Alternative facts, social media bubbles, assortative mating/friendships and diversity

We all like to think we have a handle on what’s real — it’s natural.

However, with the pervasive nature of opinion media broadcasting 24/7 on television and now on the internet, it can sometimes be hard to get a handle on the situation. This is compounded by the echo chambers of our social media bubbles and our assortative friendships as well as assortative mating.

What this all means is that we are getting a lot of positive reinforcement from people who agree with us. So it all feels right — our opinions, our choices, our behaviours are all reinforced by friends and family and followers who tell us, very earnestly that you should “be yourself” because “you can’t be anyone else”.

It’s too bad that what this really means is: “Be like us, conform to our little bubble’s social, moral and ethical norms. We’re with you, let those who challenge you — the unenlightened or the profane — be silent.”

After all, you can unfriend those nagging voices who question your beliefs, challenge your morality and your ethics or criticize your choices. You can cut them out because they make you feel something psychologists call “cognitive dissonance” — the fact that we can’t hold two opposing propositions in our minds at once. It’s actually painful — if you believe someone is a good person and then you get evidence that they are a liar or a cheater, it is easier to dismiss the new facts because they make you feel uncomfortable.

Before social media, assortative mating and friendships, safe spaces in universities, etc. we were often confronted with opposing views and had to argue them out before arriving at a decision.

Now, the process has changed… when we feel an impulse to do something: take a political position, make a life choice, buy something, etc. we tend to go our affirming group to have our decision positively reinforced. If people disagree, then our affirming group labels them as outsiders and often as questionable morally or ethically. So we dismiss them.

Our new internet bubble and assortative mating/friendship trend have meant that many of us live in a state that used to be reserved for people who join cults or espouse strongly ideological politics. It isn’t good because there are few dissenting voices and more social pressure to conform.

All of this while we all sing the praises of diversity and difference. Too bad we rarely experience it.

Diversity and difference means actually countenancing an opposing view and then using reason to debate, discuss and then either dismiss it or change your own views.

But this implies that there is a discussion happening. I fear that our social media bubbles and assortative mating/friendships have made having that discussion inconvenient or even uncomfortable.

Time to open the debate and burst the bubbles.

Otherwise, alternative facts (from every perspective) will be a fixture in our lives, society and politics going forward.

Advertisements

Back from research leave

This Canada Day marked my return from a year’s research leave. It has been a good year- I moved into a new home, got involved in the federal election, made a bunch of great new friends, and wrote most of a new book on social media in Canada. I also became pescetarian and mindfully started on the path to fitness.

I am looking forward to coming back to McMaster as director of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program for a three-year term, until 2019. I love teaching and being part of the university community. I love the rhythm and cadence of university life and the excitement that students feel at the prospect of learning and growing. I love research and discovery – both from the personal perspective of gaining a new understanding of the world, but also because  research and the enlightenment it brings help to transform our communities for the better.

The MCM is a wonderful community of practitioners who learn from one another. I count our faculty among the learners as well, because when twenty very bright, leading communicators from across Canada get together in a room to discuss and debate the theories and practices of management, strategy, marketing, and communications, even the top experts become facilitators. What a joy for all involved.

If you have been thinking about an MBA, you should consider the MCM. We offer the course courses of the MBA in a format that works with your schedule and busy life. It really is an “MBA for creative people.”

The fact that the MCM is offered to you by McMaster University in partnership with the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, opens a whole world of experience for you in the United States!

If you’re interested in the MCM, do send me a note and we can chat about the program and your application to join the 2016-17 cohort, which starts in October.

We have extended our application deadline to August 15, 2016.

 

Computers I have used and video games I have played

I have been a computer enthusiast since I was a young boy. My first computer was a Texas Instruments Ti99/4A on which I first learned the joys of video games and computer programming.

After that we had a Macintosh SE, with a whopping 10MB hard drive. It felt like a supercomputer! My first laptop was a Macintosh Powerbook 145, with a trackball. After that I switched to a Dell Latitude wintel laptop and then came back to Macintosh with a Macbook 13″ (black), a Mac Book Air and a desktop iMac with windows double boot. My current computers are a MacBook Pro 15″, a retina iMac and an older iPad (first retina edition from 2012). I have never had an iPhone, staying loyal to BlackBerries.

The video games side of computing never really stuck, except for strategy/puzzle games like Myst, Riven, King’s Quest, Fool’s Errand, Starcraft or my favourite… the Civilization franchise (I have actually purchased Civilization: Beyond Earth from the Apple App Store but have not yet had a chance to play).

What computers have always been for me is a window to the world of information and communication technology. The internet is an infrastructure that was build on the technology that little kids like me played and learned with 30 years ago. Having an understanding of computers opens new vistas of understanding and experience for you, particularly as a professional communicator.

Knowledge of computers and the cyber culture they have enabled is key to facilitating relationships for clients. As a communicator, you should try and become as tech savvy as you can!

 

Measurement in #PR – Social network analysis


Warning: preg_replace(): Unknown modifier 'd' in /home/asevigny/alexsevigny.ca/wp-content/plugins/jetpack/class.photon.php on line 332

At the heart of public relations practice is the relationship. Whether they are internal or external, relationships are the currency that we deal in.

One metric that we don’t pay enough attention to is how networks of affinity build around a brand. A network analysis can help with this. The challenge is that network analysis does require some knowledge of statistics or at least an ability to use network analysis software.

You definitely want to use social networking software app that has a good GUI. Otherwise it is can be challenging to enter everything via the command line.

The other point to pay attention to regard the app is its ability to visualize data – preferably generating interactive visualizations. That allows you to play with the data visually when you are doing more qualitative interpretations of the graph. Here’s an example of a data visualization generated using Netminer:

“Netminer screenshot” by Netminer – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons (click on image to see original).

