Post-grad research

In case anyone is interested in what I’m researching about and wondering why I keep sending out surveys and updates, here is the outline proposal for my post-grad Diploma in Public Relations. The hardest thing so far is not going off into examining sociological stuff and the history of women’s campaigning and all that. Any comments very welcome!

Social media is an area of communication currently attracting a lot of attention – from traditional media, from business and from politicians. It would be useful to start out by defining what exactly it meant by the term social media. Social media is, according to Deirdre Breakenridge, “anything that uses the Internet to facilitate conversations between people.” This could refer to online forums, chatrooms, blogs, online video, audio and photographic tools, social networks or microblogging, to name a few of the relevant tools currently in existence.

The sharp rise of social media in the last few years and the huge take up of people using social media has contributed to the amount of coverage that various social media tools have received in the mainstream press. As a result these tools, such as Facebook or Twitter for example, attract a lot of hype but little in the way of actual informed research. This project aims to go some way in addressing that by concentrating on one particular area: women’s use of social media.

The 2010 UK general election was, at one point, referred to by mainstream media as “The Mumsnet election”, highlighting the use of social media by specialist groups aimed at, for and by women. Yet, by another standard, women were strangely absent throughout the election campaign – very few issues involving women were discussed, few female politicians were involved in media discussions and subsequently there are few women in the Cabinet.

Throughout history women have had to rely on communication methods such as letters or diaries to make their voices heard and network. Are social media sites like Mumsnet just carrying on this tradition or are they a more effective campaigning tool by an audience that is often given a cursory nod by politicians and the media?

This project will pose the following questions:

What is the extent of women’s use of social media and for what purpose?

Is it an effective tool for campaigning – by women at grassroots level and by public relations practitioners with a “women’s agenda”?

To what extent do women’s groups and campaigns penetrate mainstream media?

What practical lessons can be learned about using social media tools for public relations campaigns?

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