Integrating Social Media With Public Relations: Tips, Challenges, & Best Practices


If you are a public relations or communication professional , your job probably has been drastically affected by the rapid developments in social media and technology. From owning a school email to creating a Facebook account to today’s sponsored content, paid ads, bots, ever-changing algorithms, and increasingly sophisticated analytical tools, social media and technology have changed how we practice public relations and communication.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor to engage in a dynamic and insightful Facebook live interview with a communication, public relations, and social media expert, Shonali Burke. Shonali shared tips and best practices to integrate social media with public relations, definition and examples of Social PR, and how educators can better prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our interview. Or, read my major takeaways below to get the most out of my in-depth interview with Shonali.

How to best integrate Social Media with contemporary Public Relations?

Come join my guest of honor, Shonali Burke, and I on Wednesday, Jan 24, 5 PM, EST, for a dynamic discussion on public relations and social media.

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of her own monthly Twitter chat, #MeasurePR.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is a seasoned educator at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the "Instructor of the Year" award at Johns Hopkins University.

Come join us on Wed, Jan 24, to hear Shonali share how to best integrate PR with social media, how PR practice has changed within the last decade, what Social PR means, and how educators can best prepare the next generation of communication professionals.

Who is Shonali Burke?

Shonali is the founder and CEO of her own consulting company, Shonali Burke Consulting. Shonali is also the founder and host of the popular monthly #MeasurePR Twitter chat. She is a blogger, a storyteller, and a high-demand speaker. Shonali conducts workshops and trainings on Social PR. In addition, Shonali manages a Facebook group that focuses on Social PR, called The Social PR Posse. I highly recommend you request to join the group to network and learn with a group of passionate PR and communication professionals and educators.

Outside of the professional world, Shonali is an instructor at Johns Hopkins and Rutgers Universities, where she teaches communication and public relations courses. In 2016, Shonali won the “Instructor of the Year” award at Johns Hopkins University.

You can learn more about Shonali from her websiteTwitterLinkedInFacebook, and Instagram.

How Has Public Relations Changed Within The Last Decade?

Shonali has been practicing public relations for almost a decade. I asked her to reflect on her professional experience and identify the top three compelling patterns and trends that she has witnessed or experienced within the last decade. Below is a highlight of what Shonali shared with me.

🔷 Technology. The biggest change that Shonali noticed is how much and how fast technology has evolved within the last decade. For instance, do you know that YouTube launched as a dating site on February 14 in 2005? Look at YouTube today. It has become the second largest search engine on the web. And My Space, do you still remember it? It was the social media platform to be on during the years of 2005 and 2006. And Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they have all become mainstream and mandatory social networking and marketing platforms. As Shonali noted,

When social technology starts to come to our work space, it changes how we do businesses. I used to fax media advisories to the news assignment desk. Now, we do everything electronically and virtually.

🔷 From traditional media relations to a focus on community. Shonali made it clear that public relations is more than media relations, although a good media relations professional is still valuable to effective public relations practice. There is much more to public relations than media relations. Especially in today’s digital work space, there are many more avenues for PR professionals to utilize to get to know their audiences. These are not merely media professionals but multiple stakeholders, and cultivate relationships with them. As Shonali said,

What we need to do is focusing our attention on multiple audiences; not just that one media audience. … Think about how your product or service is a value to your end user and your community, and look at it from their point of view, which is what good PR should always be about. Use social technology to reach them, that’s where the magic starts to happen.

I couldn’t agree more with what Shonali shared. Social media should be used as a two-way communication channel to cultivate relationships and to nurture communities, instead of a self-broadcasting platform.

🔷 Measurement. As the founder and host of her monthly #MeasurePR chat, Shonali reiterated the importance of investing in smart metrics to measure PR outcomes in reference to organizations’ overall business goals. Professionals have to rely on and understand data and analytics to inform strategic decision-making.

For more information on measurement, I highly recommend you follow the Association of Measurement & Evaluation of Communication. They have myriad useful information and resources on their website including an Integrated Evaluation Framework. Also, make sure that you bookmark this guide, The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement. In a nutshell, it is time to stop relying on vanity metrics such as followers, likes, or shares to measure your public relations outcomes.

Social Public Relations: What It Means & How It Works

One of Shonali’s specialties is in using Social Public Relations to grow and scale one’s business. Social PR is not simply adding a social media dimension to traditional public relations practices. For example, you create an electronic copy of a flyer and blast it off to all social channels. This is far away from the essence of Social PR. Instead, as Shonali explains,

Social PR looks at the social aspect. … How are we using technology to bring people closer? How are we socializing the conversation around our brands, products, services, organizations or clients so that we can start to build, educate, and motivate multiple communities of influence to start telling our stories with and for us?

How powerful is that statement? I couldn’t have defined it better myself. My favorite part of the above definition is building “multiple communities of influence to tell our stories with and for us.” In other words, technology is not the end, but a means to achieve bigger goals, i.e., bringing people together to co-create content and to tell stories with and for you.

Are you adopting this community-oriented approach yourself? If not, maybe it is time to revisit your overall social media strategy, and flip your approach from “what is in it for ‘me’ to what is in it for ‘them,’” as Shonali suggested.

When you have enough people telling your stories for you, you are not only building your social proof, but becoming more relatable and trustworthy to your audiences. To this end, you want to make an effort to serve your community first so that they start to trust you and feel motivated and excited about your products or services, as well as the stories behind them.

The Dual Role of Being A Practitioner and Educator

As an educator myself, I love people who are practitioners and educators at the same time, and are willing to give back to the academic community. When I just started teaching, one area where I struggled was my lack of professional experience. I felt there was something missing in my teaching. I didn’t have these juicy and interesting personal stories to back up what I taught in the classroom. My teaching was dry, unrelatable, and ineffective until I started to embark on a practitioner journey.

I believe that practice and theory have to go hand in hand. That’s why I have adopted experiential learning as my primary teaching method. Theories without solid practical experience are like soldiers in the battlefield who don’t know how to use weapons.

Within this context, I got excited when Shonali shared with me a trend that she has observed. That is,

More and more academic institutions want their students to have real-world experience. They want practitioners who have real-world experiences to come in and to teach their students. This is a big trend. It is not going to go away any time soon.

this approach is beneficial for students, since they are learning the practical aspects of theories and concepts; but it’s also rewarding for practitioners. As Shonali shared,

Because if we are teaching someone how to do something, then we are extending the life of our learnings because we are passing it on. We are helping to give back to the industry and the profession.

Amen to Shonali for being lifelong learners and her dedication to serving students and the profession. I hope future classrooms in the higher education space will be populated by not just pure academics but a combination of academics and practitioners.

Conclusion/Call To Action

In a nutshell, I see practitioners like Shonali as a bridge, interlinking practice and education. Educators need constant feedback on updates and changes from the industry to refine what they teach in the classroom.

As Shonali shared in our interview, the PR professional is experiencing monumental changes on a daily basis. Students need to understand not just traditional media or a few narrow functions of social media, but have the skillsets and strategic mindset to use social media and digital communication tools to achieve overall business goals and objectives.

I sincerely hope that our education space can develop more practitioners and educators who serve as bridges. That’s how we can shrink the gap between education and practice. Otherwise, we are doing a disservice to our students. So, become a bridge. Your students and the profession will thank you.

If you love everything Shonali shared here, please check out her FREE master class on Social PR and connect with her on all the social media sites mentioned at the beginning of the article.

Glenn Nuñez