Home > Contemporary Theory and Issues in PR, Social and New Media > Studying Grunig’s Adaptation for the digital PRO’s.

Studying Grunig’s Adaptation for the digital PRO’s.

The digitalisation of the PR industry has become a slight obsession in the world of PR. PR agencies have blogs, are tweeting for business and encouraging companies to blog for business. Having read Grunig’s Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalization, article, in relation to my dissertation research, the paragraph titled ‘abandoning the illusion of control’ was of interest to me. In this paragraph, Grunig discusses the evident liberal flow if information from journalist to blogger to readers and vice versa. Grunig also goes further to discuss that the traditionalist PRO’s generally believe their place is supporting the Marketing or Advertising Departments, through media publicity.

The fact that recipients of messages from publicity campaigns are referred to as audiences, Grunig, highlights that even this shows control. ‘These practitioners also typically believe that organizations can define, or even create their public’s and ‘target’ them. Then, they believe their targets can be persuaded…’ Grunig further argues, ‘They believe that their behaviors can be influenced… through asymmetrical communication- communication designed to promote the interests of the organization with little or no concern for the interest of the publics.’On the other hand, new and social media authors such as Seth Godin in Tribes, Brian Solis and Diedre Breakenridge in PR 2.0, argue that the digitization of the Public Relations industry has given control back to the audience and message receiver. ‘Social Media is empowering people to become the new influencers…’ What I will be investigating is whether, as Brian Solis and Diedre Breakenridge believe, giving back control to the audiences has affected the transparency of online and digital PR. When an employee of Vodafone used the companies twitter account to tweet homophobic slander earlier this year, Vodafone followers were in uproar over the tweets. Vodafone apologized to their ‘audience’ / followers unconventionally, through twitter, however – this got the message delivered to it’s audience. However, relating this back to Grunig’s idea of control and persuasion, Vodafone UK alone has over 11,000 twitter followers, and over 185,000 fans on Facebook which is a sizeable amount of fans who use the service as a virtual help desk rather than just consume the promotional content. However in support of Grunig’s argument, Vodafone UK’s twitter and facebook pages allow for the company to obtain demographics on their followers / users, thus giving them overall control over the type of promotional campaign they can upload to suit the needs to which their social networking accounts have provided. This does prove Solis and Breakenridge’s point that the audience are the influencers in Social Media, however, taking this Vodafone case study for example, this only occurs momentarily until the company has gathered their audience data which can then be used to shape campaigns and content thus regaining control and becoming the influencer and challenging the idea that ‘Monologue has changed to dialogue, bringing a new era of Public Relations.’ Later on in the article Grunig also discusses the ideas of persuasion. That persuasion usually occurs when ‘messages change the cognitive representations in the minds of publics – representations they typically call images, reputations, brands, impressions…’ He argues that these can be managed through the appropriate department – i.e.: brand management, reputation management and perception management. Each department or sector has a specialty and are experts in managing the information effectively and strategically so that the audience is fed the correct information. The same can be applied to digital PR. The only difference, Grunig implies is that it is only an illusion of a crystal clear two way communications method that is taking place.

There is a controller in the conversation. To further investigate this – PR Week on the 22nd March 2010 reported that the Conservative Political Party were winning the Social Media battle in the run up to the Election Campaign. Research undertaken from February to Mid March found that 4,688 comments were left of the Conservative Party’s Facebook fanpage compared to Labour who had 1,229 comment and the Liberal Democrats with 727 comments. The Conservative’s were also winning in the fan stakes with a staggering 23,800 ‘fans’, dwarfing Labour and Liberal Democrats’ minute 7000 fans. The article also reported that, ‘55 per cent of Liberal Democrat MPs are on the site compared to 38 per cent from the Conservative Party and 34 per cent from Labour.’ Ironically enough, the party with the less Politicians on Facebook have obtained more fans. Despite this, the facebook fanpage offers the audience a chance to read about the changes with the election slogan ‘Vote For Change’ across. Directing this back to Grunig’s idea on control and management – the abundance of information, information on competing parties, Labour in particular, images, conversations, photos and press coverage links give the illusion of a transparent Facebook page for the conservatives. However, referring to the conservative party’s website, viral images of a David Cameron NHS billboard were posted, and audience participation of sending in new ‘photoshopped’ images were welcomed. So, is it possible the 23,800 fans were exposed to the NHS campaign and the spoof internet versions for a comical effect but with a serious intent behind? Either way, the control element still remains, even if it was audience driven initially, David Cameron jumped on the bandwagon, put up with being the butt of the joke for a while and succeeded in leading the Social Media battle against the Liberal Democrats and Labour. And Grunig makes a point of highlighting this in his article. He refers to research undertaken by his supervision that revealed the illusion of control as being a ‘behavioral, strategic management paradigm of public relations as research based and a mechanism for organizational listening and learning.’ With the purpose of listening and building relationships with stakeholders through communication programmes that cultivate relationships with publics that can also be found to be stakeholders relevant to each management function. However, what happens when the whole micro blogging community gangs up on you on twitter?

