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The Principles Behind Social Media Aren’t New, They are 30 Years Old

The principles scholars identified 30 or 40 years ago are only now be adopted by practitioners. They still see their jobs as placing news stories in the media and hope that somehow that persuades people to do what they want them to do.

So says James Grunig.

Some may know him as a consultant to Edelman.  Others might know him as Dr. Grunig of the University of Maryland. I remember him because he’s one of the few researchers whose work I found relevant in the journal databases when researching my thesis. His articles in the Journal of Public Relations Research were the most prominent.

Grunig says the role of PR is symmetrical – its role is to give the public voice in the management organizations – that PR should be a management function, not just a messaging function.

Though I admire the man, I’d qualify my own endorsement of that statement. Grunig, who also has an economics background, might appreciate Milton Friedman’s words:

“The discussions of the ‘social responsibilities of a business’ are notable for their analytical looseness and lack of rigor.”

It’s an echo of Adam Smith’s sentiment that a corporation that focuses on growth is socially responsible by delivering value – products, competition, jobs and economic growth.  PR isn’t to give public voice within the management organization, it’s to be the voice of the organization.

The future of social media? It puts more control of communication in the hands of the public.

Sound familiar?  You’re not in control of your brand anymore.

The public has access to any source of information they want. Practitioners have to engage in dialogue because the public will get information someplace else otherwise.

Here it from the man himself in this video interview from PRSA:

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Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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2 Responses

  1. Krista

    Hi Frank- I take it communications theory is your "geek weakness?" Mine is semantic networks, but I digress…

    It's good to stop for a moment and have a dialogue on PR's role in organizations from time to time. I like that Grunig moves it beyond the messaging function, as that often pigeon-holes PR practicioners. You also make a great point about how social media is relevant to the PR practice, since it deals with directly engaging the public.

  2. Frank Strong, MA, MBA

    Yeah, maybe. I geek out on a lot of things – I tend to be cerebral kind of guy. Not good for small talk!

    I think you're right about the management functionality of PR. The people that get that, are magnificent. One comes to mind: Steve Jobs.

    Thanks for the comment Krista!

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