Public Relations or Social Relations?

By: Nick Theriot
April 15, 2013
Melbourne, FL

At first glance, there may be little difference between the two terms, except the first has been in use since the early 20th century. I submit to you, as public relations professionals, we are currently experiencing a convergence of technology, digital social phenomena, and public relations into one field of expertise. Therefore, “Social Relations”, though sounding tame, is the next generation of public relations. It is the next step in what communication and PR all boil down to- relationship management.

According to The Public Relations Society of America (and countless communication theory and PR textbooks), ”Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

With myriad forms of communication and social media/ social interaction (and information on others’ communications- i.e. digital footprints) expanding everyday, wouldn’t it be the wisest course of action to morph a traditional PR department into a social relations department? This would centralize web, social media, marketing and sales departments in all size companies, in most any industry.

In addition, modern communication is essentially a look at patterns. To a certain degree, it can also be viewed as an informal sort of psychology. Essentially, the why and how of transmitting thought into word or some communicative form. Through analysis of qualitative and quantitative data of communications, interactions and social aspects (and the above additions to PR) we delve closely into the text definition of Social Relations.

As defined by the Australian Institute of Social Relations, Social Relations is:

“… A multi disciplinary approach that draws on several theoretical methodologies in its analysis. While all of the disciplines that have typically contributed to the ‘humanities’ offer important insights about human beings and their behaviours and needs, those that primarily concern themselves with the complexities of human behaviour are psychology, sociology and anthropology. These are therefore especially important within a Social Relations framework, as they each focus from different angles on how people organise and make meaning of their world and their relationships within it.”

Exploring the ways in which such relationships are produced, sustained and transformed is vitally important in establishing meaningful communication with groups and individuals. Social Relations provides a dynamic framework within which to gain rich insight and understanding about people and the social and emotional landscape of their lives.

Given the above definition, is Social Relations the best name for the next generation of PR? The study of social relations fits closely into what I described earlier as a merging of digital social phenomenon, psychology and communication. Again, this all boils down to relationship management. That is what public relations is and will always be based on. When a PR firm or department looses sight of that, the entire organization faces negative consequences.

All references are hyperlinked.