Thursday, November 22, 2012

Online Trends and the Lisbon Theory

This post is about the Lisbon Theory.

It provides the basis for next generation public relations.

It is a form of PR predicated on the perspective of a person or (online) community perspective.
Its basic building block, values, are evident in the semantic web at all its intersections and it forms the basis for all public relations subject to digitally networked communication.

This is the background to it and its application.

For a very long time, I have been struggling with a concept of PR that would bring PR theory into line with what I know of the internet. For publications about online PR such as Share This Too there is a need for a theoretical framework to hold so much apparently new practice together. It needs a coherent structure because it seems to challenge everything that PR stood for in the 20th century.

In three books, I too have challenged the orthodoxy of academia and PR teaching. Some has stuck (Transparency, Porosity, Agency, Richness and Reach is now commonly taught) but much has not.

About three weeks ago I had one of those moments when a lot of thinking came together.

It goes back to some work I did on tokens and values in which we identify people and organisation as the nexus of values; the work of Bruno Amaral who showed that people cluster round commonly held values (an empirical study); Thoughts about wealth being based on relationships; my contribution to the Global Alliance Melbourne Mandate to help define organisational character and much more.

In each case, I have been looking at the values that people subscribe to at a moment in time. For the most part, we are looking at values that are established from the perspective of the individual.

In an era of mass-media dilution, communication has a higher and growing dependency on network communication as a mechanism to introduce individuals to the story of the hour. It is this development that is the evolving and critical element that PR theory has to address most urgently. We need to see why and how values (some of them being no more than a hyperlink) spread in networks and how this is different to mass media 'communication'.

Mass media messages go in one direction. Network media is all over the place. We need to be able to track where the messages are coming from and going to.

From this need for perspectives drawn from individuals we can sum up the new form of PR practice more precisely.

PR Practitioners

  • Observe  events from the value perspective of many constituencies, organisations and cultures
  • Undertake activity that compliment the value perspectives of constituencies, organisations and cultures 
  • Identify future, present or past extent of effects of activity on value perspectives of constituencies, organisations and cultures 
  • Measure objectives or objects from value perspectives of constituencies, organisations and cultures
  • This is how they establish change or variance in the significance of values.

We could reduce this to an explanation as simple as:

"From the perspective (v) of an entity (n) to what extent (e) is this object (o) significant (s).

  In application, one might evaluate PR activities thus

  • From the perspective of the citizen, to what extent is democracy valuable?
  • From the perspective of the organisation, to what extent is the threat of new competition significant to its future?
  • From the perspective of the marketing director, to what extent is public relations a contributor to sales?
In fact, we can use this concept to evaluate almost everything in PR and, and, more boldly, management.

Now, I guess, its time to test the theory and especially look for that secret ingredient the values of the constituency.

We need a method for identifying the perspective of constituents. Fortunately one is ready to hand. It is the application of semantics as practiced by Google. 

Perspective are a nexus of values. To find the nexus of values, it is possible to use a practice that will also reveal a lot more that is useful to PR practitioners. 

Perhaps its time to do a simple thing. The sort of thing any practitioner might need to do.

Identify the platforms and channels one might seek for a client who makes designer handbags! 

Well, someone does.

Yes, people will look for images of handbags.

Pinterest (and this is where it is possible to get basic 'reach' data from Alexa) and Google Images are both going to be key media.

Both have a presence before more readers than one might expect from a double page spread in a popular magazine. In addition, they provide a service for the consumer at the time most relevant to the consumer interest. Against this competition, the press is not going to do well unless, of course, it gets its content and its pictures online and circulating.

In fact, a quick scan of the media landscape shows that there is a huge readership seeking more information and interaction concerning designer handbags.

Not much in traditional media but we can easily see one Facebook commentator has a following of 36,000.

Perhaps that is the place to go to share our enthusiasm for designer handbags.

But what we really need to do is to find out where there is an on-line 'Community Perspective'

We can do this by looking for the values people associate with 'Handbags'.

People tell us what values are important to them by using such words when they search using Google, Bing or Yahoo and in the pages they look at online where we can extract the semantic concepts most evident on the page.

One way of doing this is to use the latent semantic indexing which forms the core of Google's Adwords.

Here are the results of an experiment I did  last week:

I went to Google Adwords and searched for the term 'designer handbag'.

Associated with the word 'handbag' Google found just what we were looking for. The keyword concept values most important to UK citizens in November 2012.

At the time I did this experiment a number of handbag retailers came up as concept words and, of course the word  handbag. I eliminated them and was left with the following words:

"organiser, hooks, designer, black, patent, charms and navy".

One would not expect any such words to be much help in finding designer handbag web sites. What in the world would 'navy, add to the search.

Well, it is what some people associate with handbags. In fact, if you were to try the experiment now sometime after the initial experiment, you will find that Google will take you to handbag sites as if it was reading your mind (gradually this ability will decay as people favour other values associated with handbags). The key words evident in the search terms used by people take them to the semantic construct which means 'handbag'. We have tapped into the values that people associate with handbags.

Using this idea, we can use it to do what a lot of people in PR find really hard to do.
We can make online lists of the web sites that are most relevant to the interests of our key constituents.

