Thursday, August 25, 2005

What is an organisation, what is a relationship?

If publics form round issues (Grunig 1984) and if publics are really social groups (such as organisations) then the Ledingham and Brunning angst is not necessary. Segmentation of 'audiences' for your PR messages is made easy.

But is this true? If I look for the concepts attributable through investigation into individuals, and find that they do have issues in common they tend towards being a social groups. But such groups have much more in common. For example, they have one or more common networks (and there are many types of networks) and many communications channels that are mutually exercised. In addition, where there is a tight knit group like a company, the evidence suggests that the range of common values is broad and varied well beyond beyond the issues. We know this in our daily lives. People who work together tend to build up a range of common interests (family, interests, hobbies and even favoured nightclubs). We can look to other researchers and theorists who wish to explain what an organisation is. Traditionally organisations are described as a nexus of contracts (Coase 1937) or a nexus of conversations (Sonsino 2002). I contend that that organisations are a nexus of relationships and the empirical evidence is mounting. In many ways this has resonance with the discussion of blog communities as described in Nancy White's blog. In addition, we find that relationships are transient. Hence my comment on J LeRoy's blog “I think we have to be much more granular and less modernist. People form into groups for very primordial reasons. Its in our genes. We are wired to form groups and we like to form associations with people with whom we have things in common. These will be networks, communications channels, attributes (tokens) and values. The fact of the Internet is that it offers a network and channels that are both new and which satisfy our genetic need. That is why it is so popular.”

So now we have a different approach. Relationships are formed through shared values (some might say culture) in a network with shared range of channels of communication. Igor Palmer says “not every group can be defined as community” and one might concur and there is a semantic issue here. Where there are people using the same networks and channels there will be people who do not share common tokens of values and thus, while they will know about each other they will not tend to interact and become a social group. Where tokens and values converge, they coalesce into social groups.

If we tap into those channels with an empathetic approach (tokens and values - messages) to the tokens and values held in people's minds, we stimulate the minds of our 'audience' by evoking values they hold in their memories. This process adds to the body of knowledge of the individual and, through relationships, the whole social group. In this way we add 'value' in the minds and social groups involved. Public Relations creates value – its our calling. In such a way, we also create 'social capital', as described by Edward Vielmetti thus; “conversations touch in some way on building social capital and social networks”.