Editor’s Column

Welcome to the second edition of Public Relations Journal for 2016. The Journal offers a forum where scholarly research and professional application combine to advance communication; we hope all professionals and academics can benefit from the articles included in this issue.

We start with “Levels of Evaluation: An Agency’s Perspective on Measurement and Evaluation,” by Alexander Laskin of Quinnipiac University. Evaluation is commonly discussed in public relations, but there still is much that is not understood. The field still lacks a standard approach. Some believe public relations cannot be measured because its effects unfold over a long time instead of relatively quickly like sales or marketing. Others propose a one-size-fits-all approach like Return on Investment as the ultimate measure of the practice. This study argues the answer may lie between these two extremes: public relations can and should be evaluated but by a system of metrics rather than one measure. The study proposes a hierarchical approach. Although various levels of measurement are developed in an agency setting in this case, they also can be used by internal public relations units to measure their results.

Three articles delve into social media. In the first, Marlene Neill of Baylor University and Nicole Lee at North Carolina State wrote about “Roles in Social Media: How the Practice of Public Relations is Evolving.” Through surveys, the authors identified seven social media roles among practitioners. The study also noted gender differences, as women were seen to enact the social media technician role more than men. The traditional manager role in public relations correlated with five social media roles the authors identified, while the traditional communication technician role aligned with three of the social media roles. The study also found that social media offer opportunities for more influence for public relations practitioners at all levels in the organization.

In “Online Information Sharing: A Planned Behavior for Building Social Capital,” Hilary Fussell Sisco of Quinnipiac and John Brummette of Radford proposed that social networks are now the personal and professional norm. Public relations students view social media as a powerful PR activity even though research provides little evidence that openly voicing views and opinions in this forum actually leads to measurable outcomes for organizations. Kent claimed that public relations should be practiced to facilitate the functioning of democracy. This suggests that research should examine whether the information sharing that occurs on social media is a strategic attempt to acquire social capital on behalf of its users. The study in this article used a mixed-methods approach to examine the roles that personal and normative factors play in influencing future communication professionals’ information-sharing behaviors on Twitter and how those actions can strengthen networks.

Jie Xu of Villanova University and Yiye Wu, from the First Quality companies, wrote “To Tweet or Not to Tweet? The Impact of Expressing Sympathy Through Twitter in Crisis Management.” Their article looked at consumers’ appraisals of crises and found that an organization’s sympathetic messages delivered through Twitter helps retain good reputation and reduces perceptions that the entity is responsible. Moreover, expressing sympathy significantly alleviates anger.

The fifth article also addressed crises. In “Risk Bearers’ Narratives Following a Crisis: The Complexities of Community Identity,” Tatjana Hocke of James Madison University and Michael Palenchar of the University of Tennessee explored stakeholder perspectives after two similar crises: one where 5.4 million cubic yards of spilled ash and water destroyed 400 acres of land and homes in Tennessee and another where some 35 million gallons of coal ash and wastewater spilled into a North Carolina river from an ash dump. Through in-depth interviews with residents surrounding the crises, the authors identified group identities in communities affected by crises and offered a framework to better understand the contexts of risk-bearing communities, expectations about communication from organizations, and sense-making processes during a crisis. The analysis revealed three distinct crisis groups: (1) not disturbed, (2) directly traumatized, and (3) indirectly troubled. It then offered practical applications based on the analysis.

The final article is “Defining Public Relations’ Role in Corporate Social Responsibility Programs,” by Holley Reeves of the University of Georgia. With in-depth interviews of communications professionals in nine companies, the author looked at the role of public relations in CSR programs. Overwhelmingly, the professionals interviewed expressed positive perceptions of CSR initiatives but opposed PR ownership of the programs. They instead supported a cross-functional approach with PR in a complementary function.

So, again, we hope you enjoy these articles. Because the PR Journal is strictly online, the articles are posted for accessibility and convenience in readership.

Rob Wakefield