PR 2.0 Culture – The Sociology and Anthropology of PR
Culture, group behavior and the overall dynamics of the group dictate how we socialize with its members. It’s critical to understand the culture of a network (whether it’s social networking in a Web 2.0 world or in a physical networking situation).
Recently, my Mom shared a story with me about when she and my Dad first moved to Rhode Island. Having been in North Jersey all of their lives, her early experiences blending with the Rhode Island community weren’t so easy. It was their first week in new surroundings. Mom took a trip to the local Post Office to mail a few letters. After purchasing stamps, standing at the counter, she asked the clerk if she had a sponge to wet and seal the envelopes. The clerk looked at my mom who was wearing a leather jacket, boots and attire that was very “New York” and replied, “Here, we just lick them.” My Mom stood out like a sore thumb, and until she learned the ways of this small RI town, it was difficult to make friends.
When I heard this story, I immediately thought about how people interact in Web communities. Each community has its own culture and with that culture, there are rules, accepted behaviors and even a language amongst the members. Communication professionals must realize that participation in a tight knit community or social network depends upon listening, monitoring, learning and understanding how other people interact to be able to engage in any kind of dialogue. PR has always been about communication, but because, in the past, we were focused on mass broadcast messaging, we never really took enough time to carefully study the behaviors of the people we wanted to reach.
Learning a social sciences approach is imperative to understanding and engaging in today’s social media landscape. An excerpt from my book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations focuses on modern communication:
Social networks and their associated cultures are defined by the people who participate in them. In turn, each network flourishes as its own island. Over time, a somewhat impenetrable culture emerges (which helps to ensure a more meaningful and commercial-free experience among its residents). Of course, networks need to sustain themselves through revenue, and many sell advertising. But advertising differs from direct marketing, especially from conversational marketing. In fact, making the network flourish with a strong sense of community and culture isn’t marketing at all, in the truest sense. Transparent and genuine participation is now an effective form of marketing, without the “marketing” or the snake oil. The bottom line is that you have to understand the sociology and the dynamics of human interaction within particular social networks before you can either write them off as useless or participate within them in the hopes of becoming a resource and building meaningful relationships. You must also understand that technology supports the sociology of the network-it doesn’t replace it. Marketing departments of tomorrow will require their savvy communicators to take the time and develop the right approach to understand the various networks.
What steps are you taking to understand the culture in a social network before you engage?
March 24, 2009 @ 2:35 pm
My initial thought to your question is that we shouldn’t just be looking at things from a solely Web 2.0 perspective – something I think you’ll agree – since beinb communication practitioners, we should be trying to understand our customers or communities in the mainstream and the longtail, both online and offline.
So with this in mind, I’d think that we need to do an audience analysis to understand where our key communities are getting their information from about us. Is it through the traditional media, is it through events, is it through the Web, and if so, on what kind of platforms and forums (searching through Technorati? others?)… once we have this picture, we’ll then have the big picture to plan for a strategic communication campaign where we develop certain narratives that we feel we’d like our communities to think about and discuss.
These will be the messages/narratives that our social media ambassadors will be ’empowered’ to carry with them when they seek out online communities to monitor and understand their discussions, and where appropriate, enter in as a participant. One thing that I think is necessary is to develop a code of ethics or pre-entry guidelines to help our social media ambassadors understand certain protocols of communication with the online community. It’ll be somewhat like overarching corporate guidelines for communication, but for online forums like blogs and forums. This is made under the assumption that the organization I’m talking about is new to this form of communication, but is willing to try it out.
A key element of the communication, in my opinion, is that we should not be actively marketing our organization because people detest that. Nevertheless, while seeking to be knowledge experts in their midst, this may often require the sharing of issues and positions from the organization’s point of view so that everyone in the community can talk about it and dialogue. This is where the strategic narratives I talked about earlier would come in.
While the form of the dialogue and conversations in the different communities will differ, as will the language and style of communication by the different social media ambassadors, the central thread I think that needs to be pulled across are these strategic narratives so that whatever the case, they will not go off the radar screens. Does this make sense?
What I have trouble defining is how to set guidelines on helping the social media ambassadors determine what would be considered conversations and dialogues that are in ‘good taste.’ Obviously, we can tell them that the motive is not to sell the organization but to participate in the dialogues that are occurring. That being said, it can be quite nebulous and fuzzy unless some clear guidelines exist to help our staff understand if they are doing things correctly. Metrics here will be hard to measure, and I fear that given the corporate practice of doing annual performance reviews, it may be hard to quantify what is success or a job well done.
