From "Social Responsibility" to "Social Media": Societal Culture
and Israeli Public Relations Practice
Sixty years ago, when the state of Israel was established, the Zionist institutions and
the government of Israel faced an enormous challenge: they had to build a new nation
and in the process form an Israeli society from tens of thousands of Jewish
immigrants, speaking a multitude of languages and representing a multi-cultural
mosaic, who had arrived from the Diaspora. In order to do so, the authorities
promoted the idea of "social integration," whose aim was to unite the people in a new
culture. In describing the origins and the evolution of social integration in Israel,
Toledano and McKie (2007) argue that in order to support nation-building and social
integration, most Israelis preferred the model of "social responsibility of the press"
over " freedom of the press." This cultural environment resulted in an Israeli media
that restricted open and democratic public discourse, in journalists who in effect
served as spokespersons of the political leadership, and in public relations
practitioners who in practicing "propaganda of integration" emphasized positive,
unifying messages that created consensus.
From the 1970's till the 1990's, Israel’s political, social and economic
atmosphere underwent a major change. The government lost control over the media,
which became more diverse and competitive and did not see itself as responsible for
either the unity of the people or the citizens’’ trust in the government (Toledano &
McKie, 2007). In that atmosphere, journalism became more critical and public
relations practice became more professional.
In the past decade, the Internet and the World Wide Web have provided the
field of public relations with additional space to grow. The new technologies enabled
public relations practitioners to implement a more open, direct and dialogic
communication with various publics. Public relations theory gradually changed from
the Functional approach, which emphasized the functional role that public relations
fulfills in an organization, to the Co-creational approach , which put organizational
public relationship at the center (Botan & Taylor, 2004). New Web 2.0 and Social
Media elements, such as blogs, wikis, forums, and social networks, enabled
information-sharing and discussions among publics and within organizations through
the integration of technology, telecommunications and social interactions;
importantly, these new elements promoted diversity, individuality and freedom of
The technological, societal, political and economic changes also resulted in the
transition from a closed, supervised and "recruited" media that supported the policy
and the ideology of the government, towards an open, pluralistic and freer Israeli
media. In light of these environmental changes, it is important to question whether
Israeli public relations practice has also changed. How far did it deviate from the
model of "propaganda of integration"? Are Israeli public relations practitioners
nowadays willing to embrace the new, pluralistic social media? Do they actually use
social media? How do they perceive social media, and what do they think of its
future? The aim of this study is to try to provide answers to these questions.
In Israel, there are approximately 400 public relations firms that work with the
private, public and not-for-profit sectors. A web-based survey of Israeli public
relations practitioners was conducted during September 2008. Toward this end, 301 e-
mail addresses of public relations firms and practitioners were collected from the
Israeli Public Relations Association (www.ispra.co.il), the Israeli yellow pages
(www.d.co.il) and an Israeli public relations website (www.prnet.co.il). In response to
an invitation to answer an online questionnaire that was sent to those e-mail
addresses, 17 solicitations were returned for not having a valid address; of the
remaining 284, the questionnaire was completed and returned by 45 practitioners
(approximately 10 per cent of the total 400 existing Israeli public relations firms).
The survey contained various types of questions, some multi-choice, closed
questions regarding the usage of online tools and social media elements, others
responses to five-point Likert-type scales (1=strongly disagree, 5=strongly agree).
Parts of the questionnaire were based on or taken from the surveys of Gillin (2008)
and Wright and Hinson (2008), which explored the impact of social media on public
The participants' demographic characteristics were properly distributed across
gender, age and work experience: 51 per cent of the participants were male and 40 per
cent female (9 per cent did not provide the information); 4.5 per cent were between
the ages 18 and 25, 29 per cent were between 26 and 35, 33 per cent were between 36
and 45, 13 per cent were between 46 and 55, 9 per cent were between 56 and 65, and
4.5 per cent were 65 or older (7 per cent did not provide the information). The
participants worked in various sectors, 40 per cent of them in more than one sector:
the private sector (69 per cent), the public sector (49 per cent) and the not-for-profit
sector (33 per cent). Their professional experience ranged from 5 years or less (16 per
cent) to 6 to 11 years (29 per cent), 12 to 17 years (27 per cent), and 18 years or more
(22 per cent) (4 per cent did not provide the information, and 2 per cent answered
This study addressed three research questions:
RQ1: Do Israeli public relations practitioners use online social media elements?
