Mass broadcasting systems permitted the marketing revolution of the 50s and 60s. Now, the social media revolution is opening up the same radical possibilities for public relations.
PR is the business of building relationships, in Canada that means preferably symmetrical relationships between an organization and its various publics. In the past, it was very hard to measure how these relationship-building processes operated and what the value of their outcomes were. To many members of the executive suite in organizations, PR seemed like a magical process that was hard to value.
Social media changes all of that. PR is a symbol-industry. It deals entirely in mental representations. That is to say, PR’s currency is the representations of the world that are formed in the minds of the publics that the practitioner deals with.
Mental representations are images held in the brain which are the result of translations of sensory input. So, when you pet your cat on your way out of the door, your mind forms a mental schema of the feeling, the meaning and the context of what it feels like to pet the cat, when you petted it, what it did when you petted it, etc. Our reality is shaped by the mental representations we store from our experiences.
The quickest way to access what is going on in people’s minds is through language communication. It is where people express their “inner life” most clearly, with the most fidelity to what is actually going on in their minds. Visual arts production is more complicated – it involves layers of visual metaphors, colour allusions, shapes, etc.
But language is clearer. While there is certainly not a one-to-one relationship between what we think and what we say, language has the closest relationship to our thoughts of all of the communication modalities (painting, drawing, dancing, singing, etc.).
So how does this relate to social media?
Well, social media permits us real-time access to people’s evolving mental landscape through that truest representation of what is going on in their minds – language. For the first time, we can watch relationships evolve and follow the shape and colour of those relationships as they develop, rise and decline.
But wait, there’s more! Anything digital can be measured. One of the strengths of marketing professionals is that they have been able to provide precise approximations of the value of their contributions to an organization’s well-being. The measurable nature of social media provides to PR the same window to dive into a new world of measurement.
Social media is a huge opportunity to justify PR as a core strategic function. Time to jump in with both feet.