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SOCIAL MEDIA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE IN PUBLIC HEALTH INSTITUTIONS IN NIGERIA: A STUDY OF FMC AND THE NATIONAL HOSPITAL, ABUJA
1.1 BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY
The advent of digital communication has brought about a fundamental shift of how information is created, processed, transmitted and received. In particular, social media network (SMN) has emerged as an inevitable and powerful tool, touching both personal and public lives. This paradigm shift cuts across people of diverse age, albeit, it affects each age category differently. The use of SMN has continued to grow rapidly with sites such as facebook and whatsApp recording billions of active users and Twitter micro blog generating over 500 million tweets per day, amongst other platforms. SMN therefore, extends an exceptional opportunity for connecting people around the globe for creation and sharing information in ways never anticipated. Evidently, SMN has altered the communication structure defined and re-defined by both initiator and receive of information. The common feature of all of these is the fact that the conversations or contents user are essentially user created and managed. Consequently, it cannot be overstated that SMN is constantly transforming the way in which people connect and interact with each other, and the manner in which information is created, shared and distributed for the individual, business and the government. Social media have help to fulfill the human need for interaction, by transforming traditional “one to many” “many to many” communication. For this reasons, social media content can be characterized as “user-generated” content (UGC) (Onmedia, 2009). The impact of social media network is evolving rapidly. It is the way people connect, create, store, share and respond to information. More so, it is transforming traditional news media to a more interactive and inter-activity media, where audience can supply, comment, discuss and even further distribute the news. In addition, the power of social media lies in its capability to create highly effective platforms, where people can engage and communicate freely anywhere, any time and real- time as well as in a global scale. Social media has evolved as machinery for building reputation, hiring workforce, generating revenue and gaining customers’ confidence. “Embracing social media is no longer a strategic business option, but a necessity, and a huge opportunity” (Argenti, 2011:1).
Worldwide top brands have combatively employed social media strategies to bolster productivity and financial gains. Equally, governments have embraced social media as part of a core approach to engage citizens for enriched democratic dividends. While social media has presented quite substantial opportunities and benefits, it has also posed social and security risks that can affect the society and national security negatively, for instance, social media presents the tools for data and privacy breaches, false information, espionage, subversion, sabotage, propaganda, data and intellectual property leaks, hate speeches, incitement, bullying, social and political mobilization as well as distribution of malicious software (malware).
One notable sector, social media has played important role is in the healthcare sector. A big reason why healthcare organizations engages in social media is to help educate patients and the general public on innovative medical cases and more importantly, engage consumers, also itcreates awareness about the healthcare and its innovations. The social media in today’s digital world have become an increasingly important communications channel for building a connection between companies and the public.Social media have become popular and widely accepted. It has affected the way we interact with each other and the way organizations interact with their clients. Social media uses new technology and facilitates conversation and interactions between users.users are able to decide what content they want and how they receive it. Social media channels provide agencies with a platform to reach out to larger audience than ever before and foster relationship between an organization and its publics. Technology has a way of influencing all areas of human life. Public relations practice is no exception in this case. With the advent of social medial, public relations practitioners have changed thoughts about themselves and the practice even in government.
Public Relations refer to the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics. It entails building sustainable relationships between an organization and its publics in order to create a positive image. There has never been a positive image of government by the public’s, since communication tends to be one sided.
Public relations practitioners play a vital role in carving and maintaining an image for an organization, as part of their strategies, using facebook and blogs as tools used for building lasting relationships with their publics which is very imperative. These has led to the fact that today social media such as facebook, twitter, YouTube, blogs, etc have formed an integral part of public relations practitioners organizational media mix, plan and strategy. The speed of information flow in the social media and its power to encourage relational and dialogic communication has also been applauded in public relations circles and other similar domains.
According to Achor, Public Relations also refers to proactively communicating to various organizational publics and effectively managing misinformation, misunderstanding, negative and positive reactions of communication audience, which may apparently arise, from channel distortions semantic or encoding, decoding problems and other environmental factors affecting communication process and delivery.(Achor 2002, 2014, and 2015)
Waddel, (2010, p.2) cited in macnamara (2010) writes on the press release about public relations in New York, which stated that:
Social media helps public relations...........executives build more relationships that are new across a wider landscape and in sustainable fashion never before possible. Social media enables professionals to maintain ongoing, quality relationships with influencers, media, customers and partners regardless of where they are.
Healthcare on the other hand is service to the sick, the mentally and physically incapacitated members of the society who needs medical attention and help. Health institutions such as hospitals, clinics, medicalcentre’s and so on provide this service. These health institutions are either publicly or privately owned. Other than public hospitals, which are supported by government, private health institutions, i.e. private hospitals and clinics, are business enterprises, which must be properly managed if they must survive, grow and prosper;
Public health is defined as the science of protecting the safety and improving the health of communities through education policy making and research for disease and injury prevention.
Some organizations have acquired facebook, and other new media platforms, which are mainly used for marketing, but it is not known if public relations practitioners in the health institutions have been able to use these new media to communicate with their audience effectively.
1.2 Statement of the problem. Service organizations depend largely on good will and continual personal relationship. This means that the supplier of services has a face-to-face relationship with client or consumer public. The major role of public relations practitioners is to effectively communicate to their prospective targets to establish and maintain relationships. One however, wonders if public relations department of the Federal Medical Centre and the National hospital Abuja makes good use of the new online communication technologies to communicate with their target audience in modern times. Although, studies have been carried out on social media and public relations practice in public health institutions in Nigeria, most of the existing academic literature focused on identity presentation, corporate information management and private issues. This study therefore, seeks to investigate whether public relations practitioners in FMC and National hospital Abuja maximizes the benefits of social media by using it as a medium to communicate with their internal and external publics. That is the gap this study intends to close.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The study seeks to find out:
- i. To find out why public relations practitioners acquire official social media platforms for their organization.
- ii. To ascertain if social media pages of FMC and National hospital Abuja are been used for effective interaction between the organization and its publics.
- iii. To examine whether social media has added value to public relations practice of FMC and National hospital Abuja.
1.4 Research questions
- i. Why do public relations practitioners acquire official social media platforms for their organizations?
- ii. How has the social media pages of FMC and National hospital Abuja been used for effective interaction between the organization and its publics?
- iii. How has social media added value to public relations practice in FMC and National hospitalAbuja?
1.5 Scope of the study
The scope of this study shall be Abuja. This is because the use of social media inpublic relations practice is mostly in metropolitan centre and Abuja is one. On this basis, the selected public health institution is federal Medical Centre and The National Hospital, Abuja.
1.6 Significance of the study
This study will be significant because, it will educate the public on social media and public relations practice in public health institutions in Nigeria. It will also inform the public on the application of social media in modern public relations practitioners and other information managers in general. This research will be a contribution to the body of literature in the area of social media and modern public relations practice in public health institutions in Nigeria by practitioners, thereby constituting the empirical literature for future research in the subject area.
17. Operational Definitionsof Significant Terms
Social media network: social media network is viewed as a group of internet based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content.
Public relations: public relations deal with the cultivation, maintenance and sustenance of mutual relationship and understanding between an organization or individual and its publics in order to obtain good will and create a favorable image before members the public.
Public health: is defined as the science of protecting the safety and improving the health of communities through education policy making and research for disease and injury prevention.