Category: Public Relations

How have digital platforms changed PR strategies and how do they interact with non-digital platforms?

Public relations (PR) as defined by Pembroke (2013), is vital to effective communication, being the “deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain a mutual understanding between an organisation or individual and its publics”.

Digital platforms have changed PR strategies as they give organisations further tools to engage with their audience. They grant self-publishing rights and give organisations the opportunity to ‘own’ their media channels. Organisations no longer have to rely on traditional media coverage through media entities to reach their audience (Pembroke 2013), which signifies a great cost reduction too. There are minimal distribution limits to digital platforms: information can spread rapidly and interaction can be achieved instantly.

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Image credit: Pop Results
Information can be shared and interaction can be achieved at the click of a button.

Digital platforms facilitate digital storytelling, where an organisation can be an observer, participator, researcher, facilitator, curator and storyteller (Burgess & Vivienne 2013). Digital storytelling is the fastest way to achieve mass communication, as organisations are able to observe the interplay, agreements and disagreements of their audience. It allows for active and passive research, as organisations are able to both ask and learn about their audience (Blank 2010). This is also similar to the way journalism has evolved in the digital world. Journalists are no longer reporting to a passive audience, as readers are able to engage with the content to become a participator, researcher and curator, not only an observer.

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Brisbane-based online clothing store, Black Milk Clothing, encourages customers to post photos on Instagram, wearing their clothing purchase and utilising a corresponding hashtag. Black Milk then links (and curates) these posts to their website, so potential buyers can readily see what their pieces look like on other customers.

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British makeup brand, Illamasqua, utilises a YouTube account to publish video tutorials using their makeup. This shows their customers practical and creative uses for their products and gives Illamasqua the opportunity to listen to feedback and interact with their audience.

Digital is different as the interaction happens extremely quickly and publicly. Any delay in communication can have a negative impact on the audience, and as Norton (2013) suggests, an internal approval system for digital correspondence is ill-fitted to the speed at which digital operates. Organisations, therefore, need to be properly equipped and responsive concerning their digital presence.

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Hertz have social media staff employed 24/7 to focus on customer enquiries, compliments and complaints received via Twitter.

Digital is also different as the reach and level of engagement can be measured via data in terms of effectiveness. Pembroke (2013) states “analytics on websites show how long people stayed on the page, where they visited from, if comments were left and what other pages they visited”. Therefore, the success of an organisation’s digital engagement aims, objectives and outcomes can be evaluated through the: reach – the number of people who saw the message; interest – the number of people interested enough to engage in some way (share, like, comment); and influence ­– the number of people driven to take secondary action (e.g. sign a petition or enter a competition) (Norton 2013).

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Birdsong, a social media reconnaissance tool, displays an insight into the success of Redbull’s Facebook engagement.

Digital platforms can interact with non-digital platforms where the audience is driven from the non-digital, to the digital, via a call to action. A good example is through a QR (quick reference) code – a two-dimensional barcode that is a visual representation of a web address. Organisations can utilise non-digital platforms such as product packaging to drive customers to engage with the brand online – continuing the storytelling.

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Coca-Cola (Coke) German cans were printed with a QR code that referred customers to their Spring campaign webpage, where Coke planned to release details of exclusive, one-time only, music shows in German cities.

Digital newspapers are also a different example of digital interacting with the non-digital. Online versions of newspapers and entirely digital newspapers are becoming more common. For example, Guardian Australia is a solely digital newspaper.

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Guardian Australia puts their readers at the “heart of what they do” and encourages suggestions, corrections, clarification, engagement and debate.

Overall, digital platforms drive organisations to reconsider how they communicate. Digital has evolved PR strategies through granting organisations effective avenues to market their content, measure their success and adjust their approach to remain relevant to the audience.

References

Referring to Phillips (2012), how should organisations consider trolling/uncivil behaviour in designing their online engagement strategies?

