Book review

Public Relations and Participatory Culture: Fandom, Social Media and Community Engagement, edited by A. L. Hutchins and N. T. J. Tindall

Rhiannon Bury

Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies

Athabasca University, Canada

[0.1] Keyword—Industry; Marketing; Social media

Bury, Rhiannon. 2018. Public Relations and Participatory Culture: Fandom, Social Media and Community Engagement, edited by A. L. Hutchins and N. T. J. Tindall [book review]. In "Social TV Fandom and the Media Industries," edited by Myles McNutt, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 26.

A. L. Hutchins and N. T. J. Tindall, editors. Public Relations and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 2016, hardcover, $160 (246p), ISBN 9781138787728; e-book, $60 (246p) ISBN 9781315766201.

[1] While media companies have attempted to harness the creativity and emotional commitment of fans for a number of years now, web 2.0 technologies in general and social media in particular are contributing to changes in the broader public relations landscape. In Public Relations and Participatory Culture, editors and authors Amber Hutchins and Natalie Tindall make the case that members of branded or engaged publics need to be categorized as fans and that fan studies scholarship can be used fruitfully by those working in PR to engage meaningfully with these communities. Moreover, they argue that fan studies would benefit from considering a more diverse range of activities associated with products and sports teams. So-called brand fans have often been ignored or portrayed in fan studies literature in a negative light, that is, in relation to the commodification of participation. Public Relations and Participatory Culture is an original although uneven attempt to explore synergies between fan studies and strategic and organizational communication.

[2] The book is divided into four sections. The first, "Foundations," is made up of three chapters, the first of which is the introduction. In chapter 2, fan studies scholar Bertha Chin sounds a note of caution on the efforts of media content producers to engage fans; these efforts may be less about inclusiveness and promoting creativity and more about "fanagement" and containment/control. Sam Ford, who has done fan studies work with Henry Jenkins and worked in PR for a number of years, writes in chapter 3 that PR companies must go beyond serving the interests of their clients to serving the publics served by their clients—an important call, which if put into practice could mitigate the concerns raised by Chin.

[3] Part 2, "Theoretical Approaches to Public Relations, Engagement, and Fandom," is made up of seven chapters but lacks a sharp focus. Chapter 9, "Gearing toward Excellence in Corporate Social Media Communications," by Linjuan Rita Men and Wan-Hsiu Sunny Tsai, provides a set of best practices for the engagement of publics. The remaining chapters in part 2 provide short theoretical frameworks to set up a variety of empirical studies. The strongest and most relevant are chapter 6, "Gamification in PR," by Michelle Katchuck; chapter 7, "Social Media Brands," by Kelli Burns; and chapter 10, "New Media, New Public Relations," by the editors. Katchuck offers up a number of case studies, from a Nike campaign to the release of a Coldplay album, to demonstrate the use of video game elements as part of a public relations strategy to make fans out of consumers, users, and even employees of a company. In addition to offering an interesting review of the literature of influence theory, Burns highlights the role of brand fan advocates and their use of social networks. She suggests that brand campaigns that engage advocates may prove to be more effective than the more established strategy of hiring social media/celebrity influencers. Chapter 10 is the only one in the section and indeed the book that provides a true synthesis of concepts from PR and fan studies. Hutchins and Tindall draw on notions of engaged publics and participatory culture to put Ford's advice to engage with fan communities into practice, going beyond the management of corporate-created sites and official social media Facebook and Twitter channels.

[4] The third section, "Brand Perspectives: Applying Theories of Public Relations and Fandom in Corporate, Government and Nonprofit Spaces," is made up of six chapters. Chapter 11, by Patricia Curtin, focuses on General Mills and the "manufacturing" of a community in relation to a gluten-free line of products launched in 2008. Similarly, chapter 16, by Richard Waters, examines "charged publics" in relation to the Disney Cruise Line through a study using focus groups drawn from a private Facebook group. In chapter 12, Jacqueline Lambiase and Laura Bright present data from interviews with public information officers from local EU governments on their role in engaging with citizens on social media. In chapter 15, "Riding the Wave," Jaime Ward discusses the ALS ice bucket challenge, a fundraising effort that went viral in 2014. Ward argues that this was a successful case of social media "clicktivism" being transformed into activism and suggests that other nonprofits might replicate the model. Certainly the bucket challenge was a fundraising success for the ALS Association but, since there have been no other successes like it, Ward's argument is debatable. Chapter 14, "What's at Stake in the Fan Sphere?," is one of the most interesting chapters in the section and indeed the collection. Amanda Kehrberg and Meta Carstarphen apply notions of fan identification and affect to analyze the association of Trayvon Martin, the black American teenager shot and killed by George Zimmerman, with Skittles, the brand of candy he had bought and had with him at the time of his murder. Skittles is a brand with an active social media presence. Yet when the candy became a symbol of social justice in social media campaigns, the corporation, unsure how it could respond to a larger social crisis about racism in America, remained silent. It was accused of indifference and, worse, of cashing in on the tragedy. The authors argue that the brand's fans both created a communications crisis for the company and "helped the company to recover, better understand, and interact with its base in the future" (164). However, this final claim is never substantiated through empirical data, and the authors do not try to tease out the different fan identifications in terms of race and class, assuming instead a homogenous "Skittles fandom."

[5] The fourth and final section, "Stakeholder Engagement and Communication in Traditional Fan Spaces," should have been one of the strongest. However, certain chapters in this section would benefit from further development of their analyses and their connections to the other works in this collection. Chapter 17, by Melanie Bourdaa, Bertha Chin, and Nicolle Lamerichs, offers an overview of a few transmedia practices associated with the series Battlestar Galactica (BSG). The discussions of "world building" by actors such as Aaron Douglas (Tyrol) and Tahmoh Penikett (Helo), through their engagement with fans on social media after the series went off the air, and of the development of a BSG board game are unfortunately too cursory, no doubt because of the limitation on chapter length. Chapter 19, by Heidi Hatfield Edwards, focuses on fan discussion on the HBO boards of the final season of Sex in the City, a series that went off the air long before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. For this reason, there is a disconnect between this case study and the types of social media that enable promotional and brand cultures covered in the rest of the collection. In chapter 18 Justin Walden states that it is time for those studying PR to look at sports fan communities, but does not actually undertake such an analysis. However, chapters 5 and 20 do the kind of work that Walden is calling for. For example, in chapter 20, Jimmy Sanderson and Karen Freberg address sports organizations' strategic decisions to engage or not to engage with fans in the face of controversy (and so this chapter resonates nicely with chapter 14). Specifically, they examine the reaction of fans to the Baltimore Ravens' decision to live-tweet a press conference held by Ray Rice and his wife after charges of assault were brought against him in 2014.

[6] To sum up, Hutchins and Tindall have brought together a range of scholarship working at the intersection of PR studies and fan studies. They have made a strong case that this is a fruitful area of study to pursue. However, the uneven sections and the disconnects between various components of the collection suggest that an entire book dedicated to the subject may be premature. While it does not add a great deal to fan studies scholarship, Public Relations and Participatory Culture may well be of interest to PR scholars and practitioners.