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Newhouse public relations faculty team with Cision to examine social media usage

December 16, 2011

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More than 70 percent of online media journalists and other content contributors now interact with public relations professionals through popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, according to a 2011 survey of North American online media conducted by Cision and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Download a full summary of the report (PDF).   

The survey of more than 1,000 digital influencers confirmed that Twitter and Facebook presences are essential to online journalists – as well as those writers, bloggers, editors, academics, marketing/branding/advertising people, public relations and communications professionals and consultants who create online content but do not identify themselves as journalists.

Seventy-three percent of the journalists responding to the survey said they interact with public relations professionals on social media, with most of that interaction happening on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. At the same time, 69 percent of other digital influencers reported engaging with PR professionals via those sites, although they also rely significantly more on blogs and other social media platforms such as YouTube, Flickr and Posterous. 

The survey also found that email remains the top choice by far for journalists fielding press releases from PR professionals, with 94 percent of journalists and 79 percent of other content creators reporting a preference for receiving news releases via email. Fewer than five percent of respondents reported a preference for telephone or fax contact. 

Of those who responded, 55 percent interact with public relations professionals on Twitter and 47 percent on Facebook. Sixty-three percent of respondents also said they welcome story pitches and ideas sent through social publishing sites. Eighty-seven percent of journalists and 85 percent of other content creators said they maintain a Twitter presence for their blogs or news websites, while 81 percent (journalists) and 78 percent (other contributors) maintain Facebook pages. 

"The Cision/Newhouse School survey results document the fact that we've hit a tipping point in marketing and communication, with social media now a key way to communicate with and through the media," says Heidi Sullivan, vice president of global media research for Cision. 

"In the past, public relations generated 'earned media' by communicating through a narrow channel – mainstream journalists," she added. "But in the past five years, social media has transformed earned media into a direct conversation among marketers, media, digital influencers and customers." 

An Essential Tool – With Credibility Challenges 

At the same time, Sullivan cautioned that while the 2011 survey confirms that social media has become essential to all digital influencers, journalists still trust it less as a source of credible news and information than other content creators. 

Although 47 percent of "other" digital influencers thought social media content is "somewhat reliable," only 37 percent of journalists responded likewise to the question. 

"Even as public relations professionals depend on social media for much of their engagement with the journalism community, they must be aware that journalists remain as skeptical as ever and continue to maintain high standards for accuracy and objectivity," she says. 

One respondent says, "I think social media has the potential to be extremely useful, reliable and helpful as a news source. It also has the potential to be harmful and spread misinformation and outright false news quickly." 

"As far as reliability [goes], the volume of tweets, etcetera, indicates interest or the importance of the topic, [and] that's what I tend to focus on, not the actual data," another says. "Social media is good as an initial news source in the same way that Wikipedia isn't a bad place to start research." 

About the Survey 

In June 2011, Cision and four faculty members from Newhouse's Public Relations Department conducted a survey of online media contributors and digital influencers. The goal was to provide a better perspective on how public relations professionals can reach online media contributors, including journalists, via social media, and how social media has changed the way these media contributors work on an everyday basis and consider the credibility of sources. 

For more information, contact Bob Kucharavy, Newhouse professor of practice in public relations, at (315) 443-2747 or rmkuchar@syr.edu.

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