I love the concepts and overarching principles I’m reading from your book so far. Do you think there’s a chance you’ll be looking to write a new book on the more tactical aspects of engagement? That’ll be immensely useful I think. Especially for organizations that are conservative, but have elements within that are looking for all the right reasons and opportunities to introduce the 2.0 element in. 🙂
This is one aspect of what I think we need to do.
March 25, 2009 @ 1:18 am
Daniel, a very well thought out post. With respect to finding out where people are having conversations about your organizaiton in communities, Brian and I wrote about the Conversation Prism. It’s a breakdown of all of the different networks from micromedia and social networks to photo sharing and video sharing sites. Looking at the Conversation Prism you can use a social media map to chart out where an organization should be interacting and engaging in dialogue just based on the current level of conversations.
I absolutely agree that there should be ethics when members of a company engage so that they have set guidelines and/or protocol. I also agree with you that it’s not about selling the company. Blogs and social networks are not for marketing messaging but rather to communicate meaningful information. If we listen carefully in our networks, then we will know what our constituents need from us to help them to make a decision or to properly answer their questions.
I’m really happy that you are enjoying our book and I do believe their will be more books to come that delve in deeper to many of these subjects. Thanks!
March 29, 2009 @ 11:27 pm
Deirdre, your quoted element of the book is very similar to one train of thought I’ve had lately, as I begin navigating Facebook and Twitter more deeply (and also things like Wikipedia, which can be QUITE intimidating.)
Every social network – and there’s an element of that to Wikipedia, in a way – evolves into, it seems to me, two distinct levels – the ‘everyday’ users and the ‘power’ users who use all the tricks, shortcuts, 3rd-party apps etc. Not that distinct, but the point being – some of these networks can be used quite happily by people without learning the ‘power’ elements, but in some cases if the networks worked on usability and also were a bit less clique-y, people could benefit from more aspects of them.
I do wonder how much focus group/usability work Facebook did before the very controversial redesign of late. To say ‘only’ a million people screamed ‘no!!’ seems a bit elitist. Then again, Facebook is the Ikea of social networks to some degree – clean and white and don’t soil the furniture – and in other ways it’s far less of an ‘adult’ experience than many would like (I don’t want kewpie dolls and cupcakes, thank you very much.
Key to me is to empower individuals and organizations to network and get their word out in ways they’d never thought of, and that don’t involve praying a) the media will cover you and b) we won’t screw it up when we do;-) And THAT’s the new PR I’m most excited about – not a GM Twitter feed (heh) but one from the bagel shop down the street
March 29, 2009 @ 11:57 pm
Some of these networks can be very intimidating and yes I see the clear divide between the people who are happy just getting the basics accomplished and those that really are the social network power users, with all the tricks (and appear to be in what a type of social media clique). What’s interesting is that socialized media is meant to level the playing field so that we can all interact on the same level and share interesting and meaningful information. At times, I often feel that I reach out to people who would be so far of reach for me, if I wasn’t actively participating in a web community. I’m always pleasantly surprised when they respond back and engage with me. I think the more you learn the tricks of the trade and become a helpful resource in the community, the more you can engage with anyone 🙂
With respect to Facebook, I just posted an interesting article today called,”Facebook at 5: Is it Growing up too Fast?” Here’s a link to the article for you to review: http://tinyurl.com/d2hosq. It talks about the change in the interface and the backlash from more than two and a half million users who have all joined a group called, “Millions Against Facebook’s New Layout and Terms of Service.” However, this is a small number compared to its 200 million users. Many of the upset users said said that the new design changes are juvenile (even beyond the cupcakes, puppies and hugs). But, Facebook has to compete with the likes of Twitter, which is is stealing users from all the social networks. So, to adopt a Twitter like stream is a way to transmit information easier, faster and more urgent, according to Facebook execs.
Moving forward, I think we are going to see a great deal of meaningful PR 2.0 that will help to connect us locally to people and our brands (to foster tight knit local communities) and to also connect us with people across the globe, so that we can learn and share information with individuals who we never could access and interact with before. It’s so exciting!! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment 🙂
August 28, 2012 @ 7:22 pm
Your book quote sounded very much like something I read from Brian Solis back in 2007, found here: http://www.briansolis.com/2007/08/social-media-is-about-sociology-not/. Did you collaborate at some point?
August 29, 2012 @ 7:17 am
Hi Kirsty, thanks for reaching out. Yes, this is an excerpt from my book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations, which Brian and I wrote together. We used materials from both of our blogs in the book, and then would share the published materials with our communities. Thanks for your interest in the passage.