To define the origin and provide context to the term ‘trolling’, Bergstrom (2011) states:

Based in Norse mythology, trolls were said to be supernatural creatures with less than benevolent intents. While trolls still make appearances in children’s stories and fairy tales, the term ‘troll’ has also taken on a new meaning in our digital age. To be a troll on the Internet is to be much like the Norse trolls, but with less supernatural powers and (perhaps) more malicious intents. When using the term troll to describe behaviour online, it often brings with it certain ideological baggage. To troll is to have negative intents, to wish harm or at least discomfort upon one’s audience. To be trolled is to be made a victim, to be caught along in the undertow and be the butt of someone else’s joke.

In the digital age, Phillips (2012) specifically defines trolls as “users who revel in transgression and disruptiveness”, where a vast majority of user content is created anonymously. Anonymous users who engage in trolling are able to publish offensive, uncivil and viral content while being afforded a hidden identity. Phillips (2012) claims a troll’s aim is to target a particular audience and ensure that audience pays attention. This can be achieved by baiting other users, hacking individual and organisation information, in addition to posting racist, sexist, homophobic or exploitative text and images. Phillips (2012) also suggests that trolls believe nothing should be taken seriously, and proposes they feed off users who protest and publicise their uncouth behaviour. This essentially provides the troll a behavioural blueprint and raises their visibility: a considerable feat for the troll subculture.

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Image credit: The Internet Reaction Face Archive
The online symbol (troll face), used in many memes, meant to display the expression that trolls have whilst engaging their victims.

As an online presence is essential for organisations in today’s world, an organisation must consider trolling/uncivil behaviour and build their strategy around it. As identified by Bridges (2013) there are key concerns in regards to trolling/uncivil behaviour in an online environment and they are (though certainly not limited to): anonymity, authority and security.

Anonymity can afford users an ability to engage with others without the hindrance of a definable identity, which, when combined with significant freedom of expression, makes one highly volatile mix (Breeze 2012). Therefore, organisations should consider that facilitating verification of user identities can help minimise the threat of trolling/uncivil behaviour. Verification of identity by having users register through Facebook or Google+ accounts creates a filter, helping to separate the authentic from the potentially insincere. It also helps an organisation learn more about their market by providing deeper research channels that give great insight (personal information) into the needs and wants of the audience sought to engage (Blank 2010).

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In order to join the Behance community, users can sign up through their Facebook, Adobe ID, Google+ or LinkedIn account.

Authority in terms of rules and regulations regarding online content can aid positively in an organisations engagement strategy. Terms of service or terms of use agreements are legally binding and define organisation and user rights and responsibilities including (but not limited to) proper usage, accountability and privacy. They can give an organisation authority to quantify the value of, and censor content, where trolling/uncivil behaviour can have consequences. As Bridges (2013) suggests, self-regulation in terms of up-down voting, the ability to report/block other users and individual moderation of interaction also helps quantify the value of, and censor content.

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An interesting strategy executed by online social and digital news site, Mashable, was to trivialise trolls by affording them “Deck the Trolls“. This event encouraged trolls to identify themselves and engage in minor troll-like behaviour in order to win iTunes, Apple or Amazon vouchers. As this event stripped the trolls of transgression, Mashable was able to better domineer the nature of the content published on their site by users.

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YouTube partnered with Google+ in order to improve their comments feature. The new changes allow users to sort their comments by either newest first or top rated, to tag friends in posts and rate comments in order to provide smarter sorting and more meaningful conversations.

In terms of security and minimising the risk of cyber-bullying and hacking individual and organisation information, the Australian Government Department of Communications (2013) suggests all organisations should have an online security policy. An online security policy can cover various matters such as acceptable use, the handling and storage of sensitive data, anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam software, alerts and an action plan in case of a breach.

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The web collective, Anonymous, and offset, LulzSec, stole business and government data through cyber attacks. Forbes correspondent, Parmy Olson (2011) describes them as both hacktivists (hacker activists) and trolls.

In conclusion, it is impossible to eliminate trolling and uncivil behaviour online, but organisations can minimise their risk of being a target to transgressed and disruptive behaviour through developing a sound online engagement strategy. This strategy should consider anonymity, authority and security to lower the risk, and always incorporate the old-school Internet motto: “do not feed the trolls”.

