Thursday, January 10, 2013

The segmentation rules for Public Relations

Has the internet made public relations too complicated?

We have lived through a massive evolution in the way that people and things get along.

In the 20th century the need to be able to classify people became a necessity. To deliver products and services and social benefits, there was a need to be able to address people’s interest. This extended to target consumers, voters and other constituents and their interests. Advances in social segmentations and opinion polling made great progress.

The concept was so ingrained that instruments such as newspapers and magazines targeted social groups with ever narrower interests. At one time, there were over 10,000 different publications serving the select interests of their readers. A large part of the advertising and PR industries were predicated on this range of media.

This approach to relationships between organisations and the public was so pervasive that they entered into the language of business.

Demographic segmentation is a common form of segmentation and is a process of dividing a population or market into groups based on variables such as age, gender, family size, income, occupation, education, religion, race and nationality. There are many variants of segmentation and such variables are amongst the most popular for segmenting customer groups.

In 1984  R. Edward Freeman published his book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. This gave rise to a form of segmentation based on people who had a ‘stake’ in organisations such as employees, suppliers, customers and the local of the employees.In the same year Professor James Grunig and Tod Hunt published Managing Public Relations which identified problem recognition is which individuals recognise a problem and respond and do something about it as a group they called publics.

This process of segmentation  became ever more granular and reached out into many more forms of human endeavour.

Today there is a segment that can be called Twiterers and Facebook Likers. There are those people who are defined by the pictures they share on

In addition there are now segments that can be defined because the use location based apps on their mobile devices. Examples like,, and many more.

So much for human segmentation, there is also technology based segmentation. Of particular interest is location based digital segmentation.

These, so called Location-based services are used to include specific controls for location and time data as control features in computer programs. As such (LBS) is an information and has a number of uses providing  service, accessible with mobile devices through the mobile network and which uses information on the geographical position of the mobile device.

Some LBS services use a single base station, with a "radius" of inaccuracy, to determine a phone's location. This technique was the basis of the E-911 mandate and is still used to locate cellphones as a safety measure. Newer phones and PDAs typically have an integrated A-GPS chip.

Another example is Near LBS (NLBS), in which local-range technologies such as Bluetooth, WLAN, infrared and/or RFID/Near Field Communication technologies are used to match devices to nearby services. This application allows a person to access information based on their surroundings; especially suitable for using inside closed premises, restricted/ regional areas.

Another alternative is an operator- and GPS-independent location service based on access into the deep level telecoms network (SS7). This solution enables accurate and quick determination of geographical coordinates of mobile phone numbers by providing operator-independent location data and works also for handsets that are not GPS-enabled.

Users can proactively implement LBS using Google Latitude or Find My Friends (using Apple’s iOS).

There is a common practice of using technologies which provide location information, such as GPS, for business purposes such as location-based services. An example of l-commerce would 0be to allow cellphone users to find the nearest restaurant to their current location.

Such technologies can be combined using services such as the 2012 roll out of Cisco’s on location-based analytics technology intended to help retailers understand consumer behavior and deliver more compelling experiences, including personalized advertising. Designed to help businesses and institutions capitalise on existing infrastructure by transforming the Wi-Fi networks communication channels

For example a website such as is able to intelligently engage customers because it can access information from those customers' respective purchase and browsing histories -- data to which physical stores have, at best, incomplete access.

In addition to the mobile infrastructure there are facilities based in Internet Protocol addresses,

There are several online services that will display an IP address and the associated city, state, or country with that IP address or any other IP address entered into the site. Often this information is associated with where the Internet Service Provide  is located and not the exact location of the person of that IP address.

Today, there are many ways of segmenting a populations that are far more personal and individual than historic segmentation ideas.

We have moved from using crude measures of social class, through segmentation by association to being able to identify a very large part of the population as anonymised individuals  because of the traces they leave behind as they use the internet.

As these individuals do things, they leave traces of activity.

This trail, like the white stones and bread crumbs left behind by the Brothers Grim character Hansel  are signs that can be recognised by those of us who need to know about the interests of society and to find our way in deep dark wood of the internet.

Online, this Hansel like trail of white stones is a huge mass of personally created metadata. It is information about where they are, who they know, who they are in touch with, what messages are they creating and what channels and platforms they use.

This Hansel effect provides signs about who internet users are and what they are doing or have been doing, where they are doing it and much more. This is the new semiotic web.

One of the most used parts of the semiotic web is semantics. It deals with the words people use in what they write and the the words they use in search engines.   Over the last five years the semantic web has become very important but now we move on to get more and different signs of activity best described as the semiotic web.

In the new world of public relations we now have segments of one. Individuals leaving an anonymised semiotic trail of activity and interests. Semiotic Public Relations has arrived!

Such is the quality of the semiotic public relations practitioners are now able to plan and execute relationship initiatives from the perspective of users.

To demonstrate the nature of the semiotic web, we can use common and easily available online tools to prove the theory.

Using facilities such as the Google Adword Keyword Tool, the practitioner can identify the words that people most associate with ideas, brands and organisations. These words semantically describe ideas, brands and organisations from the perspective of their written associations.

As a form of segmentation this is a powerful capability.

In this Google Adwords example, we have used the search expression ‘handbags’.

Feeding such words back into search engines (without the primary keyword) is interesting.

We used:

uk black leather cheap for sale red large ladies womens designer

Feeding these words back into Google, the result (which excluded the word handbag) yielded, as if by magic this result:

The result, even though we do not use the term ‘handbag’ in the search term, yields six out of six pages mentioning ‘handbags’.

This then is a semantic result. But now we can experiment with a semiotic experiment. In this case the semiotic ‘sign’ we will use if Facebook.

By limiting the search to the social media site we find people with an interest in Handbags in Facebook:

Once again even without the word ‘handbag’, as if by magic the returns show people with interest in handbags.

Of course, it is possible to build up a very precise list of people with a specific and public interest in the subject across a wide range of digital media using these semantic words.

Add to such analysis a selection limited to more semantic markers such as a geographic area (UK), a media platform such as mobile and a particular social medium and with the semiotic marker of the previous year and we discover even more closely defined information about people with an interest in ‘handbags’.

From semantic (just the key semiotic words) to semiotic (words, time frame, type of platform, location), the PR practitioner is now able to identify the people who both have an interest and who also have an online influence.

It is now possible to build a Public Relations programme from the perspective of the relevant constituency and explore the potential for a dialogue based on common interests.

Semiotic Public Relations is much more precise than PR based broader social and economic segments.

The semiotic values we choose to use can also be interpreted in another way.

The words, time frame, type of platform, location (and many other semiotic values) represent values that are important to the constituency. We now have the ability to tap into the values of our constituents.

Semiotic Public Relations takes the discipline into new realms of activity based on shared values and relationships based on shared values.

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