A lot of how we understand networks has to do with culture. It is here that the PR industry has a big problem and it has everything to do with how you like to get your eggs.
In the UK there is deference in our culture which also hangs over Europe. In this culture, institutions were always supposed to be the mouthpiece of the people (Governments, newspapers, councils, professional, trade and business associations).
In many instances, and not long ago, institutional communication was forced on us by governments like the Soviet dominated East Europe, Franco dominated Spain, the mad generals in Greece not forgetting the Press Barons and their Trades Unions in the UK. This has meant that networks tended to be muted, family affairs.
Many practitioners may not feel that they want to have networks that go beyond 'the family'. They are 'programmed' not to practice in the networked society.
It is an easy criticism to level at a particular type of practitioner. One would be of a certain age and probably not part of the on-line community but probably running a PR consultancy or in-house department (white, male, baby-boomer, technophobic, near innumerate, prepared to accept any old numbers as long as it can be called 'research' and will fool a hack and with a fine palette for claret). In the UK such practitioners tend to be Fellows of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and would not know if they had Google ranking or not.
Plagiarising from Wikipedia: “Van Dijk defines the network society as a society in which a combination of social and media networks shapes its prime mode of organization and most important structures at all levels (individual, organizational and societal). He compares this type of society to a mass society that is shaped by groups, organizations and communities ('masses') organized in physical co-presence (Soviet, Spanish or Greek until quite recently). According to Castells networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies.”
And how does this relate to how you get your eggs. Well its like this... UK consumers bought £8.2bn ($14.3bn) of goods from websites last year - up 28.9% on 2004 This is big news because shopers are now spending almost as much on goods through the internet as they do in shops. What this means is that building on-line relationships is now a commercial imperative and someone will get the job of persuading more people to but their eggs on line, an probably for the UK's largest food retailer.
Breaking into on-line communities effectively is pretty hard.
There is a particular type of PR practitioner that should not apply.