References

Referring to Livingstone (2008), how do people use social networking services to construct their identities, and how do social connections form part of those identities?

Weinreich (1998), defines the meaning of an individual’s identity as “the totality of one’s self-construal”, where present self-construal is shaped by the continuity between one’s past and how one aspires to be in the future. Here, identity is referred to as a timeline of self-representation.

As social networking sites (SNSs) facilitate self-representation and document user-created identities, an individual is able to establish any online identity they choose. Self-construal through an individual’s choices and motivation whilst using SNSs help construct an identity when considering what information is revealed about oneself, what content is displayed in association with oneself, and how one interacts with others (Livingstone 2008). An online identity is defined by how an individual aims to be perceived by others online.

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Anonymity is an affordance of an online culture, hence individuals may take on any identity they wish.

When representing oneself, according to Livingstone (2008), SNSs create great opportunities for self-expression, creativity and sociability. By constructing a ‘profile’ on a SNS, an individual has varying opportunities to identify their online space through blogging, commenting, updating their ‘status’, ‘liking’, sharing photographs, following, ‘tweeting’ and much more. This collective combination of actions completed in an online sphere presents a certain tone and persona and creates a certain reflection of an individual. For example, Elena, a teenager sampled in market research (Livingstone 2008), communicated that SNS layouts where the user can customise their display helps show who the individual is, and that, for example, something as basic as having a rainbow featured on your page can suggest you are a happy person.

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ustralian beauty vlogger, Lauren CurtisInstagram photos convey colours, smiles, makeup and fashion, which portray her as a bright, happy, well-presented individual.

Many SNSs also map identity through social history in the form of timelines, activity history and dated posts. These features display an individual’s past and present, where the user dictates their future activity and identity.

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The Facebook timeline feature lets use
rs ‘tell their life story’.

Identity is also shaped by an individual’s sense of belonging, which is impacted by relationships in the form of social connections and community (see ‘Top Three Reasons We Join Social Networking Sites‘ by Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting).

Online social connections can display an individual’s position in a peer network, where the online social practices of peers can shape what content an individual displays and what information is revealed. For example, a peer posting multiple photos of themselves and their friends at a social event, might encourage an individual within the same social circle to do the same, where a concept of identity is established through connection.

Another social practice in the form of stylistic shifts in profiles and SNS preferences amongst peers can also breed a transition in identity development. For example, as Livingstone (2008) explains, the market research study of teenage social network practices found that most participants perceived Facebook as the “clean profile favoured by older teenagers”, therefore, when peers began using Facebook, other peers followed suit. In this case, media platform choices can be a reflection of relative maturity.

How exchanges between peers are established also plays a nominal role in the formation of social identity, as when referencing online relationships, Livingstone (2008) suggests that the prioritisation of values such as authenticity, reciprocity and intimacy are displayed in an open fashion. For example, others may judge the authenticity of an individual’s character if it is apparent they are adding ‘friends’ to their profile for a number count, rather than being actual friends. Much the same as how leaving ten comments per day on someone’s profile can suggest to others that the individual is needy, construed through their need for sustaining constant connection with peers or lust for self-advertising.

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 snapshot of the repeat comments left on Kendall Jenner‘s Instagram photo by people looking to gain more ‘followers’.

Finally, social connection in the form of an individual’s chosen community exhibits a form of identity as consumer preferences can bring their own judgements. For example, a strong display of Star Wars references in a profile might communicate ‘nerd’, such as a strong display of expensive handbags might communicate ‘materialistic’, hence people make immediate judgements on an individual’s identity based on their consumer culture.

Overall, the anonymity provided by an online environment and choices made by an individual when showcasing themselves and interacting with others, creates great opportunity for identity creation and manipulation.

References

  • Livingstone, S 2008, ‘Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers’ use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression’, New Media & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 393-411.
  • Weinreich, P 1998, ‘Social Exclusion and Multiple Identities’, Soundings: A Journal of Politics and Culture, vol. 9, pp. 139-144.

