This post appears courtesy of Dr. Jim Macnamara. The full study can be found here.

From recent public occurrences such as Brexit, Trump’s election victory or the Scotland Referendum, there has been a collapse of trust in governments and businesses. In addition, there has been several landmark uprisings against the campaigning methods of these institutions. It is a paradox in the sense that countries such as the United States and the UK, which are majorly developed democracies that invest a lot of money into communication, are experiencing the greatest collapse in trust. This is directly affecting the way professionals communicate as well as how it is disseminated by people.

Jim Macnamara identifies three main points in his study. First, the decrease of trust in government and business is a result of the collapse of public communication into post-communication. Secondly, post-communication is caused by organization centricity and the failure to actively listen to stakeholder’s needs. Lastly, new scientific and humanistic approaches in public communication are needed while remaining careful of new technologies that are important for the future of public communication.

The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer reported that only 41 percent of people trust their national government, only 43% trust their media and only a little over 50 percent trust business and NGOs. This collapse of trust is especially seen in young people.

With decreasing public trust, there are more displays of public frustration. A recent example could be the election of Donald Trump, which shocked the world when most saw him as unelectable.

With a decline in trust there is post-communication, which is one-way, top-down persuasion. This is a result of the public communicator believing that they know best and will do anything in their power to tell others how to think or act. It is a gradual occurrence with a collapse of the fundamentals of communication and its key principles so that all that is left is the pretense of communication.

Organization-centricity is the idea that communication is used by organizations for their own objectives with stakeholders and the public by one-way communication rather than a focus on a mutual relationship where all parties benefit. Many PR strategies state the need to serve the goals of the company, making it confined to its organizational goals rather than a good relationship with stakeholders and publics.

Organizations are also viewing people as consumers rather than as real people. With the popularity of social media and its capability of increasing communication, organizations will solely distribute their planned messages without actually listening to what the consumers have to say. When they do listen, it is to learn more about the audiences they are targeting. Big data is being used heavily nowadays to gain insights about audiences, but it is more about changing what people want and think in terms of what the organizations want or think.

To counteract this selective listening, public communicators need to create an architecture of listening, which is a set of standards for organizations to listen to their stakeholders and publics by remaining open for dialogue and change. Without doing so, this anti-social behavior allows for PR or communication to collapse into post-communication.

In a post-communication world with access to big data analytics, bots, click bait and constant social media access, many see it as the future, but it can lead to resistance from publics for reasons such as privacy, so it needs to be handled cautiously. Public communicators need to ultimately go against post-communication and refrain from being a part of it.

To help change this, transdisciplinary, or collaboration amongst different theoretical frameworks can help. Whether it’s with the humanities, sociology, leadership studies or the sciences, public communicators often will overlook insights into many different disciplines. There needs to be a change from the traditional top-down one-way communication to emergent management which is reengaging with stakeholders and publics through two-way communication for mutual benefit and sustainability.


Jacqueline Disla is a public relations student at the University of Florida and an account associate at UF PRSSA’s student firm Alpha PRoduction. Follow her on twitter @JackieEDisla.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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