PR practitioners talk of engagement and conversation. PR academics talk of relationship management and dialogue. Everybody agrees that this is what PR should be doing: building relationships with publics by engaging them in conversations.
So we see organizations eager to engage with publics, and a lot of PR-motivated conversations out there. Some conversations happen between faceless organizations and publics, and others, in Cluetrain Manifesto fashion, between people who work for organizations and publics.
But, can we have too much conversation?! Is it possible that these PR engagement and relationship building efforts are flooding society with too much conversation?
PR-motivated conversations and the resulting relationships, however beautiful and friendly and useful the might be, do not come from the heart. They are not relationships motivated by care and affection. As much as we hate to admit it, they are relationships motivated by ROI.
So what happens to a society flooded with corporate, or PR conversations?
The worst case scenario, from the PR perspective, is that those conversations are discarded as spam and unwanted noise. We already have plenty of that.
The best case scenario, from the PR perspective, is that those conversations become seamlessly weaved in the fabric of everyday conversations and relationships (the kind motivated by care and affection).
But what does this best case scenario mean for society?
I’m afraid it might lead to a society that blurs the lines between personal and commercial in ways that privilege consumerism to a dangerous degree. (You’ll tell me that in these economic times there’s nothing wrong with consumerism. I’ll tell you that as much as consumerism runs this country, there’s more to life and to human beings.)
I’m afraid it might lead to a society where trust in people and relationships is eroded. I can imagine becoming “real” friends with @Person_from_corporation, and feeling affection and care. But are my affectionate interactions with this person measured at the end of the month, do they become data points in ROI reports?
So what I’m asking is, is it possible that the PR drive for engagement and relationships will lead to too much conversation?
Should we be engaging in conversation with publics all of the time, in all contexts?
When should we just keep quiet, stay out, and encourage the ongoing conversation by NOT joining it?