How do the affordances of a networked media culture (hyperlinks, multimedia, sharing etc) enhance online communication?

As defined by the Internet Society (2013), the Internet is a “worldwide broadcasting capability, a mechanism for information dissemination, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers”.

The first part of this definition, the Internet as a broadcasting capability and mechanism for information dissemination, strongly reflects the beginning stages of the Internet, where a basic data transfer protocol called TCP/IP was created in order for connected computers to data share (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). TCP/IP does not decipher data; it only ensures it is transferred to the intended computer in an unaltered format. In addition to TCP/IP are ‘application protocols’ – designed to make sense of the data. The web itself is one of these application protocols, the hypertext transfer protocol called HTTP. HTTP is used by all web browsers to share information across the Internet and is designed to assemble text, images, video and interactive components collectively in a coherent interface (Hinton & Hjorth 2013). As hypertext utilises hyperlinks, it can be said that HTTP relates strongly to the other part of the Internet definition, a worldwide medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers – suggesting that an online environment is much more than basic data transfer.

Hinton & Hjorth (2013) outline the Internet as facilitating three types of communities. The first being a virtual community, that which identifies and invigorates public discussion and uses the Internet as an empowering medium. The second being a networked community, where the emphasis is on the continuity of offline relationships in an online environment, and the third being networked publics, the collection and intersection of people, practice and technology. It can be said that these online communities can only exist in a collaborative and interactive sphere.

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SK-Gaming.com is a community of online gamers, facilitating a network of news, videos, albums, files, blogs, groups and forums relating to online games.

Hyperlinks, multimedia and sharing are essential in a collaborative and interactive online environment. Hyperlinks are references that automatically take the user to a particular point in a cited work. In reference to the web, they enable ‘browsing’ or ‘surfing’, where the user is transported through pages of the web by hyperlinks, with focus on a navigational aspect (Halavais 2008). Multimedia relates to many different media formats that can be seen and heard, such as pictures, sound, videos, films, animation and so on.

The sharing of both hyperlinks and multimedia relates to a networked media culture as they are the basic building blocks through which multidimensional, complex and easily editable communication systems are created (Halavais 2008). A networked media culture can provide advertising, a source of further discussion, a path for connecting, a way of demonstrating ownership, a link to other sites by the same author and a link to a group. All of these affordances represent the structures of deep knowledge and social interaction and enhance the online user experience.

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Qualified Australian makeup artist and beauty vlogger, Chloe Morello, is able to share (from her bedroom) her knowledge and passion for makeup and beauty with the world through the video-sharing website giant, YouTube. In not a one-way communication environment, but an online environment where interaction is facilitated and discussion is encouraged. Users can subscribe to her channel to keep updated and are also linked to suggested videos.

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Whilst browsing for a particular book on the world’s largest online retailer’s website, Amazon.com, multiple hyperlinks of ‘suggested buys’ are displayed. This serves as a form of advertising, a hyperlink to other books by the same author, as well as an opportunity to link individuals with similar interests.

A networked media culture also enhances online communication by affording new kinds of communities to be created. As per boyd and Ellison’s (2007) definition of network (the maintenance of relationships) and networking (the initiation of new relationships), a networked media culture enables individuals to communicate with people they already know (offline) and strangers, where individuals may be geographically segregated.

Overall, without a networked media culture, online communication would defer back to all the primitiveness of TCP/IP and a basic data transfer, where vast knowledge and deep social interaction with others is extremely limited, communities are not formed and individuals are not empowered.

References

  • boyd, d & Ellison, N 2007, ‘Social network sites: Definition, history and scholarship’, Journal of Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no. 1, pp. 210-230.
  • Halavais, A 2008, The Hyperlinked Society: Questioning Connections in the Digital Age, University of Michigan Press, Michigan.
  • Hinton, S & Hjorth, L 2013, Understanding Social Media, SAGE Publications Ltd, London.