Macnamara, Jim. (2012). Public communication practices in the Web 2.0 –3.0 mediascape: The case for PRevolution. PRism, 7(3), 1–13.


This article presents a critically informed analysis of public relations practice in what Mark Poster termed the Second Media Age that began with the Internet and which is increasingly characterized by interactive ‘social’ media enabled by Web 2.0 and the emergent Web 3.0. Industry texts and statements suggest that the growth of ‘PR 2.0’ is taking advantage of the interactive two-way communication and relationship-building capabilities of Web 2.0 media and realizing the ethical and practical ideals of dialogic and Excellence Theory in PR. However, there is a lack of empirical data on use of social media and the ‘social Web’ in PR, and research that exists indicates that practice lags theory and social and cultural shifts occurring in other areas of public communication. This analysis draws on research undertaken in relation to Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 in the contexts of the public sphere, journalism and public relations to identify the ways in which public communication is changing, and the opportunities as well as risks posed in this emergent media environment.


Critical analysis drawing on three research studies conducted between November 2007 and November 2009: (1) a study of use of social media in the 2007 Australian federal election; (2) a study of international use of Web 2.0 in the public sphere including the Obama Online Operation; and (3) a 2008–2009 study of online public consultation trials by the Australian federal government.

Key Findings

1)      Social media were widely used in the political election campaigns analysed. The 2008 Obama campaign represented a watershed. In the Australian national election in 2007, politicians primarily used social media for one-way transmission of campaign slogans and messages.

2)      Activist groups’ sites featured the most interactive and open use of social media.

3)      Trials of online public consultation by government departments and agencies were found to be limited by a lack of planning, structural barriers such as public service regulations which restricted response and comment, and a lack of resources to monitor and respond to citizens in a timely way.

4)      Online citizen engagement experiments, such as the MIT Deliberatorium, have found that considerable resources and planning are required to gain and manage online engagement, including:

  • Careful design of the rules of interaction
  • ‘Seeding’ of discussions with “an initial corpus of policy options and pointers” to stimulate discussion
  • A “committed community of contributors and expert judges”
  • Voting systems which provide citizens with simple quick ways of contributing
  • Tools for collating and assessing well-structured arguments

Implications for Practice

Given the rapidly increasing use of social media in government, corporations and organizations, these findings are important for PR practitioners. Five specific implications for practitioners are identified in this article:

1)      Web 2.0 applications provide greatly increased potential for two-way interaction, giving PR practitioners opportunities to realize the potential of two-way symmetrical and dialogic models of PR

2)      Effective social media use requires abandonment of the ‘control paradigm’ that characterizes many management systems and processes

3)      Practitioners need to learn new skills to be effective in social media, including informal ‘conversational’ styles of writing online, new techniques of media relations (e.g. bloggers do not come to news conferences and most don’t accept press releases), and online community management techniques such as those identified in ‘Key Finding 4”

4)      Practitioners need to access new tools and systems for media monitoring and analysis that cover social media

5)      There is an opportunity and requirement to counsel management in relation to the use of users’ data collected online, particularly with emerging Web 3.0 capabilities to capture large amounts of user data. “Ruthlessly” harvesting citizens’ profile data, as recommended by one management consulting firm, is likely to lead to major concerns over privacy and trigger legal challenges, regulation, and reputation damage.

Article Location

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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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