which purposes are they using social media for practice?

PR professionals were asked about their frequency of use of social media in practice, and
why. The researcher showed a card slot with responses ranging from 1 ‘never’, 2 ‘rarely’,
3 ‘sometimes’, 4 ‘often’ and 5 ‘always.’ Nineteen of the respondents (76 percent)
answered ‘always,’ three (12 percent) answered ‘often,’ two (8 percent) answered
‘sometimes,’ and one (4 percent) answered ‘rarely.’ Five of them (20 percent) said they
use social media because their companies contribute value through social media content,
seven of them (28 percent) said they are sharing brand-related stories through social
channels and they are participating in social conversations, and thirteen of them
(52 percent) said they use social media because they have access to a wealth of content that
can be shared with consumers seeking solutions to a problem. All respondents (100
percent) mentioned that the live interaction through social media allows for ongoing
refinement and improvement to make a deeper connection between their organizations and
their target audiences. In addition, fourteen of them (56 percent) reported they use social
media to communicate with members of traditional media, such as newspapers, magazines,
or TV, and nineteen of them (76 percent) for checking what people are saying about the
competition.
RQ2: Which social media tools are most used for practice by PR professionals, and who
are the stakeholders that they communicate with via social media?

Overall, respondents (100 percent) reported that the most popular tool used for practice
from PR professionals was e-mail, followed by intranet (90 percent) and video sharing (90
percent), and videoconferencing (80 percent). These are followed by social networking (50
percent), instant messaging (40 percent), online forums/message boards (40 percent), and
text messaging (40 percent). Podcasts (30 percent), wikis (30 percent), blogs (30 percent),
and micro-blogging/presence applications (30 percent). Lesser used tools were gaming

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PR Practitioners’ Use of Social Media Tools

Table 1. Media tools most used by PR professionals


(percent)

Media Tool Percent


Instant messaging 40
Intranet 90
e-mail 10
Video sharing (YouTube) 90
Online forums/message boards 40
Videoconferencing 80
Podcast 30
Wikis 30
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Social networking (Facebook, etc.) 50


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Blogs 30
Text messaging 40
Social bookmarking 10
Gaming 20
Micro-blogging/presence applications 30

(20 percent) and social bookmarking (10 percent). Social bookmarking was surprisingly
little mentioned, with only one practitioner reporting use of this form of communication.
Furthermore, twenty one (84 percent) of the respondents reported their organizations
have one or more people who are responsible and have the job function to use social media
for the organization. Four (16 percent) answered that they themselves are the ones who use
social media for practice. Table 2 shows that the most frequently mentioned stakeholders
communicated with through social media are potential customers and clients (90 percent),
followed by currents customers and clients (80 percent) and internal customers/staff
(80 percent). Other stakeholders contacted by organizations are news media (50 percent),
business partners (50 percent), investors (40 percent), local community (40 percent) and
suppliers (30 percent). Stakeholders least communicated with by organizations through
social media are retirees (10 percent).

RQ3: How is social media seen to be influencing or changing public relations practices, if
in fact it is, in the Cyprus market?

Table 2. Stakeholders that respondents’ organizations


communicate with through social media (percent)

Stakeholder Percent
Investors 40
News media 50
Potential customers and clients 90
Internal customers/staff 80
Current customers and clients 80
Retirees 10
Local community 40
Suppliers 30
Business partners 50

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Generally, PR professionals reported they believe social media is influencing and


sometimes changing PR practice in the Cyprus market in the sense that its use reflects
‘transparency,’ ‘honesty,’ ‘ethics.’ and ‘measurement.’ Twenty two of the respondents (88
percent) reported that the emergence of social media has changed PR practice in Cyprus
because it enhances two-way and effective communication between the organization and
its different publics. Sixteen of the respondents (64 percent) added that social media
handles external and internal communication in a way it could not be handled just a few
years ago. In addition, twenty three of them (92 percent) suggested that, in particular, blogs
and social media have enhanced PR practice, and have made communications more in-
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stantaneous because they force organizations to respond more quickly to criticism. Eight
of the respondents (32 percent) suggested comparing social media with traditional news
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media in terms or accuracy and credibility influenced PR practice, and they added that
social media offers organizations low-cost ways to develop relationships with members of
various publics. Also, seventeen respondents (68%) stated that social media changed PR
practice because through social media, practitioners are now able to “create conversa-
tions,” engage stakeholders more effectively by creating dialogue, and help in “building”
the community. Fourteen of the study participants (56 percent) suggested social media like
LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, which they mostly use for business purposes, are ef-
fectively considered as ‘online’ channels, and their content now needs to be optimized to
be seen higher up in search engines; this will help them in their practice as well. Four of
them (16 percent) added that social media helps many PR practitioners connect with
audiences on a human level and to initiate conversation. Most study participants pointed
out that receiving this invaluable feedback helped them refine strategies and tactics in real
time and make more substantial brand connections with consumers and their stakeholders.
RQ4: How and why have public relations professionals incorporated the use of social
media into their PR strategic plans?
All PR professionals suggested that using/incorporating social media into their PR
strategic plans constitutes yet another communication tool for disseminating to and
monitoring information with different audiences at any time, even in times of crisis.
Respondents reported they recognized the need for a social media strategy in their PR
plans. Eighteen of the respondents (72 percent) added they are using at least one social
media tool in their PR strategy and they have also built a network through the LinkedIn
site because it adds value to the image of their organization. They incorporate social media
tools to monitor feedback about their business, and they stressed the need to be active on
Twitter. Twenty four (96%) reported that social media helps them give instructions (e.g.
via intranet, Internet, etc.) to their internal employees and to easily and immediately
disseminate any kind of information needed. All of them said one of the most important
reasons they incorporate social media in their PR strategy is because it helps them com-
municate and release information and messages easier to the media and public, among
others, including videos (that are uploaded onto the organization’s YouTube channel),
or to monitor the informal communication networks, like Facebook, to detect any

