Monday, March 15, 2010

The voice of the internet: Are Indian Environmental NGOs exploiting their websites as a Public Relations tool?

I had recently conducted a study of websites of environmental NGOs based in India to see how they are being  used as a Public Relations tool.

This paper was presented at the:- 

XXXIII Indian Social Science Congress, March 10-14, 2010 at Hyderabad.

The media generally determine which issues will be discussed by people, by placing those issues in a specific manner, the process being called agenda setting. On the contrary media becomes the audience when agenda building is done by public relations. Here public relations practitioners provide editors with newsworthy materials or ideas through many media, one of them being the internet. The websites of organisations become conduits of information to communicate these ideas, thoughts and objectives of these organisations. This study examines websites belonging to environmental non-profit organisations based in India and seeks to find out if this medium, which is a public relations tool, is being aptly used by these non-governmental organisations. The method to analyse the study would be quantitative content analysis.

Synopsis of the conclusion:-
It was found that the public relations practitioner of the NGOs has to use the website more effectively to the benefit of the organisation and spell out its agenda clearly.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The gender debate in public relations

A discussion on one of the subjects in public relations, was thrown open on a PR forum I m attached to, that "Despite the abundance of women in the PR profession why dont we see them in positions higher up?"As an academician I can give a preview on some researched data from all over the world as put forth by Larissa Grunig, Mary Ann Fergusan, Linda Childers Hon, Elizabeth L. Toth,K.Sriramesh in their work on this subject.
They have commented using the work of many other researchers in this subject. Lauzen (1990a)explains that there many variables such as gender of the practitioner, years of experience, practitioner competencies, and role that would be a deciding factor for non-public relations professional to manage the public relations function.She terms it "professional encroachment". Lauzen who based her studies on Broom's findings proposes that though women may want to advance in management positions, they may encounter roadblocks by organisations who fill these positions with others who seem more suitable for these posts. Thus they hit the very notorious glass ceiling!
Levine (1990) says that though men may have higher levels of aggressiveness that does not make them more suitable for management and leadership positions. Male traits are more congruent with high-level posts because most organizations have been and continue to be ruled by men ( "A Double Edge,"1990).
Further research shows that both women and men desire to reach top positions in public relations ( Creedon, 1989; DeRosa & Wilcox, 1989) but biological differences like differences in levels of aggressiveness sometimes are coupled with differential socialization for women and men can become impediments. It has been found that women display lower levels of job involvement, or the degree to which one's work is considered an important part of one's life ( Lodahl & Kejner, 1965; Reitz & Jewell, 1979; Ruh, White, & Wood, 1975).
Another point here is risk taking. Some women may avoid jeopardizing their security (Slovik, 1966). The precursor to this risk avoidance is an "ambivalence many women feel regarding their careers" ( Cline et al., 1986, pp. 1-7). Some women do not view themselves as primary wage earners but see work as a "temporary haven before marriage" ( Simpson & Simpson, 1969, pp. 196-197). They thus stay clear of the inherently risky task-oriented rewards of "challenge" and "responsibility". This does not go without being crticised. For example, Ryan (quoted in Lukovitz, 1989) argued: "Contending that women aspire to be technicians is horrendously akin to blaming the victim. All the women I know perceive themselves as far transcending the roles they are obliged to occupy" (p. 20 ). For her, women's lower status in public relations is not of their own doing. Instead, women's subjugation is a result of the "corporate, male-dominated world that continues not to pay or promote women as it does men" (p. 20 ).
Broom and Dozier ( 1986) provided evidence, however, that women face more difficulty advancing from the technician role than men with similar years of experience. A technician is somebody who --writes, edits, designs visual messages, and works with the media. Emphasis is on communication and journalistic skills whereas an expert prescriber is viewed by top management of the client or organization for which she or he works as an authority on public relations problems and their solutions. Such a practitioner defines and researches problems, develops programs, and takes major responsibility for implementation.
It is a strange irony. The tendencies of some women are stereotyped as attributes of all women. This, in turn, results in many women being sent the role expectations of technicians. Their routine tasks reinforce any such propensities of low involvement. This is reinforced further by the clearly perceived lower status and pay of technicians.
Another obstacle faced by women has to do with greater difficulty in creating a persona, or public image, that is congruent with that of high power positions ( Conrad, 1985). Because this persona was defined by men and continues to be enacted for the most part by men, it reflects male values -- values that often differ from women's. And, if others in the organization perceive women to be lacking in the traditional characteristics that suggest power, then they are. On this point, Kasten ( 1986) noted: "Power is a funny thing -- it's primarily a matter of perception. If you have power but I don't think so, then you don't really have it. If you don't really have power but I think you do, then you do" (p. 132 ). As Moore ( 1986) reported, women perceive a more progressive climate in organizations that already employ a reasonable number of women.
Women's lack of organizational power also may have its roots from the fact; shortage of support from home and society in general. Family concerns may hinder some women because women continue to do more than their share of home maintenance activities in addition to pursuing careers ( Heins, Smock, Jacobs, & Stein, 1976; Hochschild, 1989). And, as Kahn-Hut, Daniels, and Coward ( 1982) pointed out, "Professional ideologies depict work as 'a calling' that requires round-the-clock devotion to work. This devotion is a primary allegiance that conflicts with the cultural mandate of women's primary responsibility to family" (p. 38 ).
Sriramesh (1992) said that initially women worked in the service sector such as the travel and tourism because of the glamour stereotype. Infact in books written then by male practitioners, the PRO is referred to as the PR man! But now things have changed and more women are entering this profession many are slowly moving to management positions.
We have come a long way from the data that is cited here, but the glass ceiling still exists for women even today.So what according to you has not changed?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Building Trust through Social Media Communication

It has been quite a challenge preparing for social media communication for my public relations lectures with my students.The reason being that these are some channels the students are already using it as they perceive, learn from others using it and experiment with it as they go along.So essentially there is no formal training in the use of the same.But there is a science behind why we use social media the way we do and how we can better the use.The trust that we form so easily on a basis of texts being transmitted is something to be understood so that use of social media will improve.

Greg Ferenstein in his post on, the site on social media on the web elaborately explains the science behind building trust in social media communication.He takes the studies by Professor Judy Olson into account on how people perceive, her findings based on a pillar of psychological research, she says that people often pass judgement with or without any good information.When we make a mistake the blame is on everything but ourselves, but when somebody else goes wrong the person is to be blamed.

The above lead to an important finding that responsiveness is the key for digital communication.On the digital arena, there is only text available to establish credibility as body language and voice intonation are absent.Speed is also an important factor.The faster you reply to a text message the better it is as it might be considered unhelpful on your part if you don't do so, and some other adjectives might be added to your personality! So in the words of the author "Psychologically speaking, responsiveness makes it easier for others to attribute our misdeeds to the situation, rather than our personality".The details can always be plugged in later but immediate response is always appreciated.

Another vital point made here is that no communication is better than video, audio and then chat, in that order.Simply exemplifies the fact that face to face conversation is the best! Thus the hierarchy will always remain as will always be to say.Thus where it is possible use video instead of text or audio where video is not possible and text where both are not possible.As when we converse face to face we read a person in totality.

Like all forms of communication this is also a form of communication which will improve if looked at scientifically and not only as a medium to have fun on. Social media is growing as a tool for professional and promotional communication and things may soon change.With mobile phones with the internet on our fingertips in days ahead, we better master the art of this medium as it is growing much faster than we realise.

More on the way....till then happy digital communication!