RQ2: How do Israeli public relations practitioners perceive online social media
RQ3: How do Israeli public relations practitioners see the future of social media?
The first part of the survey explored the actual usage of social media elements by
Israeli public relations practitioners. The findings showed that 78 per cent of the
practitioners used at least one social media element in at least one campaign, while
only 22 per cent did not use any of the elements. The most popular elements were
blogs (56 per cent used this device for at least one campaign), social networks (53 per
cent) and forums (49 per cent); other elements were also used (Figure 1).
In addition, 80 per cent of the participants had at least one personal experience
(for any purpose) with blogs, 69 per cent with social networks, 67 per cent with
forums and 42 per cent with photo sharing (Figure 2).
Which of the following social elements has your organization used in at least one campaign?
None of these
0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 100.0%
Point out the social media elements that you have personally experienced (for any purpose) at
None of these
0.0% 20.0% 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 100.0%
Most practitioners (73 per cent) read blogs that were relevant to their clients,
and 44 per cent actually wrote or had written a blog in the name of their organizations
or clients. The vast majority (95 per cent) tracked online mentions of their clients on
the Internet, and 59 per cent responded to online opinions or criticism regarding their
organizations or clients.
When the participants were asked whether their clients usually were interested
in integrating social media elements in their campaigns, only 32 per cent responded
positively, while 68 per cent answered that their clients seldom (36 per cent) or never
(32 per cent) wanted them to use social media elements (Figure 3).
When you plan a campaign, are your clients usually interested in integrating social media
elements (such as blogs, wikis, online video, etc.)?
Usually yes Sometimes Seldom Never
Asked to rate the effectiveness of various social media tools (blogs, photo sharing,
forums, wikis, tags, instant massaging, virtual worlds, music sharing and online
games) in achieving campaign goals, practitioners gave blogs the highest score (64
per cent) , second came forums (60.5 per cent) and photo sharing was third (34 per
cent). On the other hand, 56 per cent of the participants answered negatively to the
question whether social media have changed the way their organizations or their
clients' organizations communicated (Figure 4).
To what extent do you agree with the notion that social media have changed the way your
organization or your clients' organizations communicate?
Very little Little Medium Much Very much
The second part of the survey explored how Israeli public relations
practitioners perceived social media. The findings showed that 62 per cent agreed that
"social media and traditional media complement each other" and only 20 per cent
thought that "social media and the traditional media are in conflict."
When asked if social media have enhanced public relations practice, the
respondents gave diverse answers: 38 per cent thought that the level of enhancement
was "medium," 34 per cent thought that it was "much" or "very much" and 25 per cent
thought that it was "very little" or "little" (3 per cent were "missing cases"). The same
pattern appeared when practitioners were asked whether blogs enhanced public
relations practice: 33 per cent thought that the level of enhancement was "little" or
"very little," 31.5 per cent answered "much" or "very much" and 27 per cent
responded that it was "medium" (8.5 per cent were "missing cases").
There was also no agreement among Israeli public relations practitioners as to
the influence of traditional media on social media. Although 37.5 per cent agreed
"much" or "very much" that traditional media influenced social media, 31.5 per cent
agreed "little" or "very little" and 27 per cent thought that level of agreement was
"medium." The vast majority of practitioners (71 per cent) agreed that organizations
were forced to respond more quickly to criticism, since social media (including blogs)
have made communications more instantaneous.
"What is your level of agreement with the following notions?
