Empowerment and exploitation: Intra-agency communications




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Pristop d.o.o.



Peer reviewed



The potential of social media to alter models and modes of intra-organizational communications has attracted the attention of both academics and organizations (e.g. Hacker (1996), Gorman (2003), Jo and Shim (2005), Friedl and Verčič (2010)). Public relations-related research effort in this area tends to focus on organizational issues and opportunities and employee acceptance of, or resistance to, computer mediated communication (CMC). However, qualitative studies entailing the basic principles of the phenomenological approach are less common and consequently little attention has been given to practitioner experience of using social media for intra-agency communication. Consequently, this paper sets out to explore some of the issues occurring as a result of formal or informal use of social media for communication within public relations organizations. Many public relations agencies operate a relatively flat hierarchical structure, with practitioners grouped into small and flexible teams working for a number of separate clients. Despite a ‘soft’ approach to human resource management, consultants within a public relations agency are working for a service which is “intensely competitive” (Pieczka 2006:304) in terms of the need to win and retain new clients. Thus it is an environment which can lead to a contradiction between management claims of flexibility and the reality of working in a culture where failure, and deviation from a set of norms, is not tolerated. Drawing on interviews with public relations practitioners, this paper looks how social media is used for intra-organizational communications within UK public relations agencies. It examines the effects of formal and informal use of social media on effective working relationships across teams and between managers and consultants. The interviews revealed a number of themes which suggest that the use of social media for internal communications has mixed effects on employee motivation and enjoyment of work, in part linked to the way that social media crosses and transcends formal and informal internal communication praxis. On the one hand it can be seen as empowering the agency worker and facilitating good dialogic communications – however, it can also be potentially destructive to effective working relationships, paradoxically as a result of the drive for transparency; “one of the core elements that drives online public relations” (Phillips and Young, 2009:38).


Paper presented at 18th BledCom conference, Lake Bled, Slovenia, July 2011http://bledcom.renderspace.net/_files/193/BledCom_Zbornik2011_E_verzija_final_LOW.pdf


public relations, social media, employment, personal brand, exploitation


Bridge, L. (2011) Empowerment and Exploitation: Intra-agency communications. Proceedings of the 18th International Public Relations Research Symposium BledCom. Trubarjeva cesta 79 1000 Ljubljana: Pritstop doo. pp 50-56


Research Institute