The citizen journalist: a double edged sword?

What opportunities and challenges do citizen journalists pose for public relations?  Image source: Tony Webster, Flickr creative commons

Image source: Tony Webster, Flickr creative commons

Much has been written about the rise of ‘citizen journalists’, their influence enabled by the immediate connectivity of smart phones and social media.

Their potential as ‘on-the-ground’ sources of ‘as-it-happens’ information can be a double edged sword, as the ‘news’ they bring to light can go viral with little or no fact checking.

The best practice mainstream media approach to verify such information with due diligence before publishing, reinforced by MSM’s remote and often inaccurate coverage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

But what challenges do citizen journalists, empowered by the hyper-connectivity of Web 2.0, pose for public relations?

It’s a dynamic which has been discussed as early as 2005, when global PR firm Edelman detailed two sets of ramifications for PR practice, in promotion and crisis management.

“Citizens are no longer spectators. A new era has begun in which regular citizens can become reporters whenever they so desire, and by doing so contribute to public opinion,” Edelman declared, recommending practitioners expand their scope of promotional tactics. (Edelman, 2005)

Ten years later, firms like InsidePR have well and truly welcomed citizen journalists as an opportunity, suggesting PR operators keep track of an individual “with something to say, covers a subject on a consistent basis and moves on to being a contributor to larger and more influential sources”.

How PR practitioners respond to citizen journalists during times of crisis is infinitely more challenging, particularly when faced with those who live up to the reputation of ‘tweet first, ask questions later’.

Both dynamics could be seen unfolding during the 2014 Hazelwood Mine Fire – a chaotic situation rife with public confusion and misinformation – when a handful of citizen journalists became a thorn in the side for State Government communication teams.

A self proclaimed ‘Voices of the Valley’ social media presence (twitter account discontinued – originally authored by outspoken citizen Simon Ellis) began collating and publishing everything from front line eyewitness photos to speculative rumors circulating the Latrobe Valley throughout the unfolding smoke crisis.

As government departments and power industry persisted with a collaborative communication strategy to transmit consistent key public health messages (through a time consuming inter-departmental approval process) social media users turned to sources such as Voices of the Valley for ‘up to date’ information from the front line.

(It was a dynamic which had government communication teams reactively putting out spot fires of misinformation for weeks on end during the crisis. The government’s communication strategy was later came under scrutiny in the Hazelwood Mine Fire inquiry’s post-mortem)

Meanwhile, the above advice of InsidePR to engage citizen journalists of influence was being put into action by proactive environmental communicator Shaun Murray of Friends of the Earth.

Mr Murray was subsequently taken on board as the communications consultant for Voices, which had since grown to become a proactive community activist group, later authoring the controversial claim the mine fire lead to 11 deaths in the area, which became a large factor in the Labor government’s reopening of the Hazelwood mine fire inquiry.


Social Narcissism: Can it drive positive change?

Is there such thing as selfless good deed? The age old debate concerning altruism lives on. Joey and Phoebe of Friends argued the point of contention. They concluded that selfless deeds do not exist.

Yet, one thing we can be certain of. Selfish good deeds do exist. Even narcissistic individuals can be driven to do good. The clincher? Social media may rev up the process. Continue reading

Another SMART with social media crisis

Living in the reality which web 2.0 – internet and social media – have been part of our daily life. For PR people, we have to transmit the way we manage relationships from PR 1.0 to PR 2.0. In previous blog posts, we’ve seen how social media can help us to better handling stakeholder relationships with SMART approach. We’ve learnt to prevent from social media crises (the intimate one as an example) by being nice to stakeholders, being honest, and listen to their needs. Continue reading

To Tweet or not to Tweet: The evolution of Web 2.0

Are bloggers THE bridge to POSITIVE brand reputation?

Jason Howie. Instagram and other social media apps [image]. Retrieved from:

Jason Howie. Instagram and other social media apps [image]. Retrieved from:

In order to build an online brand reputation, an effective strategy can be to engage with influential bloggers and personalities within the social media landscape.

CosMediTour is an Australian business providing a service to arrange overseas aesthetic procedures (surgical and non surgical)  in tropical Thailand, where the price is right and the sun is bright.

CosMediTour recently engaged popular hairdresser, model and blogger Rhiannon Langley to share her experience with rhinoplasty surgery through CosMediTour on her blog and Instagram, which has 191k followers.

‘The higher the social presence, the larger the social influence that the communication partners have on each other’s behaviour,’ explain Kaplan & Haenlein (2010, p. 61).

