Social capital is the lifeblood of public relations with our ability to interact with others, build relationships, and develop a shared understanding at the heart of what we do. Always has been and always will be. Every new practitioner who enters the occupation, brings with them their existing connections and they rapidly learn the importance of linking, bridging and bonding. Our social capital is of value personally and professionally to us, and to our employers and clients. It is part of the value we offer — which is often, well, undervalued.
Our bonding capital is particularly relevant within the community of public relations practice, where we establish trusted relationships and shared professional identities. There is a strong support structure between those who work in public relations that you don’t always find in other occupations. But this is also an open field, where practitioners need to be be able to build bridging relationships with others, rather than seeking to be a selective or exclusive in our connections. This enables us to draw on a wider resource base for our social capital — and also contribute to, and leverage such relationships. Our linkages extend our social capital further through societal connections — which again we can use to our own advantage, but also to benefit others.
I am fortunate to be able to build relationships with many new PR practitioners every year through my educational and other professional work. It is very satisfying to see how students in particular benefit from making connections with each other and more widely. One former student, called Maria Ball, made contact recently to ask if I’d be able to share some training materials to help her deliver a session on public relations to University students in Mbale, Uganda.
Maria is further sharing her experiences from Africa via a blog: sendmyrootsrain, where you can see how she combines her background in communications and the food and farming sector with helping others. You can also read how her PR lecture was a great success — and she’s been asked back to support seminars.
Catching up with Maria has been inspiring — I think she will have enhanced her social capital enormously with her experiences, but also donated so much to others in her time in Uganda. And that seems to me a great thing for us in public relations to realise, that social capital can be multiplied rather than divided by sharing.