Direct engagement is new-ish?

By: Donald Smith

I am a Social Media and Blogging intern for an organization. I understand with that job title most of my time would be spent covering the organization’s social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to name a few. However, I am a surprised I do not make press releases, fact sheets or any materials I have been learning to make these past 2 years. Instead, communication is concentrating on pure public engagement.

“Social Media,” by Jackson State University


I knew social media engagement was an important part of public relations, but not how important. Therefore, I researched it, and found that back in 2008 PR was beginning to switch gears. Frank Oviatt wrote an article about Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman, speaking on how communication strategies needed to be reassessed due to the increasing size of mainstream and new media such as social media.

Edelman stated, “As we move from public relations to public engagement, we will deal no longer with the pyramid of influence but with a sphere of cross influence.”

It was shocking to read a whole industry was having to revamp itself because of new media platforms that allowed direct communication with one another over the internet. I was under the impression PR had always been about building relationships with the public directly. The Public Relations Institute of Australia even defines PR as engagement, and engagement ‘as an arrangement or commitment between two parties on a shared journey over time’ (Purnama, 2014) Meaning PR is a two-way communication system between recipients. Although, without social media it was more difficult to reach a large audience directly.

There was another surprise I had in my research. I found a journal from 2007 written by James L. Horton speaking on how companies needed to be engaging publics directly on the internet. In his journal he included a model for engagement, but only the “engaged” audience was involved in two-way communication. The engaged audience is defined as those who communicate about direct experience with a brand or issue (Horton, 2007).

Thus, I am left with the question, “Should one engage all publics, or only publics who are engaged?” Personally I say all publics because an individual could move from not engaged to engaged because of the engagement.


One thought on “Direct engagement is new-ish?

  1. “I was under the impression PR had always been about building relationships with the public directly.” I’m tempted to laugh but that’d be rude of me. No. Quite the opposite. For a long time, PR was and in many cases still is a buffer, wall, filter, pick any of those words.


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