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The Shifting Paradigm of Public Relations Under Digitalization. James E. Grunig, Professor Emeritus Department of Communication University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA. The Context of Digitalization.

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The Shifting Paradigm of Public Relations Under Digitalization


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    1. The Shifting Paradigm of Public Relations Under Digitalization James E. Grunig, Professor Emeritus Department of Communication University of Maryland College Park, Maryland, USA

    2. The Context of Digitalization • As of June 30, 2009, there were 1,668,870,408 internet users in the world—24.7% of the population. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm, accessed Sept. 4, 2009) • There were 704,213,930 users in Asia—18.5% of the Asian population and 42.2% of the users in the world. • Internet use in the world grew 362.2% from 2000 to 2009, 516.1% in Asia. • On December 31, 2008, there were 298 million internet users in China, 22% of the population, with an annual growth rate of 41.9%). (China Internet Network Information Center, The 23rd Statistical Survey Report on the Internet Development in China, January 2009) • China has more internet users than any country in the world, surpassing the USA in 2008. (CNN.com, January 14, 2009)

    3. Public Relations Departments in the United States Lead the Revolution in Social Media • 51% are responsible for digital communications. • 49% for blogging. • 48% for social networking. • 52% for microblogging (such as text messaging, instant messaging, and Twittering). (iPressroom, Tendstream, PRSA, and Korn/Ferry International, 2009 Digital Readiness Report), as reported in PR News[prnewsonline.com], August 17, 2009)

    4. Abandoning the Illusion of Control • Messages received by publics can be controlled by public relations practitioners. • Publics can be created and “targeted.” • Publics can be persuaded—i.e., their cognitions, attitudes, and behaviors can be controlled through asymmetrical communication. • Images, reputations, brands, impressions or similar names used to describe cognitive representations can be “managed.”

    5. In fact, our research has shown that • Members of publics have always controlled the messages to which they are exposed. • Publics create themselves around problems their members face in life situations—stakeholders define their stakes in organizations. • Two-way symmetrical communication is more effective than asymmetrical communication in building organization-public relationships. • Reputations, images, and similar concepts are what members of different publics think and say to each other, not something controlled by an organization. • These cognitive representations are a by-product of organizational decisions and behaviors, active communication with publics, and the quality of organization-relationships.

    6. Changes Brought by the Digital Media • Members of publics are less constrained by the information traditional media choose to make available. • New media make it possible for members of publics, and journalists, to seek information from many sources, anywhere in the world. • Members of publics can interact with each other, and publics can interact with organizations and other publics whenever they want. • Through publics relations, organizations can join the conversations within and among publics. • These conversations may, or may not, include journalists online and in the traditional media.

    7. New Media Alone Will Not Change the Paradigm of Public Relations • Communicators typically use a new medium in the same way they used existing media. • Television showed broadcasters reading the same stories they read on radio. • Public relations practitioners first used the internet as an information dump, in the same way they produced publications (Web 1.0 rather than 2.0). • New media can be used for all four models of public relations: press agentry, public information, two-way asymmetrical, and two-way symmetrical.

    8. A New Media Adaptation of the Models of Public Relations(David Phillips, http://leverwealth.blogspot.com)

    9. To Shift the Paradigm of Public Relations Under Digitalization, We Must Ask What Kind of Organizational Function is Public Relations • A messaging, publicity, informational, media-relations function? • Publications, news, communication campaigns, media contacts. • A marketing function? • Support for marketing through media publicity? • A strategic management function? • Active participant in decision making? • Research-based, organizational listening and learning? • Building relationships for other functions, including marketing?

    10. Theoretical Paradigms Underlying These Questions • The symbolic, interpretive, paradigm vs. the behavioral, strategic management, paradigm. • Both paradigms existed in the history of public relations, are practiced today, and are competing for the future of the profession. • Public relations cannot take full advantage of the digital revolution if it is practiced under the interpretive rather than the strategic management paradigm.

    11. The Symbolic, Interpretive, Paradigm • Public relations manages how publics interpret the organization—to buffer the organization from its environment. • These interpretations include popular concepts such as image, identity, impressions, reputation, and brand. • Emphasis is on publicity, media relations, and media effects. • Views the effects of public relations as changes in cognitive representations, as the negotiation of meaning.

    12. The Behavioral, Strategic Management, Paradigm • Public relations participates in strategic decision-making to help manage the behavior of the organization. • Public relations is a bridging activity to build relationships with stakeholders rather than a set of messaging activities designed to buffer the organization from stakeholders. • Emphasis is on two-way and symmetrical communication of many kinds to provide publics a voice in management decisions and to facilitate dialogue between management and publics. • Views effects as changes in behavior, as the negotiation of behavior.

    13. The IABC Excellence Study Provides A Theoretical Benchmark for the Strategic Management Paradigm Excellent public relations is • Managerial. • Strategic. • Integrated but not sublimated to other management functions. • Symmetrical. • Diverse. • Ethical. • Global.

    14. Model of Strategic Management of Public Relations: New Media Can Be Used at Each Stage of the Model Management Decisions No Consequences Consequences Consequences Organizational Reputation Communication Programs ( Relationship Cultivation Strategies) Stakeholders Relationship Outcomes P1 P2 Pi Publics Achievement of Organizational Goals Crises Behavior of Publics Creates Issues

    15. Using Digital Media in the Strategic Management of Public Relations • Environmental scanning and rumor control. • Segmentation of stakeholders and publics based on problems, issues, values, concepts, and ideologies. • Anticipating and dealing with issues and crises. • Identifying and evaluating the type and quality of relationships with and among publics. • Measuring reputation (“Reputation and brand increasingly depend on what comes up when you are Googled,” David Phillips and Phillip Young, Online Public Relations, 2009). • Implementing communication programs—e.g., employee relations and media relations. • Formative and evaluative research for communication programs.

    16. Ethics and Social Responsibility • The decisions, behaviors, and actions of an organization are transparent to internet users anywhere in the world: Corporate social responsibility is no longer a choice. • When an organization participates in conversations with publics, ethically it must disclose its name and interests. • For example, fake blogs (flogs or flack blogs) and other camouflaged participation in the dialogue are unethical.

    17. In Conclusion • Shifting the public relations paradigm from a symbolic interpretive approach to a strategic, behavioral approach is crucial in a global, digital world. • For organizations to be effective. • To cultivate relationships in societies and globally. • To reduce conflict. • The digital media provide new tools for public relations that facilitate this paradigm shift.