Could social media be the end of the “PR Girl”?

Women's extended use of social media might help to close the PR gender gap.

Women’s extended use of social media might help to close the PR gender gap.

While doing some research for a paper I’m writing (it seems like I do a lot of both lately) I came across an interesting article that brings together the ideas of gender and social media. The authors, Piet Verhoeven and Noelle Aarts, put forth an interesting idea: social media might help solve the issue of the gender gap in PR! Finally, something more or less tangible that we, men and women, can understand and relate to. Whether you’re a he or a she, read on for some insights that could make or break your career.

The basic idea is that people who communicate online are social, involved, dedicated and media-smart and seek intimacy when engaging on social media sites. These coincide exactly with what have traditionally been considered female communication traits, which in turn respond to Grunig’s Excellence model of communication, based on the ideas of mutual benefit, cooperation, equality and learning.

Both men and women value what social media can bring to PR in terms of monitoring communications and targeting specific audiences, among many others. But it seems that women feel more comfortable using social media than men do and that they are becoming more experienced and skilled in their use, using it to initiate dialogue, establish relationships with target audiences and use the insights gained to create new, innovative campaigns.

In a time when social media is so valued in the field of PR, this could give women the advantage they need to start closing the gender gap and get rid of the “PR girl” stereotype. In turn, this could mean women might be taken more seriously as professionals and allow them to perceive themselves as valued and influential.

Only time will tell if “PR girls” will finally gain respect and be referred to as “PR women”. Social media may or may not be the solution to the gender divide in PR. But just in case it is, I’m learning all I can about it!

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3 thoughts on “Could social media be the end of the “PR Girl”?

  1. This is an interesting post and you lay out the argument well. However, I’m not convinced this would be a positive step. The idea that women could focus on social media and somehow that would lead to senior management responsibilities seems flawed. It is strategic understanding (of much more than communications, including social media), that is required for women in PR to be taken seriously and earn their place in the boardroom. I’m also don’t accept the notion that as women we should be recognised for our softer skills. Again, despite all the rhetoric (and Grunig’s concepts), we need more than an ability to develop communal relationships. I’m not saying these competencies aren’t important, but they cannot be the only tool in a PR woman’s toolkit. We need to have a full range of skills – and ideally stop labelling them as gender relevant.

    BTW, when I did some research for my paper about the Origins of Careers in Public Relations (published in PR Review), I noted how when telephones and typewriters first came into the working environment, they were used by men. Then it was ‘discovered’ that women were better at using them (social skills argument again), and hence such competency became looked down upon as admin only. Who is not to say that advocating women are more comfortable with social media isn’t the same ‘gender trap’.

    What do you think?

    • Let me start off by thanking you for your insights, Ms. Yaxley. I’m always interested in knowing what the views of academics are regarding the issues I raise in my blog.

      Of course, a lot more than social media skills are required to bridge the gender gap. Among others, women must build up their professional confidence and the stereotypes about us need to be eliminated, including the notion that we communicate differently than men do and that we are “softer”.

      However, excelling in social media might be one of the tools needed to achieve these goals. By becoming experts in this area and consequently in those that derive from it we are in fact developing the use of not one but several tools, all of which are relevant to the professionalization of PR as a whole. Social media offer the possibility of creating and curating content in creative ways, building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, monitoring those relationships and measuring results. In essence, the elements which are currently considered to be some of the possible keys to achieving the recognition of PR as a profession and not as a craft. In a similar way, could it not be argued that social media might have similar effects on the status of women within the field, allowing us to be perceived as manager material instead of as technicians?

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