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.


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.

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.


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

Breakfast Keynote: Josh Crandall, Media Screen

Research Challenge: Understand how consumers relate to the Internet, from the consumers’ point of view. Created Netpop research framework to tap into consumer attitudes, behaviors, etc.

Tenets of the framework:
1.    The interface is broadband – research focus on broadband users only
2.    The interface is global – same devices for internet access worldwide
3.    The fundamental areas of involvement are the same globally – similar sites, activities (i.e. social networking, gaming, virtual worlds)

U.S. vs. China

•    huge population differences, but similar number of broadband users (about 100 million in each U.S. and China – about 50% of Americans but only 10% of Chinese)
•    online activities are very similar among American and Chinese users
•    comparison of various broadband user demographics

The top level of the framework: attitudinal segmentation: 5 attitudinal groups in the US:
1.    online insiders
2.    fast trackers
3.    social clickers
4.    everyday pros
5.    content kings

Comparison of attitudinal groups shows the Chinese are early adopters in larger percentages than Americans.

Content contribution in a typical month: 35% of American broadband users publish a personal page on social networks. 28% post comments on blogs. China: 47% post comments on blogs., and overall are much more involved in discussion forums. Chinese users are much more involved in expressing opinions and interacting online.


•    Both populations spend about 50% of their spare time online.
•    Both populations go online daily for: music, casual games, videogames, reading magazines.
•    Time spent on video: 48% of U.S. time spent watching videos is online, vs. 74% in China. However, more money is spent on TV advertising vs. online sources, although people spend about equal amounts of time watching video on TV and online.
•    Communitainment activities: Chinese users much more interested than U.S. in meeting people online.


•    Chinese users spend a considerable amount of money online.
•    73% o U.S. purchase decisions are influenced by an online source vs. 93% in China
•    U.S. users shop on eBay, in China on Top shopping sites in China are auction sites – a community environment


•    Online activity has evolved: push > pull > participation
•    It’s a global phenomenon
•    Everything is interpersonal
•    The speed of change is increasing

Is your company keeping up?
(All SNCR notes cross-posted from New Communications Review)

Conversational Human Voice

Researchers Tom Kelleher and Barbara Miller have created an 11-item measure of the conversational human voice (yes, the Cluetrain Manifesto one). So, if you’d like to measure the conversational human voice of your blog, website, or automated telephone prompters (OK, maybe not this last one), plug the following items in a survey and ask your public to respond:

  1. Invites people to conversation.
  2. Is open to dialogue.
  3. Uses conversation-style communication.
  4. Tries to communicate in a human voice.
  5. Tries to be interesting in communication.
  6. Uses a sense of humor in communication.
  7. Provides links to competitors.
  8. Attempts to make communication enjoyable.
  9. Would admit a mistake.
  10. Provides prompt feedback addressing criticism with a direct but uncritical
  11. Treats me and others as human.

The items are published on p. 413 of the article (see full citation & link below). For those who wish to get technical, the authors reported an alpha reliability coefficient of .87 for this scale. Which means that the scale has pretty high internal consistency – or that people who rank high on one item in the scale tend to rank high on the other ones, too. If they didn’t, you’d wonder if the items are measuring different things. OK, enough about that.

But why would I want to measure human voice?

I don’t know, why would you? You tell me in the comments. If you’re trying to fake the human voice and want to use this measure to see if you succeed, well… well, you have bigger problems then. But you might want to perform an experiment to assess the different impacts of different levels of conversational human voice. That’s what the authors tried to do in phase II of their study, but the validity gods weren’t merciful with that part and for that reason I’d rather not write about it. I’ll stick with the good part.

I find it very useful to have a validated scale for measuring human voice, but then, my world here in the ivory tower is a weird, weird one (you might say). What does the real world think? Would you use this scale? When? Why? How?

Article citation:

Kelleher, T., & Miller, B. M. (2006). Organizational blogs and the human voice: Relational Strategies and Relational Outcomes. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(2), 395-414.

(it’s one of those few academic journals available for free online)

Interview with Jeremiah Owyang

 Following up on a post in which Jeremiah Owyang, (@jowyang) Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, describes his job responsibilities, I asked him a few questions about valuable skills in the analyst industry. Clemson communication students learn excellent research skills, and Jeremiah’s job is an example of putting those skills to work.

Read his blog post first, then this Q&A:

Dr. V’s comment: Thank you for explaining the nature of your job. I’ll share this with my students, who often find it hard to believe that the research and writing skills we teach them in college will ever come in handy :)

JO’s response: The Research job is laborious, but important in making decisions. Every day analysts and researchers influence how millions of dollars are spent and managed. As a result, they’re well compensated, and are one of the top non executive earners in the industry.

Dr. V: What are the top 3 most useful/important skills for your job?

JO: Seeing the big picture. Numbers and facts are useless without insight, analysis, and perspective. Students need to first get real world experience before becoming a researcher or analyst, I’ve served my time working up the corporate ladder for 7 years (which is considered very fast), I’m 31, and haven’t even reached the mid-point in my career, so work hard and stay focused. When I first started to focus on social computing, people laughed at me, they thought blogs and social networks were silly and for kids, now it’s a major industry.

Dr. V: What are some things college students should focus on/try to learn well if they hope to work as a researcher/analyst someday?

JO: Think strategic, think about the large scope of things. Be very aware and absorb lots of information, including info outside of school, teachers, and class. I read materials online, and made a vow to learn one new skill everyday at my internship.

Dr. V: If/When you interview for a new position or an internship, what are the most important things you look for in a candidate? What are the deal breakers?

JO: Ambition, ability to communicate effectively, and I’ll be checking out their Facebook and MySpace page to understand what they’re really like. The good news is, we want to see the human side of a candidate, but the party pics should probably be in a private folder. Ironically, I was a poor student in High School and College (but I did graduate). I did well in the creative arts, and was never great at math or business classes like accounting or Finance. Fortunately, in the workplace, one can find their true comfort area.