“Most companies today…understand that in the 21st century an organisation must be a citizen of the community in every respect and accept its role as an agent for social change in the community.”
– Seitel (2007) about Corporate Citizenship
A. Can borderless communication drive responsibility?
As society has made a move into the 21st century, one of the most important questions to be asked is what efforts will be undertaken to define and maintain strong relationships between organisations and communities. Community relations can be defined as a function that identifies an organisation’s mission and evaluates public attitudes in order to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and the communities they operate in.
However, new technological devices that further global interconnectedness and “borderless communication” (Flew, 2008, p.25) are increasingly shedding light on organisational ethics and their approach to corporate social responsibility. As stakeholders become increasingly technologically savvy and gain knowledge of business practices online, multinational organisations progressively have to prove their trustworthiness and reliability, not only in monetary terms, but also with regard to their social identity. Therefore, public relation practitioners have to develop and maintain effective relationships with organisations, key publics and audiences within the community through engaging both parties to participate and interact with each other.
B. Community as term for creative tension
There are various ways in defining the notion of community. A wide spread connotation of community is a geographical one – a village, a state, or a nation. Plaisance states, “the Internet has allowed the cultivation of new, interest-based communities that transcend geography in unprecedented ways” (2009, p.200). Thus, it seems that everybody thinks of the term in different ways.
However, the accepted opinions fail to resolve the notion that community is a rather loaded concept in ethical thinking in general and socially responsible acting in particular. For instance, Aristotle in his Politics thought about community not only in terms of cooperation, but also with a view to conflict. He disagreed with Plato’s notion of collective identity because “it pushes a goal of eliminating social tension created by heterogeneity” (Yack, 1993, p.30). Applying this notion to the concept of community relations, it seems obvious that organisations can only take an active role in communities they operate in when they are willing to listen to a variety of environmental and social issues that drive stakeholders’ attitudes. Treating each individual community problem the same way would further the gap between organisations and the community. For Aristotle “the creative tension that emerges from combinations of sharing and difference is one of the essential features of community” (Yack, 1993, p.31). Thus, recognising and addressing specific community issues and needs can contribute to the organisation’s profitability, its image, its employer morale, and its customer loyalty.
A very good example of corporate community involvement (CCI) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are the so-called micro-funds that strive to bring a social and economic change to regions and people most in need. Clearly, this effort does not target ostensible funding, traditional donation or philanthropy. Rather, it contributes to the development of entire economies and enables people to escape poverty. Many developing countries cannot provide sufficient funding, which leaves potential entrepreneurs out in the rain simply because they lack sorely needed financing to realise their projects. The founding father was Muhammad Yunus who developed the concept of micro-credits
that enabled entrepreneurs to receive loans even though they did not qualify for by general bank standards due to their poverty. Increasingly, organisations and politicians pay attention to the concept of micro-funding.
However, not only huge corporations can contribute to these long-term sustainable solutions, as this video impressively shows.
However, what organisations expect from public relations consultants is to monitor successful long-term relationships with communities in order to allow vital interaction among each other. In order to peacefully co-exist within the community three skills seem to be essential. Communication professionals need to determine what the community knows and thinks about the organisation. Further, they need to inform the community of the organisation’s goals and strategies and constantly keep up the flow of information to allow the community to actively participate and maintain relations. Finally, public relations practitioners need to negotiate and mediate between the organisation and the community if different viewpoints arise that could potentially convulse their relationship. With this new openness as a strategy, the organisation will clearly position itself not only as financially successful, but also as loyal and trustworthy.
Cairncross, F. (2001). The Death Of Distance 2.0: How The Communications Revolution Will Change Our Lives. New York, NY: TEXERE Publishing Limited.
Flew, T. (2008). New Media: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Plaisance, P. (2009). Media Ethics: Key Principles For Responsible Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Seitel, F. (2007). The Practice Of Public Relations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Tench, R., & Yeomans, L. (2006). Exploring Public Relations. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.
Waddock, S., & Boyle, M. (1995). The Dynamics Of Change In Corporate Community Relations. California Management Review, 37(4), 125-140.
Yack, B. (1993). The Problems Of A Political Animal: Community, Justice And Conflict In Aristotelian Political Thought. Berkley, CA: University Of California Press.
“Synthetic serendipity doesn’t just happen. By golly, you must create it.”
