Archive | April 28, 2008

Listening is not enough

I just came back from SNCR’s New Communications Forum, a conference I thoroughly enjoyed. There was a lot of talk about PR 2.0, 3.0, new strategies, new tactics, new tools, and a cultural revolution in the way we (should) practice the strategic communication professions (PR, marketing, advertising, etc.). You are all familiar with the tenets of this cultural revolution from books such as the Cluetrain Manifesto, Join the Conversation, Naked conversations, and the blogs of many social media-savvy professionals (see blogroll).

The conversations indicate an evolution, if not a revolution of PR from media relations to relationship management. PR isn’t/shouldn’t be only about making noise, raising awareness, and counting eyeballs. It should be about relationships. Fine. So how are companies supposed to do this? THE answer is: LISTEN.

Listening means setting up search alerts and monitoring everything that’s said about your organization online (on blogs, twitter, flickr, facebook, etc.).

So once you find out what people say about you, what do you do? You respond. You correct misperceptions. You clarify misunderstandings. You show the poor bastards you were right, after all.

But what if you were wrong?

Listening without authentic openness to change is not enough. It’s not PR 2.0. It’s just audience research, a tool used in what we boring academics call scientific persuasion.

The more you listen, the better you know what makes your audience tick, the better able you are to persuade them. Ca-ching!

Nope, this is not PR 2.0. It’s PR 1.0 on several small channels instead of a few large ones.

PR 2.0 involves not only listening, but being open to make organizational changes as a result of naked conversations (known in academic circles as dialogue). This is what relationships are about. Partners in a relationship change to adapt to each other.

Why?

Because ultimately PR is not about listening, not about conversations, not about relationships. What’s the point of listening? Why do you engage in conversation? Why build relationships? What’s the end goal?

No, it’s not brand awareness. It’s not increased sales. It’s not improved reputation.

PR is (OK, should be, or can be) about optimizing your organization’s survival in its environment.

Think about it: Your organization operates in a complex society. Its survival and operations influence and are influenced by a large number of audiences (aka stakeholders). For all to survive and thrive, they need to be constantly adapting to each other. I think that’s called nimbleness.

Is it fair or even wise for the organization to be attempting to constantly change its environment through persuasion, but not be open to changing itself?

We know what happens to organisms that don’t adapt to their environments.

So it’s PR’s role to facilitate the mutual adaptation of organization and its environment. This is why naked conversations and relationships are important.

Now, don’t quote on me on that. All I’ve done is explain a major PR theory. One that has thought of PR 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0 since 1984. If you want to cite someone, start with Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.

P.S.
The reason why Dell is the model for PR 2.0 is because they follow listening with real changes in the organization’s products and processes, not just talk-back.

P.P.S.

[Edit:] Geoff Livingston’s post this morning about his experience with JetBlue provides a clear illustration to my theoretical point.

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