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.

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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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4 thoughts on “What We Think We Know About Technology and PR

  1. Greetings from Seoul, South Korea, where I’m speaking at the annual PORDA (public opinion research in the digital age) conference hosted by Yonsei University.  It’s been an excellent conference offering much of potential interest to those in the public relations field.

    Many thanks for your comments on my paper.  I greatly appreciate your observations and reactions.  One thing I would note based on the conference in which I have been participating here in Seoul is that the implications of digital technologies for public relations strategy and practice are perhaps even more profound internationally.  Mobile media in particular are reshaping Asian communities and communications at an impressive rate.  The role of various digital media (cell phone cameras, satellite imaging) has been vital in bringing the world information about the recent protests and government response in Myanmar, and this has been a subject of much discussion here. Broadband technologies are virtually ubiquitous in Korea and many other countries in the region, and as such are exerting significant influence on democratic and economic processes.  Freedom of expression in a digital environment is an enduring question and is one U.S. and other organizations (e.g., consider Verizon and its recent texting decision) will need to address with enormous implications for public relations professionals and scholars.

  2. I read the white paper too, Markus, and didn’t judge it as harshly as you did. It was much better than the ones I?ve seen released by commercial organizations, such as newswire services and social media-oriented agencies, etc. Adoption of social media for public relations purposes is still in its infancy, with only a small percentage of practitioners (or academics) making use of it so far. I think this paper actually provides a moderately convincing case as to why public relations practitioners should be researching and looking into getting into the sphere, in some ways.

    Of course it is a bit American-centric regarding subject experts, case studies and resources (but at least quotes some non-American bloggers). I also found it interesting (surprising?!) that podcasting as a channel wasn’t explored, at all. Then again, it does seem like the hype about using podcasts is slowing down, based on online discussions and less focus on them as a communication vehicle in mainstream media articles.

    (More thoughts from Judy Gombita at http://www.prconversations.com)

  3. Except for a few statistical data (that are available elsewhere) the whole thing is very superficial. His 10-point research agenda doesn’t add anything new (actually it’s comes 2-3 years late). Only the short bibliography and some of the links may be helpful.

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