As stated by Rabinovich, Morton and Birney (2012), communication is more than merely transferring information; it involves understanding each others’ positions, knowledge and motives. In order to better understand communication, and more specifically persuasion—which uses communication to achieve an intended attitude or behaviour change—this study explores how a communicated message can garner different responses and perceptions based upon the individual’s characteristics like knowledge base, cultural background, cognitive approach, and more (Eveland & Cooper, 2013). By understanding and exploring these different responses, this paper provides public relations professionals with empirical evidence on the methods and manners in which communicators can effectively communicate the message to achieve the desired and intended behaviour outcome.
This research reveals trust as a crucial piece for successful communication between the receiver and the communicator, acting as a heuristic cue or, in other words, a mental shortcut for the receiver. This mental shortcut leads to what researchers call the peripheral route, which requires less cognitive processing and could contribute to faster decision-making. Communicators should be aware of the level of trust with the intended audience, as trust can motivate the receiver to more quickly adopt the message as intended without considering its format or quality. As stated by Goodwin & Dahlstorm (2014), when you foster trust with the receiver it reduces their need for message evaluation and provides a less demanding cognitive process of persuasion.
A significant finding of this research is the determination of three ways communicators can build trust: authenticity, credibility and expectations. Communicators can be perceived as authentic by being identifiable as well as encouraging and supporting dialogue. Through authentic dialogue with the receiver, trust can be repaired. Dorzd, Lehto and Oinas-Kukkonen (2012) indicate the positive implications of two-way communication for public relations professionals, stating dialogue can be used to remind and reinforce receivers to increase commitment and act on the message.
In addition to authenticity, credibility is equally as crucial to build trust. The level of credibility is determined by the receiver’s evaluation of the communicator based on various qualities like expertise, attraction and communicator identification. Lastly, communicators should realize the significance of determining and preparing for the receiver’s expectations of the message—as the success or failure of meeting receiver expectations influences the amount of trust in the relationship.
Future research should push further than the known foundations for effective communication and explore more effective scales for testing receiver perceptions. This continuation of research would provide better tools for measurement and assessment of communications for public relations professionals. There should also be a continual development of how to more effectively analyze receiver reactions to persuasion, which could aid in processing large sets of data, like those in social media. As knowledge increases in the field of persuasive communication, public relations professionals can learn to better effectively communicate messaging with the desired publics to achieve intended behaviour outcome.
Terence (Terry) Flynn, Ph.D., assistant professor at McMaster University | firstname.lastname@example.org