Friday, 29 May 2009

Exclusive: Shirky on PR

Well, he was courteous enough to answer a number of questions villager's alter ego sent him in an e-mail. Here is the exchange:

Q - Do you see public relations as a mass media discipline struggling over the loss of gatekeepers?

A - In many cases, sure. The imbalance of production to consumption of media in the 20th c was so enormous that anyone who got anywhere near it ended up with a business model that isn't readily able to tolerate a massive influx of communicative amateurs.

Q - Is there a role for public relations in the new paradigm where groups have freedom to mobilise more freely?

A - I don't know how it is over there, but here the phrase 'public relations' suggests relating with the public, while 'PR' suggests lying to the public. So sure, since the public is not much more capable of entering into something like a relationship, there's a role, but many people in the PR industry seem unprepared for such an outcome. (Like many people with a public platform, a good part of my spam filtering is set up to defend me from reading anything PR-related, like auto-deleting email with the words 'For Immediate Release' etc...)

Q - Are you aware of the Grunig and Hunt model of symmetrical communications - the notion that groups can communicate in perfect balance, and through the free exchange of views arrive at mutual understanding?

A - I'm not aware of it, and will look it up, but I am skeptical, because I have never seen group interactions even approximate symmetry.Indeed, from the work on powerlaw distributions in social spaces, I'd characterize the situation for group interaction as "Large.Symmetrical. Engaged. Pick two."

Q - Some think social media makes this public relations holy grail more attainable. Others think it remains idealistic and takes insufficient account of the inherent power imbalance in all exchanges between groups. What do you think?

A - The latter.

Plenty food for thought. And good to see a social media champion staying true to the ethos of interactivity.
pic: Bill Sheridan/flickr


  1. That's an excellent contribution to the debate. Thank your for making the connection.

    Shirky, as ever, puts his finger on the problem: it's one of power imbalance.

    'Large. Symmetrical. Engaged. Pick two.' I'll use that quotation.

  2. Good interview with a 'guru'. Yes, he's right back to where we all are (and I blogged on the intricacies of getting perfect symmetry. It just doesn't seem possible (or very realistic to expect) to achieve it.