Question little Little Medium Much much Missing
Social media have enhanced
the practice of public
relations 9% 16% 38% 27% 7% 3%
Blogs have enhanced the
practice of public relations? 11% 22% 27% 27% 4.50% 8.50%
Traditional media influence
social media (including
blogs) 4.50% 27% 22% 24.50% 13% 9%
Since social media (including
blogs) have made
instantaneous they have
forced organizations to
respond more quickly to
criticism 2% 7% 11% 22% 49% 9%
Approximately half of the respondents (51.5 per cent) were not of the opinion
that social media were more accurate than traditional media. They also did not believe
that social media were more credible than traditional media (49 per cent) or presented
a more trusted information source (49 per cent). Furthermore, nearly half the Israeli
practitioners (46%) thought that social media did not tell the truth. On the other hand,
they did agree that social media offered organizations a low-cost way of developing
relationships with various publics (64.5 per cent).
"What is your level of agreement with the notion that social media (including blogs)…"
Question little Little Medium Much much Missing
Are more accurate than
traditional media? 27% 24.50% 33% 4.50% 2% 9%
Are more credible than
traditional media? 22% 27% 31% 9% 2% 9%
Are a more trusted information
source than traditional media? 27% 22% 27% 13% 2% 9%
Tell the truth? 13% 33% 27% 16% 2% 9%
Offer organizations a low-cost
way of developing relationships
with members of various
publics? 4.50% 9% 13% 44.50% 20% 9%
The last part of the survey explored practitioners' thoughts about the future of
social media. The majority (60 per cent) estimated that they would "probably" use
some kind of social media elements in a media campaign during the coming year; 27
per cent hesitated ("maybe"); and only 9 per cent answered negatively ("probably
not") (4 per cent were "missing cases").
That the inroads being made by social media were not perceived as superficial
may be seen by the 73 per cent who said that they would "very" or "very much" like
to "deepen their knowledge regarding social media usage." Moreover, 51 per cent
believed that "social media usage for public relations purposes will become more
dominant in the future than traditional media usage." Only 20 per cent expressed a
"little" or "very little" level of agreement, while 20 per cent chose a "medium" level of
agreement (9 per cent were "missing cases”). Nevertheless, the majority (73 per cent)
did not agree that "social media usage will cancel in the future the usage of traditional
Discussion and Conclusions
The aim of this study was to explore Israel’s societal culture as an environment with
which public relations practice has had to align. Beginning with the early days of the
state of Israel and extending to the era of the Internet, this survey tried to reveal
whether Israeli public relations practitioners use social media, how they perceive
these media, and what they think of their future.
The first part of the survey revealed that most practitioners had experience with or
started to familiarize themselves with social media elements. The majority read blogs
that were relevant to their clients and tracked online mentioning of their clients on the
Internet. Almost half those surveyed actually wrote or had written an organizational
blog in the past.
Nevertheless, the findings also indicated that the usage of social media
elements by Israeli practitioners was still in its initial stage and that its potential had
not yet been utilized. Evidence for this finding comes from the low percentage of
participants who responded positively to the question whether their clients were
usually interested in integrating social media elements in their campaigns (32 per
cent) and the relatively high percentage who answered "seldom" (36 per cent) or
"never" (32 percent). These rates indicate that the Israeli clients of public relations
services do not as yet acknowledge the potential and importance of social media
elements in achieving campaign goals, and therefore they prefer the "traditional
media" over the newer social media. Additional evidence for this contention is found
in the 56 per cent of the practitioners who thought that the emergence of the social
media (including blogs) has not changed the way their organizations or their clients'
organizations communicate. As a comparison, an international survey conducted by
Wright and Hinson (2008) found that 61 per cent of public relations practitioners
believed that the emergence of social media and blogs had changed the way their
organizations or their clients' organization communicated. In another international,
web-based survey of communications professionals, 57 percent of the respondents
said that social media tools were becoming more valuable to their activities, as more
customers and people of influence used them, and 27 per cent reported that social
media constituted a core element of their communication strategy (Gillin, 2008).
When the participants in our study were asked about their perceptions of social
media, a duality characterized the answers. On the one hand, most Israeli practitioners
believed that social media and traditional media complemented each other and that
they were not in a conflict. They also thought that social media offered organizations
a low-cost way of developing relationships with members of various publics. On the
other hand, practitioners could not agree whether social media or blogs have enhanced
public relations practice and whether traditional media have influenced social media.
