Monday, July 24, 2006

Virtual environments for communication - is this a PR function?


One of the core disciplines in public relations practice is an ability to communicate.

This means that a number of capabilities are really requires. The spoken word, the written word and an knowledge of visual communication is essential.

In an era when SMS is more important than television and instant messaging has deeper reach that newspapers, this means that effective communication skills have to branch out into mobile and Internet communication.

I have discussed the range of communications channels before but have not dealt with forms of communication that can be described as virtual environments in any great depth and want to put this right in this post.

Betchtel, the UK Government's Department of Transport, Microsoft, BP, Royal Bank of Scotland, the auctions house Christies and my grand-nephew are companies that have one form of communication in common. They all use virtual environments for communication and yet none use Second Life. I noted last week, there are more forms of virtual environments than Second Life. They are in commercial use and many companies depend on them.

A very quick Google search shows how project management environments now are modeled against time, costs and available resources and 'What-If Modeling'” These facilities too are virtual environments.

Through tasks, documents, issues, calendars, threaded discussions, news postings, polls and dynamic applications, a wide range of interactive tools are commonly made available in workplace communities.


My 10 year old great-nephew was here today. He and his school use Digital Brain. It is a closed virtual environment and class environment. They can link to other schools. Within this environment they have capabilities for doing most otheirer school work on-line and have can maintain their school relationships with discussion, IM, email video conferencing etc. He has his own photos online, a biographical note and types like a demon. This made me think about some other similar educations communities such as WebCT and Blackboard.

Let us not forget the other close cousin. From Joel Cere we learn 'More than 100 million people worldwide log on every month to play interactive computer games (source: NYT, December 2005)'. Here again we see virtual communities at work. Some interesting stats are here.

In other words, virtual communities not dissimilar to Second Life, are already in daily use in business education and leisure.

Most, if not all of them, are audience specific but they are very powerful and used throughout Industry and commerce.

These capabilities are interactive communications channels. Most enterprises that use such facilities have a significant investment tied up in these channels for communication.

The question one asks is: among its range of capabilities and practices, are public relations practitioners communication experts? If they are, should they have an understanding of the range of virtual communities that may exist in their organisations and should they have a capability to be involved?

Furthermore, for practitioners in-house one can ask who are these communications channels are available to, are they enterprise specific or do they involve external constituents (consultants, vendors, contractors) are they open to porosity and Internet Agency in a Public Relations context and can they be used for other stakeholders and constituents. Additionally, it is clear that an assessment of transparency issues is needed.


Picture: Franz Fischnaller