John V. Pavlik’s new paper, “Mapping the Consequences of Technology on Public Relations,” explores what research tells us about the impact of digital, networked technology on our work. Anecdotal learning – from case studies to water-cooler conversations – is important. But sometimes we need to ask about the real research base for things we think we know.
Pavlik breaks his paper into four themes: technology’s impact on how public relations practitioners work; implications for content and messages; implications for organizational structure, culture and management; and impact on relationships between organizations and their publics.
How practitioners work is often connected with how journalists work, of course. The trends there continue without interruption – using the Internet to locate sources, searching blogs for story ideas, adopting email as a principal form of communication. Even the numbers in the Media in Cyberspace study, conducted only a few years ago, seem too low today:
- 98% of journalists say they go online at least once a day.
- 76% of reporters go there to find new sources and experts.
- 73% of reporters go online to find press releases.
- 53% of journalists use email to receive story pitches.
As journalists become bloggers, bloggers become journalists. As texting and Twitter go mainstream, the message may be limited to 150 characters or less. (Remember when “25 words or less” seemed so little?) Embedding links in the content allows consumers to immediately act on whatever interests them. Sponsored online games are increasingly useful tools to reach young publics in particular.
Technology is also transforming internal organizational structures – those of public relations and the clients they serve. “Perhaps among the most significant is the opportunity to flatten the hierarchical nature of many organizations, at least from the point of view of communication,” Pavlik testifies in his paper. “Digital communication makes it possible for more efficient management of organizational communications. This also means organizations can be more open and transparent to facilitate better understanding between and among various groups.”
The impact on relationships between organizations and their publics rounds out Pavlik’s paper, with a look at social networking technologies like MySpace and YouTube. Consumers “are empowered by digital technologies to voice their opinions more easily and more powerfully via social networking sites, including creating and posting their own videos, sometimes griping against corporate practices they find objectionable.” The challenge for practitioners is how to respond in an effective manner.
You can read the full version of Pavlik’s paper on the Institute for Public Relations website. Your own thoughts about research and technology in PR are welcome below.