Opening up to society, social media and multiculturalism: new paradigms of twenty-first century public relations

[By Teresa Bau]

Having listened to the papers, it was evident that public relations (PR) is undergoing a transformation, both in terms of new technologies used and the need to engage with society, putting to one side the obsolete focus that concentrates solely on the benefit to organisations.

One of the questions to emerge from the different paper is how social media are changing the public relations game. "Public relations mean that the target audience can be reached directly and a dialogue established with them," explained Cristina Aced in her paper, a UOC, Pompeu Fabra University and Abat Oliva University academic collaborator.

Blackberry's communication crisis

Organizations, however, are only just taking their first steps and, in many cases, do not have sufficient knowledge or experience to get the most out of these media. Beln lvarez, lecturer at the Complutense University of Madrid,, gave a paper on Blackberry's poor communication management of the crisis brought about by the crash of its IT systems in November 2011, which affected millions of users around the world.

The way in which the company managed the crisis at communication level, lvarez said, is full of mistakes: initial silence from the management; opposing versions from different spokespeople and its failure to use social media to inform its customers. "Blackberry managers did not use their own technology to resolve the crisis," said lvarez. This, as in other papers, clearly stated that social media can be extremely useful for managing crisis situations if used correctly.

Although the internet offers public relations great professional possibilities, there are significant shortcomings. Mara Vecino, researcher at Malaga University, has detected a lack of tools to help with image assessment and the reputation of organizations." Current assessment tools on the internet are geared towards marketing and advertising. It will require extensive work to create useful tools to help assess concepts linked to public relations."

The "word of mouth" of social media

Assumpci Huertas, lecturer at Rovira i Virgili University, presented a study into the use of social media in the communication of tourist destinations, which is her field of research. "Social media have great potential, they allow people to express opinions, and the opinions of other tourists have a great value for consumers when choosing a destination." Huertas has studied the use of social media in ten international cities with a very good image, and she has observed that "they do not create a true dialogue with users. They are used to publicize information but not as tools of consultation for taking strategic decisions about the area. The problem is that professionals are afraid of losing control of the situation."

Criticism of the hegemonic Western identity

The conference also tackled the identity of public relations and some papers broached this question critically. In their respective papers, professor at the University of Waikato, Debashish Munshi, and Professor Marianne D. Sison, deputy dean at the School of Media and Communication at the RMIT University of Australia, criticized the hegemonic western vision that dominates both the practice and the study of public relations. "Are public relations really public or do they reflect the interests of an elite?" Professor Munshi asked. "The current vision of public relations is western: For example, in New Zealand, we don't find Maori voices."

For her part, Sison criticized the fact that the training in public relations offered in the international sphere is not in line with the "complex reality of the multiple cultures that go into the Asian continent. Asian students who learn abroad implement the western vision of public relations in their own countries: a mistake as they are completely different cultures."

The new scenario brought about by social media, the multicultural vision of public relations and even a gender perspective of the discipline are included in the 2nd edition of the Encyclopedia of Public Relations, by Robert L. Heath, professor at the University of Houston and one of the speakers at the conference. The work, an ontology that is considered the "Bible" of the discipline, was the subject of a number of papers.

According to Heath, the new edition emphasizes the opening up of public relations to society, moving away from the past vision, focused exclusively on organizations. "Public relations cannot be independent from or indifferent to the society in which they operate," claimed Heath. Professor David McKie, member of the science committee and professor at the University of Waikato, defined Heath's work as a "turning point in the history of public relations". The work will go on sale in September and work has already begun on the third edition.

New master's degree in social media and entertainment at the UOC

During the conference, Ferran Lalueza announced that the Information and Communication Sciences Department was preparing a master's degree in Communication and Social Media and another in Communication and Entertainment. It is planned for them to be available at the start of the 2013/2014 academic year.

Barcelona PR MEETING 2014

The fourth Barcelona PR MEETING will be held on 26 and 27 June and will focus on multiple intelligences. "It will be a good opportunity," Lalueza explained, "to open up the conference to other disciplines."

You can see the tweets generated at the latest conference at #BCNMeetingPR2013.

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