What is a community?
A community is a group of interacting organisms sharing a populated environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. (Wikipedia, 2011)
The Internet has changed the way people communicate, providing new possibilities for communication. It has enabled an increased connectivity between people by overcoming geographic and social barriers (Best, 2004). Public relations is the practice of communication and with the change in communication, public relations will be affected. Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance (Freeman, 2010). Executive public relations practice obliges for a boundary-less and interactive communication system to attain the utmost effective results. This is where virtual communities come in.
Virtual communities and other new media formats offer greater opportunities for more in-depth coverage, for information to be further tailored to individual interests, and for more interactivity and audience participation. These new opportunities of direct communication and interactivity allow public relation people to engage in two-way symmetrical communication, and use communication strategically to achieve quality communication. (Best, 2004) Social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Wikis etc. allow for this virtual communities to be built. Creating these virtual communities, public relation officers can benefit from virtual supporters and contributors towards their work. In 2004, a study was carried out to see how new media technology was impacting communication professions such as public relations, within the research major trends were found emphasizing that practitioners were failing to use the internet and new media technologies strategically. Instead, the technologies are simply being used tactically, through e-media releases, e-newsletters, email, website and so forth. (Best, 2004)
Fast-forward to 2008, Jason Falls conveys that social media is becoming the pure function of public relations; he explains the use of internal professionals to keep up with online and consumer relationship (the community).
“In my mind, social media is essentially public relations in the online world. Divide the category up by component — blogs, social networks, micro blogging, podcasts/Web TV, wikis/collaborative software — they each ladder in some way to a component of public relations — writing, corporate communications, community relations, media relations, event management”. (Falls, 2008)
Within a four-year gap, virtual communities have become a “pure function” of public relations. If in only four-years public relations can adapt and benefit from using virtual communities in other decade public relations will become completely virtual. Falls, expresses his concern for public relations and the online community and that marketers don’t belong. Assuming we can trim away the corporate speak and manage transparent communications efforts in years to come, public relations representatives are the least likely to sell and most capable of speaking as humans to humans, rather than up-selling to “consumers”. (Falls, 2008)
Virtual communities are important to public relations in today’s industry and will continue to hold it’s importance in time, because they provide opportunities that will augment public relation communication efforts. As new communication technologies facilitate the postmodern public sphere, public relation practitioners must be proactive towards the up-take and use of these technologies. Such activities can be seen in progress on a small scale, but not to its full potential. Without understanding the principles of how individuals use the internet and how the internet is affecting the structure of communication, use of the internet will be in vain. (Best, 2004)
Best, Sophie. (2004, October 24). Virtual communities – public relations blogging [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://wiki.media-culture.org.au/index.php/Virtual_Communities_in_Public_Relations, Retrieved March 26, 2011
Falls, Jason. (2008, July 18). Social media is the responsibility of public relations [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/online-public-relations/social-media-is-the-responsibility-of-public-relations/, Retrieved March 26, 2011
Freeman, E. (2010). Strategic management: a stakeholder approach. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Wikipedia, . (2011). Community. Wikipedia, citied: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community ,Retrieved March 26, 2011