 

You should do some research to find out more about social network analysis. It is fascinating stuff and extremely useful for understanding relationships on the web and elsewhere. This wikipedia page has an excellent summary of social network analysis software.

The main points to bear in mind when you are doing this kind of work are the following:

  • These software programs tend to store information in a database structured as a graph, rather than as a table
  • The nodes on your social network graph represent the individuals in the network
  • The nodes can be “decorated” with features such as age, gender, SES (socio-economic status), etc.
  • You can “strengthen” the arcs between the nodes to indicate the number of times that individuals have exchanged information.

Have fun learning about social network analysis!

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 5: building relationships in social media

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how public relations became more strategic, as it evolved into a two-way symmetrical model, focused on building relationships between organizations and their publics. Today, I will  discuss how social media has changed the landscape and evolved PR strategy from a two-way symmetrical model to a two-way dialogical model.

Social media has changed public relations by changing the way information flows.

The two-way symmetrical model was based on the gatekeeping model privileged by the structure of most mass communication organizations: well-paid and highly trained experts create content that is then sent through well-defined channels to subscribers. The gatekeepers are the editors, publishers, etc. who hold the final say on whether something is released into the channel. Strategic PR in the two-way symmetrical model involved understanding the dynamics of the mass communications channels (audiences, internal editorial structures, etc.) and forging relationships with the right experts to get the message out. Controlling and the shaping the message were key. At the heart of this is a linear communication model:

Content producer —> editor —> channel —> receiver

Feedback is limited to structured forums such as letters to the editor, op-ed pieces, etc.

Social media has shattered this model by introducing the concept of user-generated content. It also introduced instant feedback into the structure. That made the PR conversation more dialogical and interpersonal, rather than structured and linear. In a dialogical, interpersonal model feedback is constant, like in a conversation.

This means that the organizational relationships that a PR pro has to manage are being communicated in a way that more closely resembles how individuals communicate and build relationships – interactively and with multiple streams of continuous information at the same time (i.e. in interpersonal communication, you pay quite a bit of attention to language, non-verbal, context, etc.).

This means that to be strategic, PR pros now have to think of their organizations as individuals – people who are forging relationships with individual members of priority publics. Managing those relationships for the mutual benefit of the organization and the individuals with whom it has relationships is how PR adds value now.  This means that it has organization-wide influence: marketing, internal communications, HR, financial and investor communications, etc.

For PR pros, this means understanding how business works and developing a set of professional languages, models and metrics that make and demonstrate the case for the strategic value of public relations to the core business development objectives. This is at the heart of what we teach in the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program.

PR’s strategic importance is in knowing how to make organizations personal and interpersonal, in an organized and consistent fashion.

 

Strategic PR and the value chain, pt 4

Yesterday, I mentioned a piece published in the McMaster Daily News featuring my colleague @TerryFlynn’s ideas on the various scandals in journalism, particularly the Leslie Roberts one, which is directly linked to public relations.

In this great piece, Terry mentioned something that stuck with me:

“Let me first address the issue of the name of Khan’s company, Buzz PR. Neither Mr. Khan nor Mr. Roberts have recognized public relations or professional communications management experience or expertise. In fact, Mr. Khan’s stated profession is that of an auctioneer and occasional diamond seller. It appears that Mr. Khan’s primary skills were marketing, promotionalism or publicity — a very narrow slice of the spectrum of the field of media relations.”

In this quote, Terry gets to the heart of the matter concerning the strategic value of public relations – he mentions publicity and promotionalism. This brought to mind Jim Grunig’s four models of the PR practice:

  • Press Agentry/Publicity
  • Public Information
  • One-Way Symmetrical
  • Two-Way Symmetrical

These are summarized nicely here.

For Grunig, the least strategic is the first one: press agentry and publicity, for it is pretty much focused on modifying the behaviours of people to suit the organization’s priorities.

This sort of exclusively persuasive action is not a relationship-building approach to PR, as I have been discussing over the last few posts. Rather, publicity instrumentalizes the public to achieve an end: sales, donations, votes, whatever.

The Two-Way Symmetrical model — while steeped in the gatekeeping tradition endemic to the mass communications model that many argue is now passing — fashioned a model for organizations to establish two-way conversations with stakeholders. Two-way conversations that build trust.

Ethically managing and bringing professionalism to process of building relationships is the domain of the public relations professional.

It could be argued that the two-way symmetrical model has evolved. I will look at that idea tomorrow.

 

 

 

A tribute to Terry Flynn, my dear colleague and PR mentor

Today, my colleague Terry Flynn, co-founder (with Maria Russell) of the McMaster-Syracuse Master of Communications Management program (of which I am director), was interviewed for the McMaster Daily News today. The piece listed his recent achievements and focused on his opinions on the unfolding crises in journalism in the Leslie Roberts, Amanda Lang and Jian Ghomeshi situations.

First, allow me to congratulate my esteemed colleague his recent achievements. Terry was recently:

  •  The first Canadian to ever be elected to the board of trustees of the Arthur W. Page Society — the leading global association of chief communications officers — and
  • Named a board member of the prestigious Institute for Public Relations.
  • Named one of the Top 50 Social Media Marketing Influencers on Twitter by Vocus Research, a global communications research company.

Terry has been an inspiration, mentor and friend to me over the last seven years that I have known him. He has opened the world of PR scholarship and practice to me, by trusting me with his baby – the McMaster-Syracuse MCM program and introducing me to his international network of public relations and communications management colleagues, both professional and academic.

I am proud to know him and owe him a lot. He’s a constant inspiration and support to me.