Challenges for PR in the 21st Century

I was asked to speak at the recent MIPAA PR Masterclass event about convergence and continuity in the PR industry.

I spoke about how the rise of ubiquitous digital media and, importantly, the computational layer that sits underneath all digital media is creating challenges for PR as a discipline and at a practical level.

I argued that algorithms play an increasingly significant part in determining what information we get to see, how we analyse and make sense of it as well as how our carefully crafted messages are mediated, manipulated and received.

I also discussed how the increasingly default nature for digital narratives is that of a fragmented datastream, rather than a coherent narrative (see Lev Manovich’s post).

And then for reassurance I suggested ways in which current practitioners could address and ensure a sense of continuity in terms of what they do on a day-to-day basis.

Some of the ideas and themes I took from a forthcoming chapter I have in the Routledge Handbook of Critical PR.

Online Reviews and Computational Reputation

Tom Slee’s In Praise of Fake Reviews is a fantastic read that looks at some of the ethical and legal issues of Yelp! and online review platforms in light of the Botto Bistro story that’s been going around social media and the news.

More pertinently for public relations in general (and some of the thinking I’ve been doing on algorithmic public relations in particular) is the notion of computationally determining issues such a reputation.

The essay marks a distinct gap between PR and its privileging of representational communication (i.e. words, images, etc) over – what can be termed – non-representational forms, in Yelp!’s case the algorithms determining ratings and rankings.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a great excerpt covering the complexities of reputation in a digital age and the need for people (public relations practitioners and academics?) to consider and get to grips with the ethical and moral issues at stake:

Reputation is a multi-faceted, qualitative concept. It has been pushed through a meat-grinder by digital reputation systems and has come out the other side homogenized, devoid of texture, but easier to digest. There’s nothing inherently wrong with reputation systems by themselves, but giving them too much authority or influence will inevitably throw up bad incentives on the part of the system owner and those taking part in the reviews. Before we declare “fake reviews” to be a crime or an obvious case of bad morals, we at least need to demand some accountability from reputation site owners.

Full blog post here.