Previously, there has been substantial controversy surrounding CosMediTour and whether it is promoting unsafe surgical procedures.

An example is Australian Society Plastic Surgeons president Dr Tony Kayne, who said, ‘We’re concerned about whether these people are getting safe surgery we are seeing more and more unhappy customers coming back from overseas.’

Rhiannon featured photos and posts of her experience on Instagram, which attracted large-scale media attention from outlets such as The Daily Mail AustraliaCosmopolitan and Huffington Post, as well as a social media frenzy – Rhiannon’s first post-op post gained 1,628 likes and 516 comments. That’s a whole lot of exposure!

She tagged her photos with the catchy hash tag #rhiannongetsrhino, where her followers and interested groups can easily track her progress on Instagram.

Rhiannon’s posts featured her surgery aftermath, spliced between her and her partner sunning themselves up in their luxury tropical resort. Suddenly, surgery has become a holiday, and bruises in a bikini are the latest trend.

By engaging with Rhiannon and her strong social media presence, CosMediTour have gained access to her network, and the potential to influence publics and their perception toward the CosMediTour brand.

‘Closely related to the idea of social presence is the concept of media richness… the assumption that the goal of any communication is the resolution of ambiguity and the reduction of uncertainty,’ (Kaplan & Haenlein. 2010, p. 61).

This online campaign has the potential to transform the idea behind their brand from something scary and unknown, to an exotic and relaxing ‘journey’ in Thailand.

By engaging in ambient publicity and opening communication in a highly social platform such as Instagram, CosMediTour is creating a passage for discourse and influence – especially considering the younger demographic of Rhiannon’s followers.

CosMediTour has featured promotional posts on their own blog with links to Rhiannon’s social media profiles, as well as featured news articles.

Its first post was on April 17, 2015 where they announced their latest client, Rhiannon. There have been five posts on Rhiannon’s social media journey within the last month on the CosMediTour blog.

Rhiannon’s vlogs are featured on the CosMediTour YouTube account.


Kaplan. A. M. & Haenlein. M. (2010). “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media.” Business Horizons (53). 59-68

Cut to the Chase – Gaining Word of Mouth Referrals in an Overcrowded Social Media Space

We all know that word of mouth is the most effective medium for gaining new customers and generating leads. But as more businesses compete on social media for attention, gaining the trust and support of new customers becomes increasingly difficult and time consuming. Thankfully, brand new Australian social media site Recomazing may hold the solution:

Continue reading

You Can Make A Mark On The World

Social media has risen as a dominant tool PR practitioners use to help build and maintain relationships with the public and stakeholders. This was explored in my first blog post (click here if you missed it!). Social media however, is very fragile and hard to master…this was explored in my latest blog post (click me!) which guides you through 8 smart tips to help you master the use of social media. My previous posts have focused on social media use by companies, and major figures, but reality is any individual can have an influence through social media. This blog post explores how you can make a difference; how you can inspire!keep-calm-and-inspire-someone-2

Image Reference

Social media has become a medium for us to express ourselves, whether its through blogs, vlogs, status updates, posts, comments or likes we are able to share our views, feelings, or just express your love for cat videos!

The growing trend for everyday individuals to gain fame through social media has become almost a daily norm. You will check your social media each day to find a new viral personality or hit video. Recently, a son posted a video on YouTube profiling his mum in hopes of finding the love of her life. The success of this video, is an example of how you can influence people, and make a mark on the world. It’s almost crazy that you can get this much exposure from posting a video purely to find your mother the ‘right guy’.

See the video for yourself!

The point is, like PR practitioners, we as individuals have also been given a tool to success. Social media has allowed us to feel like we are apart of something, it can turn us into someone we want to be. You could become the most popular ‘YouTuber’ by recording yourself playing videos games, this has been inspired by ‘YouTubers’ like PewDiePie or by making makeup tutorials and ‘vlogging’ like JennaMarbles. These normal people, by doing what they love have become an inspiration to many, and they didn’t start off already popular, like many companies and celebrities who have used social media to enhance its relations and capability to express themselves to their existing fan base.

I find it very interesting how people are more inclined to be proactive on social media. We may walk past someone lying on the floor on the street who may need help, but will post a video on social media pouring a bucket of water over on your head to spread awareness for the disease ALS. For whatever reason, the fact remains that we are expressing ourselves on social media and in turn are being influential, regardless of whether it’s just a video shared with your friends on Facebook, or a post millions of people will see.