Thinking inside the box about technology and PR

Kirk Hallahan, professor at Colorado State University, is the 2007 recipient of the Institute for Public Relations Pathfinder Award for outstanding scholarly contributions. Hallahan has focused his recent research on the application of online technologies to PR practice. In a column available on the Institute website, he summarizes much of what he has learned in four observations.

1. Public relations activities cannot be segregated from an organization’s other uses of technology. Work is performed using the same technologies commonly used in public relations to reach both external and internal stakeholders. Customers and others are increasingly asked to interact with organizations through web- and wireless-based self-service technologies. This trend can actually enhance organizational credibility by melding managerial and relational functions.

2. Public relations must redefine itself as a result of technology. The critical question is whether practitioners are charged merely with producing, distributing and promoting messages that take advantage of new technologies (the traditional communication function of public relations); or should the real function of public relations be to advise managements at all levels (from chief executives to systems analysts) about maximizing organizational-user relationships regardless of who produces content?

3. New technologies are not the solution to all organizational communications problems. Just because a new tool is available – or others have rushed to use it – is not an appropriate reason for adoption. With so many choices, planning must be media-neutral and involve the astute selection of channels. Moreover there is a limit to the quantity and quality of time people can spend with new media and organizational messages – especially users who have low or minimal involvement with an organization.

4. Technology poses new challenges to public relations and client organizations. The speed with which information can be shared with stakeholders during a crisis or controversy is obviously an ideal application of new media. Yet speed has placed new, unintended burdens on organizations as well. Public relations practitioners must understand the dark side of cyberspace in order to provide advice concerning the prevention and containment of risks and to respond adroitly when organizations are confronted with cyber threats.

Please visit the Institute website to read and respond to the full column by Dr. Hallahan.

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5 Replies to “Thinking inside the box about technology and PR

  1. Heather, I realized after I commented yesterday that I didn’t provide a link to the executive summary of the Influencer Report, located on Apex PR’s website. So thanks for providing me with a nice segue to correct that lapse:

    What I found most interesting in the report was not so much the low ratings of social media right now as a trusted media source, but rather the fairly significant variation of responses across Canada.

    The gender/generational differences were also interesting, albeit less surprising:

    Generational and Gender differences

    * 78% of consumers who are 18 to 24 view national newspapers as a credible source (national average is 66%)
    * Those who view news websites as a credible source tend to be younger: 40% (18-24), 36% (25-34), 36% (35-44), 31% (45-54), 30% (55-64), 21% (65+)
    * 34% of women view national lifestyle magazines as a credible source compared to 25% of men (national average is 30%)
    * 20% of consumers who are 18 to 24 think blogs are a credible source (national average is 10%)
    * 12% of consumers who are 25 to 34 think social networking is credible, compared to 2% of those who are 65 plus (national average is 8%)
    * 20% of consumers who are 18 to 24 view podcasts as a credible source (national average is 7%)

    I really like your “tools” analogy, but I kept thinking that only a screwdriver would lend itself to a “conversations.” Both a powertool and hammer would be far too noisy. 😉

    Further to Brian’s comments, the speed of getting information up and dispersed certainly should not trump ensuring it is accurate. I would hope that this is where a traditional crisis communication plan would still hold firm, in terms of escalation plans and designated authorities/spokespeople, no matter what channel or medium was used.

  2. Brian makes a good point regarding getting the basics of communication right, which is also the essence of Judy’s observation regarding reaching people though their preferred medium.

    Sometimes I think we are a bit like someone who has aquired a new powertool. Regardless of the actual DIY (that’s ‘do it yourself’ in UK terms) task at hand, the new tool has to be used.

    Online technology tools may be innovative and exciting, but if they aren’t appropriate for the problem we’re seeking to fix, then we’d better get out the trusty old screwdriver or hammer that is designed for the job.

  3. And besides, I can’t find three web sites in a row that are even half-way decent in proving old fashioned P{R information like you’d find in a good corporate brochure a decade ago.

    If a site can’t even provide a list of plant locations with mailing addresses, plus three or four recent speeches, why would we expect it to be doing this web 2.0 nonsense?


  4. Re> Organizations must be better prepared to handle crisis and more nimble than ever before.<

    Why? Who really cares if the online version of some daily newspaper, or some blog written by a character no one has ever heard of, gets an answer to some generally pointless questions in three hours or twenty-four?

    Yeah, it’s nice to see that the hospital has an estimate of the damage to the emergency room entrance where the ambulance drove through an hour ago, but just because you can post the info on a web site doesn’t mean that the accuracy of the estimate is any better, nor than anyone is going to do anything important, once they know this informtion.


  5. Further to Professor Hallahan’s point #3, the following appeared today (Oct. 31) in, the daily online newsletter of Strategy Magazine. (I’ve received permission from Terry Poulton to reproduce it on PR Conversations in its entirety.)

    So, in addition to determining who and how many staff should be involved in deploying new technology/communication channels, it would seem that an assessment as to their overall effectiveness in terms of credibility/authority is in order.

    Traditional media most trusted info source

    by Terry Poulton

    Even though one in three Canadians now uses social networking and 19% visit blogs in an average week, a new report maintains that TV, newspapers and radio still enjoy the most consumer confidence. According to the just-released “Influencer Report” – which resulted from a national survey conducted on behalf of Toronto’s Apex PR by Leger Marketing – it’s the veracity of traditional media that’s most trusted by Canadian consumers.

    In fact, the top five most credible information sources cited by respondents are all traditional media. Radio was tops with 67%; then television and national newspapers, both with 66% per cent; regional newspapers with 62%; and national business magazines with 52% of the consumers who participated in the survey.

    Despite the increasing popularity of blogs, wikis, podcasts and social networking sites, the credibility of these new media rated significantly lower than old media. Trust in the veracity of blogs ranked at only 10%, while podcasts garnered a rock-bottom 7% score.

    “It’s no secret that there are more information options than ever before, but what we’ve learned with this study is how and why consumers are making certain choices,” says Apex president Pat McNamara. “It’s clear that if we want to communicate with the public, we need to understand where they get their information and how they are making decisions.”

    Bottom line, says McNamara, is, “We can’t abandon traditional media. But we also need to understand that it’s becoming increasingly vital to talk to audiences through multiple channels.”

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