When South West Airlines removed film director and avid twitterer, Kevin Smith from their flight for being ‘too fat’, an unexpected twitter storm erupted.Kevin Smith tweeted his 1.6 million followers updates throughout the ordeal, gathering support from his fans. South West Airlines’ twitter page was inundated with tweets from angered Kevin Smith fans, which caused the South West Airlines server to temporarily crash. They were urged to issue an online twitter apology to Kevin Smith. Similar to the Vodafone scandal in the way the matter was somewhat resolved it sets it apart from the Vodafone scandal because this incident occurred away from the microblogsphere. This is just another example of Solis and Breakenridge’s idea that publics are the new influencers. Seth Godin, author of Tribes, would describe this as a tribal following with Kevin Smith as the leader. However it defeats the idea that being on Twitter and a socially media savvy company can enhance and build trust with your publics – especially when under attack from another ‘group’ of publics as if you are a company, you will tend to have less ‘die hard fans’ unlike a television personality or renowned creative person, who can easily build a following on their natural charm and personality. So, Solis and Breakenridge have failed to address this issue.

It is extremely beneficial for the public to have companies on twitter and social networking sites, however without a personality, if the company doesn’t have a face the publics can relate to, it defeats the object of building relations with the public. Knowledge of Social Media practices is beneficial ad should not be avoided in an era where digital PR is ever evolving, however where was Breakenridge and Solis’ In conclusion, Shel Israel once mentioned that the PR industry needed to change their ways, and stop pitching on the online platform and Grunig uses his research o the illusion of control to affirm this. It is evident a strong element of control exists within the digital PR paradigms, though it is not as obviously used as in traditional PR. Data has proved to be highly sought after and valuable when it comes to using social networks to identify new audiences, and to satisfy the needs of each and every one of your twitter followers, or facebook fans. But isn’t this just another form of reputation and brand management online? Just like the Vodafone twitter blunder, the company stepped in and acted on twitter because that’s where the damage had been done. There was no point issuing a press release and contacting journalists – who were already following them on twitter anyway, Vodafone understood the power of the microblogger on twitter, and so immediately approached everyone affected first. And however optimistic Breakenridge and Solis are when it come to the benefits and transparency of digital PR and Social Media, the book, Putting the Public back into Public Relations is a guide book for businesses looking to optimize their business in the PR industry, and so bearing this in mind, it is essential for the authors to be able to sell their ideas, capitalize on the illusion on transparency as this is the trending topic and ignore the risks and dangers of companies owning an abundance of audience data that could effectively be used to persuade a public, with what they want to hear.

Bibliography Online: http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html (accessed 06.04.10) B. Solis & D. Breakenridge, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media is reinventing the aging business of PR. (accessed online: http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com.ezproxy.westminster.ac.uk/) (accessed 09.04.10) http://twitter.com/VodafoneUK (accessed 10.04.10) http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=home#!/vodafoneUK?ref=ts (accessed 10.04.10) http://www.prweek.com/uk/news/991885/Conservative-Party-dominates-social-media-platform-Facebook-election-approaches/ (accessed: 11.04.10) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/travel/news/article7027725.ece (accessed: 11.04.10)

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  1. May 31, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Nice share of health in your hand ..

  2. June 7, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Yeah, it’s good, very useful, thanks 🙂

  3. Ciara
    August 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I am also studying an MA in Public Relations and currently writing up my thesis. The content of this post has been extremely helpful, I’ll be referencing you! Best of luck with your thesis!

    • August 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Ciara,

      Thanks! Best of luck with yours too!

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