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.