- Vinge, V. (2006). Rainbows End: A Novel With One Foot Set In The Future
One of the most significant current discussions in philosophy, social science, the gaming industry and mass communication is the evolution of ‘collective intelligence’ (CI) and its underlying question of how to create a network that facilitates global exchange of information. CI can be defined as a form of shared intelligence that results from collaboration of individuals. Based on the notion of Marshall McLuhan (1964) that electronic technologies create a ‘global village’, Levy predicts that the [Internet] network should “mobilise and coordinate the intelligence, experience…and imagination of humanity in new and unexpected ways” (1997, p.32). His futuristic notion is that as online communities participatory share and evaluate information they will mobilise a collective expertise to improve decisions and further innovation to help creating a better future through shared wisdom.
B. The Internet as a platform
Using the Internet as a social network of globally provided information seems compelling, however, difficulties could arise when an attempt is made to implement CI into the everyday policy of organisations. Assuming a company could manage to incorporate these strategies such as social networks, the question still remains whether biased individuals might influence the whole network to a degree where it eventually fails. The outcome would be devastating if organisations – or society – gave up on individual resources and expertise. In The Wisdom Of Crowds Surowiecki (2005) draws the conclusion that a lack of independence leads to biased information. The more the damaged network is used and knowledge is imitated without any objective evaluation the fewer problems can be solved. His ideal collective network comprises anonymously produced data where wisdom emerges through a large contribution of information from individuals without any influence or personal opinion.
On the other hand, Levy’s (1997) model of CI strives for a consensus understanding based on a shared and evaluated knowledge, but doubt continues to exist that there is no guarantee that everyone can actually access the network. Jenkins states in Convergence Culture, “we are just learning how to exercise that power [and develop skills], individually and collectively, and fighting to define the terms under which we will be allowed to participate” (2008, p.245).
Clearly, the leading thought behind CI is that interactive networks will provide experts and stakeholders a platform to participate. It creates some sort of self for group communication that catalyses coordination, creativity and innovation, which enables organisations to be more effective. The implications for Public Relations (PR) are various and range from advanced research, investor relations, global communications, and crisis communication to corporate communication with an application on different levels such as internal sharing and external sharing with customers and suppliers. In the following section emphasis will be put on Media Relations and the use of social media with its key advantages and key issues.
C. Implications for Media Relations
With the help of social media any business can attract a lot of traffic and increase its online visibility (Network Effect). Further, businesses that engage in a dialogue with their stakeholders through social media can enhance their brand image, reputation and loyalty. Compared to traditional media social media provide cost effectiveness and have a more precise impact on its audiences. Engaging interest groups through social networking makes it easier for organisations to gather useful customer feedback, which then leads to the innovation of products and services that take the needs and demands of consumers into account. Finally, every organisation can benefit from the tool of CI, be it some knowledge about a particular target audience or some information about a certain market product. The following video shows an example of how CI could work.
One of the key issues of social media networks is the lack of control. Since everyone in the social sphere has a voice it will be a challenge to exert control. However, with the help of effective monitoring and evaluation conversation can be inspired and influenced. Another key issue of social media is negative publicity. Since businesses have little control over online conversations they can attract some negative coverage from their stakeholders. However, if spotted and responded in a timely manner, as in the food case of Virgin, social media can act as a great reputation management tool. It can enhance the two-way communication flow between consumers and the organisations and provide both parties a platform to share ideas, solve issues and foster innovation.
In closing, social media has given birth to a new global culture of convergence. People around the world are using this technology to access and share information. Incorporating social media networks into PR programming will give practitioners the opportunity to craft relevant messages and provide them in the right time at the right place and in the format as desired by stakeholders. If organisations see the potential of social networking and how to actively involve audiences into their business models they will invigorate and establish their brand.
Flew, T. (2005). New Media: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jenkins, H. (2008). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: NYU Press.
Lévy, P. (1997). Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World In Space. Cambridge: Perseus Books.
Surowiecki, J. (2004). The Wisdom Of Crowds. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Vinge, V. (2006). Rainbows End: A Novel With One Foot Set In The Future. New York, NY: Tor Science Fiction.
Waters, R., Burnett, E., Lamm, A., & Lucas, J. (2009). Engaging Stakeholders Through Social Networking: How Nonprofit Organisations Are Using Facebook. Public Relations Review, 35, 102-106.