Technology’s impact on PR: New report

Posted on: September 30, 2007

When I sought views on research priorities for research into public relations via DummySpit earlier in the year, the leading topic was “the impact of technology on public relations”. Quite fortuitously, Prof John Pavlik of Rutgers University in the US has written a paper on this topic, ‘Mapping the Consequences of Technology on Public Relations’ which has just been published by the Institute for Public Relations at Prof Pavlik, who some 20 years ago wrote the excellent “Public relations: What research tells” demonstrates his renowned clarity in writing for both academic and practitioner audiences in this very readable paper.

In it, he reviews four areas of impact and implications of technology:

1) How PR practitioners do their work

2) The content or messages developed and delivered in PR

3) Organisational structure, culture and management

4) Relationships between or among organisations and their publics

The paper looks at current research outcomes, case studies, anecdotal evidence and interviews. He also recommends a research agenda for further investigation. It’s important to note that the paper’s view is far wider than media relations which often dominates discussion of online PR. 

I’d recommend the paper to all those interested in the future of public relations and will be using it with my PR students at Bournemouth University.


2 Responses to "Technology’s impact on PR: New report"

There is nothing in this paper that was not taught at Bournemouth last year, evident in the 870 wiki pages created by the students in 17 weeks, but it is a bit old fashioned.

It is public relations from a perspective of the status quo. PR is not like that. He shows technologies that are available to anyone, not just the PR practitioner. The practitioner USP has been disintermediated.

Facebook is millions of people doing personal public relations. Everyone can do PR.

PR as he offers it, is disrupted. The question is how long can his view of it survive.

The misunderstanding of web 2.0. is clear. In the past the Internet was a technology transcribing who we are. Web 2.0 is about what we do. It is not a platform, it is a place and a way of living supported by publicly available gadgets.

A very simple example: To tell my daughter about my day this weekend I simply took a photo of Silbury Hill and sent it to her from where I stood using my phone. The range of messages was huge and I did not give a second thought to how to do it. In that action, the Internet was how I live my life.

Professor Pavlic does not address the consequence of Ubiquitous Interactive Communication (you-I-see) in changing the nature of the dominant coalition ‘in’ organisations. The mashup goes beyond the technologies, fascinating as they may be to a technophobic profession. Mashup is human and evident in creating fluid, morphing power and influence structures that are, but often transcending the boundaries of, the ‘organisation’. The ‘publics’ are ‘the organisation’.

Then again, the nature of organisation and user generated content is an asset with a long tail. He has not argued this case which affects the practice and measurement of PR. Online PR is a practice that adds to the intangible assets of an organisation. How valuable is that asset? Is there a value you can put on user generated content and relationships? Microsoft, Google and News International all have such assets on their balance sheets created by people doing PR but not PR people.

He recognises the Clue Train Manifesto concept of conversation and then attempts to construct a practice built on organisation ‘messages’. Kevin Moloney would approve/recognise this paradigm but people living the Internet can be sublime in ignoring such propaganda.

The view that there are ‘publics’, market segments or stakeholders, the lexicon of the industrial era is problematic. Online the people of the Internet select when, where and how they will be part of a social group (aka public, market segment, stakeholder group). They do this overtly as well as without care in a context or social frame and in a place and time of their own making.

When I took that photograph, did I see myself as an advocate? Was I an advocate? Who put me in their list of ‘visitor publics’? What would my reactions have been if I thought I was lumped into such a market segment? Could ‘the organisation’ see the context of my communication? Could the National Trust imagine that it was a very angry comment (as it was). There were no words, just a picture but it was part of a conversation mediated through umpteen on and off line channels for communication.

This paper is an update of the technology available (and a lot of it is pretty steam driven like his reference to AI) not the theory described by the CIPR/PRCA Internet Commission of 1999 and has not addressed the changed nature of people’s relationships mediated by UIC life brought about in the last eight years.

The unintended consequences are not for PR to decide. The decision is made by people living the Internet.
Designing messages for conversations is interruption.
Ethical issues are now deeply psychological.
Interaction with the public is for newspapers. Interaction with online communities is about pullability.
The theory is changed because it is about relationships and we (the PR industry) cannot even describe what constitutes relationships.
The organisation is its (endlessly morphing) publics
AI is far further than the technophobic PR practitioner can guess. PR, in this area is disintermediated. Summarising is simple, what is relevant are the emerging concepts in the media (including my photo which also uses ‘the media’ and the press is but a tiny part of it).
Second Life is transitional. PR should look deeper into the psychology and human needs that today keep people in front of a screen even today.
The implications are clear. Future PR (that’s five years and no longer) is writing prose or a much much more capable professional activity.
By the time research funding is in place the agenda will be changed.

Of course, the paper is good historical background reading for students, but does not prepare them for life after mass marketing and mass media working among user generated publics.

[…] Technology’s impact on PR: New report September 2007 1 comment 5 […]

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