We can explore top social media sites such as Wordpress, Blogger, Twitter and even Facebook to find key opinion formers and enthusiasts.

(Try using the search syntax organiser hooks designer black patent charms navy and you will get to the media you really want to get to - you can dilute it a but by adding 'handbag' in your search)

What is evident is that the technologies we are deploying (based on semantics) provides us with this new type of constituency segment:  ‘community perspective’ segment. 

It is sensitive to the values of the people who are engaging at the time and it is sensitive to the values in on-line and offline conversations of the minute.

Not publics, not stakeholders, not socio-economic and cultural demographics but people with a community perspective expressed in some words they have in common.

This constituency does not have to be very engaged but does have similar values:

• The big issue is often remote from the values common between the individual and audience
• There is no segmentation in messaging ‘everyone can see everything’
• 'Publics' of one, and in this instant only, is now common.
• A 'public' of millions is meaningless. It is no longer an realistic PR, advertising, or marketing promotion option.

Now for another experiment.

The practitioner needs to be able to find the semantic concepts in corporate content. The tools are available and more keep coming.

In this experiment, I parsed the content of a Stuart Bruce posting on his blog to see what proper noun semantic concepts emerged. The post was about Share This Too. Semantically, four people figured strongly.

The result was and entity map for this web page

(as an aside and for Philip Sheldrake and similar enthusiasts for semantic data analysis, this form of semantic analysis - which I built last year and is available here - gives you RDF triples)

Delving into what people contribute online (and because there is so much of it, it is called Big Data) means we can get very helpful insights into the intentions of constituents. Indeed, this is what GCHQ does and so too can PR practitioners.

From the foregoing, it is possible to claim that a theory based on perspectives in Public Relations are key.

As we will see in my next post, the days described by Will McInnes in  Culture Shock  and brought to us by Stephen Waddington,  are not just being pushed aside, the very nature of PR under severe threat.

For the big consultancies it is not business as usual but with 'digital attached'. It is now possible to discover what is really motivating people even when your organisation is tiny and in a very niche market. The most humble PR agency can now compete with the biggest and brashest.

Practitioners now have keys that take them to the big time. It is driven by social media and understood with semantics and most people call that 'Google'.

All those years of work proving the validity of opinion research are being swept to one side.

For example, one can ask communities questions as part of research into values and views.

Online polling has been a great success and now can claim to be among the best availableGoogle Surveys, came out top during the US Presidential election.

What is really significant here is that the average practitioner has mass polling available at a cost that would have been the preserve of the big research organisations only two years ago.

Now we need to look at the other part of the communication story.

The Platforms.

Mass media thinking and theories are now challenged. The range of media is considerable. Content is distributed by databases and algorithms aided in a big way by people recommending content to friends, family and colleagues. This means that the 'network effect', the multi path route to your Twitter account, Facebook or G+ page and into the email inbox now reigns over the printing press and even the TV station.

Mass-media theory now has to content with this growing dependency on network communication.

Throwing away newspapers as a channel is not (yet) sensible but it is important to examine the new platforms.

For a number of years the internet has been trying to escape from the PD and laptop. It's done it!

From Newspapers to running shoes, data is being used to create messages which is distributed on and offline with nothing in between.

Games consoles, TV sets used to play YouTube videos and touch screens that we all take to bed and call 'phones'!

Dresses that display Tweets and glasses that provide virtual reality not so novel any-more. In fact Monmouthpedia is just a PR application of the Internet of Things.

In the next post we will look at what the future really looks like but here and now I have shown that the old models and old theories of PR practice are under pressure.

I posit that all the historical theoretical concepts that affect PR have been shaken if not stirred in the last few yeas.

A new theory is emerging based on the idea that the perspectives of people evident in their values. These are evident in what they are interested in and look for and are made available to the practitioner by application of Big Data semantic applications.

Historic segmentation theories such as Grunig and Hunt's publics, Freedman's stakeholders and the marketing approach of social and economic demographic segmentation models need to be re-cast to accommodate the new reality.

This new theory based round the 'perspectives of people' has been through a mincer of thinking and research  at Escola Superior de Comunicação Social, Lisbon including academics running the Online PR Masters,  Nuno da Silva Jorge and Bruno Amaral and a host of enthusiastic Masters students. We called it the Lisbon Theory. 
It  is very new and had to be developed because so much of the 20th century theorising was showing signs of stress.

Most notably, we now have considerable evidence of people commenting about organisations and brands with little of no reference to the organisation or brand (often no experience at all). They are part of an eco system of brand values that are not much influenced by organisations but are (often if only by sheer numbers) influential. 

Organisations, in many instances have lost control of the brand. It is owned by what can be regarded as the community perspective.

The Lisbon Theory also gives us a really clear view into how PR will have to develop in the coming months.

David Phillips, (2006) "Towards relationship management: Public relations at the core of organisational development", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 10 Iss: 2, pp.211 - 226
Amaral, B. (2009) "A proof of concept for automated discourse analysis in support of identification of relationship building in blogs." Bledcom

1 comment:

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