Collective Intelligence - Utopia or the Next Step

“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 

A. Introduction

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.

D. References
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.



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