Public Engagement

April 25, 2012

The field of public relations and other forms of earned media have benefited from the increased use of the internet. As the saying goes, “Money makes the world go around”.  Below is the song by The O’ Jays called For The Love of Money best explains the daily need for money.


Earned (Free) media Vs. Paid media

Paid media is defined as entering into a contract to purchase space or time. According to Masaki Hidaka in the article “Media, Control by Campaign Organizations” that can be found in Encyclopedia of U.S. Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior, paid media usually includes print ads, television spots, and radio advertisements. When it comes to paid media, the client has control of the content being printed or aired. 


Hidaka also explains that free (earned) media usually refers to media coverage that cannot explicitly be controlled, but try to influence or persuade, such as newspaper editorials, radio and television coverage. An example online is that paid media would be buying a Google ad and while earned media is using natural search engine to gain popularity on the search ladder.


Public Relations

When it comes to public relations and earned media, it is more challenging to persuade some to part with their money for a cause, product or service. In 1982,   Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defined the industry of public relations as “helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

In 1994, Jacquie falseL Etang explains the article Public relations and corporate social responsibility: Some issues arising that:

One of the key issues in public relations is that of the direction of the communication and the extent to which this informs, shapes or manipulates those who receive the communication. In order to distinguish public relations from propaganda some writers have focused on the concept of two-way communication as that which distinguishes public relations from propaganda.


Ways of getting the message out before the internet include:

  •  Direct mail – post cards
  •  News releases
  •  Ads in newspapers, magazines, television, billboards
  •  Newsletter
  •  Magazines
  • Magazine ads
  • Public forums
  • Events like conferences, trade fairs, career fairs



Cynthia Rose explains the evolution of the internet in the article title “Life on the Internet: Timeline” in the American Decades Primary Sources:

In the late 1960s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) created a small system of networked computers that would allow for continued communications among civilian and military leaders in the wake of a nuclear war. Over the next thirty years, that small project grew quickly to become part of many Americans’ day-to-day lives. Initially intended to allow for communication among national leaders, the Internet soon received support from the National Science Foundation to allow scientists access to high-speed computers for research and data sharing with fellow scientists.

Internet Impact on Political Arena

In recent years, earned media has also affected the political arena. From Obama’s political campaign in 2008 to the recent pandemonium in North Africa, earned media has empowered people to influence politics.


In the article The Upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia: the role of Digital Media, Philip Howard and Muzammil Hussain wrote that:

Digital media became the tool that allowed social movements to reach once-unachievable goals, even as authoritarian forces moved with a dismaying speed of their own to devise both high- and low- tech countermeasures.


Obama brought the American political campaign into the 22nd century with the power of the earned media and the internet. He was able to establish more power through Facebook, websites, and blogs. Now politician’s media campaigns actively use all the forms of earned media.

2008 Obama Campaign


David Carr eloquently explains in his article How Obama Tapped Into Social Networks’ Power:

By bolting together social networking applications under the banner of a movement, they created an unforeseen force to raise money, organize locally, fight smear campaigns and get out the vote that helped them topple the Clinton machine and then John McCain and the Republicans.


The internet can create a level ground for all to utilize to their advantage. These are two examples of two different countries that have experienced the power the earned media has through the internet.


Internet Impact on Public relations

The additional tools that the internet has provided for public relations and companies that utilize earned media include but are not limited to the following:

  • Website personal
  • Pages on Wikipedia
  • Emails
  • Webinar
  • Blogs
  • YouTube videos


Social media networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. In the New York Times, Stuart Elliot wrote the article titled Redefining Public Relations in the Age of Social Media. Elliot wrote about how Public Relations is attempting to define itself in the modern era. Early this year the PRSA redefine what public relations is “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”




ThNew York Times reported on how the new definition was generated through earned media on their website, Twitter account and Facebook account. Being published by the New York times assisted then in gaining more coverage.

The internet has allowed individuals in public relations to interact and engage the public in ways they couldn’t before. With the direct mailing, calling or sending out public releases, there are ways to monitor if any information was received by included surveying. Social media sites are built with analytics so in real time companies can measure engagement of their followers.


Virgil L. Burton’s article Social Media, Communication Tools gives the following reasons for small companies to use Facebook:

allows businesses to create groups, fan pages, and diagnostic tools fans can easily comment on status updates to let businesses know immediately what they think, and more information can always be added in the Notes feature if necessary


Facebook is a tool that the business realm is now actively using to interact with their customers. Even though social media is a useful tool, Facebook still had to hiring of a public relations agency to try generating articles that would criticize the privacy practices of its rival, Google.


Internet Impact Companies

Earned media has served companies well from the dot com companies like to traditional media outlets like Wichita Eagle or KWCH 12.  Through tweeting and status update, companies have been allowed to engage with their consumers and generate sales and attention. The internet has become the word of mouth on steroids. Companies have names, demographics plus geographic available at the click of a button. Companies are restructuring their marketing and communication to reflect what the opportunities the internet has provided.


Technology is changing rapidly advancing and research is still trying to keep up with the effects of the internet.  As we move forward, it will be interesting to see what the research produces and how the public reacts to it.