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misperceptions that need to be corrected and to reach out to Facebook fans and other
stakeholders. Nineteen (76 percent) mentioned their individual companies are utilizing
social media as an outreach and engagement tool. Twenty-one (84 percent) reported that
incorporating social media into their PR strategic plans is a way for organizations to
express brand personality, drive customer engagement and keep brand top-of-mind. All
respondents (100 percent) reported that in terms of PR, especially in Cyprus’ growing
market, they incorporate social media tools in their strategic PR plans to attract attention
and clarify who they are and what they stand for, to establish two-way communication, to
build third-party credibility, to monitor conversations and to issue statements and post
updates in times of crisis — which they were not able to monitor before through social
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media. Eighteen respondents (72 percent) suggested that Facebook pages are essential for
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monitoring crisis management approaches, and it facilitates linking websites, videos and
content pages that may be relevant to communicating their organization’s views. Seven
respondents (28 percent) suggested social media can help in creating detailed and prior-
itized stakeholder maps, which are essential in the PR strategy and that because customers
expect transparency from organizations, social media helps these organizations to be open
and authentic in their interactions and in the way they conduct business.

4. Conclusions
The findings of this study suggest PR practitioners prefer to have interactive specialists and
groups responsible for communicating to their stakeholders through social media and the
Internet. Organizations of all types have increasingly been adopting new communication
strategies, incorporating social media tools in their communication strategies, both when
planning online activities and when evaluating the outcomes of these activities. Most of
the practitioners reported the use of the Internet and social media tools in organizations in
Cyprus will inevitably grow with the passage of time. This is because consumers are now
smarter and better educated, and communications programs must therefore be grounded in
education-based information rather than blatant self-promotion. Furthermore, PR practi-
tioners expressed the need for their communication programs to be more focused, targeted,
and in the form of one-on-one communications relationships between stakeholders and
organizations. Practitioners can structure and customize their information to respond in-
stantly to emerging issues and market changes. Industry experts have also argued that they
recognize the significance of social media tools in their practice and they try to use social
media to engage their stakeholders in conversation and to build relationships with them
(Briones et al., 2011). In addition, PR professionals emphasized that the goal of PR today
should be to understand the communities of people organizations want to reach, analyze
their profiles and engage with them in conversations to gain trust and commitment. PR
practitioners feel positive about the potential of social media tools, and as suggested, these
applications enable them to communicate directly with their audiences, deliver their core
messages and share their own content in their communities effectively.
Survey respondents indicated that for crisis planning in particular there is a need for
incorporating social media tools into their crisis plans. Most of the respondents indicated

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they have incorporated Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube to monitor potential crises
or to establish two-way communication between the organization and its primary publics.
Scholars (Coombs, 2007; Ulmer et al., 2007) emphasize the importance of reputation and
relationships with stakeholders in PR practitioners’ strategic plans, and social sites are a
way to achieve this.
Further research is recommended on levels of mid-level employees working in PR
departments and to explore how they use social media tools in practice, as well as how
often. In addition, further research is recommended for the examination of social media
tools by journalists and PR practitioners in Cyprus because, to date, no other research has
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been done in this area in Cyprus. In addition, further research is recommended for iden-
tifying the advantages of implementing social media in organizations by PR practitioners
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and marketing executives in other countries. Although most PR practitioners support and
recognize the popularity and significance of social media as an additional way to reach
their publics, further research is needed in how they measure its effectiveness.

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