In comparison, Wright and Hinson (2008) found that 66 per cent of their respondents
believed that social media had enhanced public relations and 60 per cent felt the same
way about blogs.
It seems as though Israeli practitioners have accepted social media but not yet
embraced it. They have accepted the idea that social media are important to public
relations practice, but their minor experience with these new media does not allow the
Israelis to actually believe in the new environment or to recommend it with
confidence. Moreover, the survey indicates that many Israeli practitioners still do not
trust social media and do not see such media as credible or reliable sources.
Approximately half of the respondents were not of the opinion that social media were
more accurate (51.5 per cent), more credible (49.5 per cent) or more trustful an
information source (49.5 per cent) than traditional media; furthermore, 46 per cent
even thought that social media did not tell the truth.
A possible explanation for these findings is that social media elements are still
newcomers in Israel. Therefore, practitioners and their clients do not have any
substantial experience with them; they do not know at first hand of any success stories
related to their usage, and therefore they treat social media with suspicion.
An alternative explanation might be that the societal culture in which Israeli
public relations practice evolved, one which promoted "propaganda of integration"
and "intolerance toward diverse, conflicting discourses, which presented a threat to
unity" (Toledano & McKie, 2007), still echoes today. Accordingly, social media
elements that promote diversity, pluralism and multi-voices are perceived as
The third part of the survey explored the future of social media in the eyes of
Israeli practitioners. The findings indicated that practitioners believed in the future of
social media and thought that its usage would grow. Sixty per cent believed that they
would use some kind of social media elements for a media campaign during the
coming year, and the majority (73 per cent) responded that they would like to deepen
their knowledge of social media usage. Although half of the participants (51 per cent)
believed that social media usage for public relations purposes would become more
dominant than "traditional media" usage in the future, the majority (73 per cent) did
not consider that social media would cancel its usage
To summarize, the societal, political and economic environmental culture in
which Israeli public relations practice has evolved has influenced its nature from its
very beginning. The promotion of social integration by the Zionist institutions and the
Israeli government resulted in a media that embraced the model of "social
responsibility of the press" over " freedom of the press" (Toledano & McKie, 2007).
The emphasis was on solidarity, unity and collective discourse, and "responsible
journalists" in effect fulfilled the role of public relations practitioners while
emphasizing positive messages and unifying issues (Toledano & McKie, 2007).
Over the decades, however, this model began to change as the government lost
control over the media. Israeli public relations practice, perhaps as a result, became
more professional. The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web in the last
decade of the twentieth century presented new opportunities for public relations
practitioners both to build relationships with various publics, including those to which
they had not previously connected, and to spread organizational messages more
broadly and more effectively.
As this study has indicated, Israeli public relations practitioners generally are
willing to use and experiment with social media elements, such as blogs, online
videos, social networks, forums and others; nevertheless, the usage of such media is
still in its initial stage. Practitioners in Israel apparently understand the advantages
and the importance of social media for the practice of public relations, but their lack
of experience with these new media or perhaps the societal culture in which the
profession evolved makes them suspicious still. Nevertheless, the majority does
believe in the future of social media and thinks that it is important to become more
familiar with them and to understand their usage.
Israeli public relations practice has undergone a major change during the past
sixty years as the model of "propaganda of integration" was replaced with a more
professional, independent approach. Changes in the societal culture provided the
environment in which such a change could take place. The challenge for Israeli public
relations professionals nowadays is to understand social media better in order to
utilize these media elements for the benefit of their clients.
This study is based on an online survey that was sent (as a link) to the email-boxes of
public relations practitioners. Therefore, the findings are based on self-reporting,
which might reduce their accuracy.
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Gillin, P. (2008). New media, new influencers and implications for the public
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Toledano, M., & McKie, D. (2007). Social integration and public relations: Global
lessons from an Israeli experience. Pubic Relations Review, 33, 387-397.
Wright, D. K., & Hinson, M. (2008). Examining the increasing impact of social media
on the public relations practice: Institute for Public Relations.