The 14th Annual International Public Relations Research Conference:
“Pushing the Envelope in Public Relations Theory and Research and Advancing Practice” Miami, March 9-12, 2011
This is the first part of a two-part article on highlights from the 2011 IPRRC. Click here to read Part 2: IPRRC 2011 Highlights: Public Relations Best Practices.
by Katie Delahaye Paine
With 108 papers in three days, there was no shortage of new information at this year’s totally awesome IPRRC conference in Miami. As usual, by the end of the sessions my brain was filled to capacity. Trying to boil it all down to a readable article has been like trying to explain the health care reform act in 140 characters.
I review some of the highlights in the article below, which includes papers about social media, and in the second half of this article, which concerns papers about public relations best practices. Tim Penning of Grand Valley State University gave a paper at this conference and has also done a great job of summarizing it.
Six New Papers, Four Times Every Hour for Three Days
For those of you who haven’t experienced an IPRRC, you need to understand that these events are like no others you’ve ever been to. It is truly a marketplace of ideas. Picture, if you will, a giant farmers’ market full of numerous booths, but instead of choosing between a variety of heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef, you are offered dozens of tantalizing ideas in dozens of shapes and sizes.
The conference room is set up with six round tables and at each of those tables is a presenter. You are given a book that contains a listing of the six topics being presented that session. If you find one that is interesting, you go sit at the table where that presentation is taking place. The presenter has exactly seven minutes to present his/her ideas and you then have seven minutes to discuss it and ask questions. Then a bell rings, the presentation ends, and you move on to the next table.
This happens four times every hour for three days – for a total of 108 total presentations. Now granted, you can only hear four presentations an hour, so you’re guaranteed to miss at least a dozen or so. But if you were wondering why my report on this year’s conference is a bit dense. It’s because I OD’d on both the heirloom tomatoes and the grass-fed beef.
The photo above shows one of the typical roundtable presentations at the conference. The guy in blue is Tom Watson, the author of the “What Is ROI?” paper I talk about at the end of Part 2 of this article. You can see 260 more photos that I took at this flickr page. The full text of only some of the papers are now available, the rest will be soon on the IPR website. You can download and read the full conference schedule and list of papers here.
The top three papers submitted to this year’s IPRRC received $1,000 cash awards. These papers were:
- Transparency and City Government Communication by Jennalane O. Hawes, Brad Rawlins, and Kenneth D. Plowman of Brigham Young University
- Exploring the Effects of Organization-Public Relationship and Communication Coorientation on Organizational Reputation in a Higher Education Setting by Anna Cazarnecka, Magnoila Sky Communications, Inc. and Lan Ni, University of Houston
- Autonomy-Dependency Paradox in Organization-Public Relationships: A Case Study Analysis of a University Art Museum by Christopher Wilson, and Brad Rawlins, of Brigham Young University, and Kevin Stoker of Texas Tech University
For more on these papers and the awards, see this page on the IPR website.
Also recognized at the conference were Matt Kelly and Dustin Supa, who received The Peter Debreceny Corporate Communication Award, as well as The Measurement Standard’s Measurement Mavens of the Month Award. Read more here.
Papers Concerning Social Media
The big theme this year was social media. There were lots of papers on how to use it, about implications for its impact on the future of PR, and, of course, on how to measure it. The rest of Part 1 of this article summarizes my favorite examples. For papers on public relations best practices, see Part 2 of this article.
How Social Media Impacts PR
Wright & Hinson: Additional Exploration about the Impact of Social Media and Other New Technologies on Public Relations Practice
As always, Don Wright of Boston University and Michelle Hinson of the IPR gave us the big picture with the latest results of their ongoing study on how social media is impacting PR. For the fifth consecutive year they analyzed responses from an online survey of PR professionals (487 total respondents) and found that we all seem to agree that social media has changed our perception of business. Virtually everyone they reached is now involved in social media and 87% believe that social media has changed their profession.
Most interesting: 90% continue to encourage the use of research to measure the impact of social media, but just one in three say they are actually measuring. For the past three years, the percentage of our profession that is actually measuring their social media hasn’t changed. Worse, even though people say they should focus on outcomes and content analysis, those that are measuring are mostly focused on outputs like the number of blog posts or tweets.
In terms of credibility, PR professionals increasingly believe blogs to be credible and trustworthy, a trend that is not all that surprising given that the percentage of organizations in which PR is responsible for social media is up to 83% in 2011 compared to just 66% in 2009. (The more familiar a person is with a medium, the more likely they are to trust it.)
Don and Michelle provided a great overview to start with, and they were quickly followed by a number of papers that focused on social media use in more narrow markets like breast cancer fund raising and crisis communications.
The Use of Social Media Among Breast Cancer Charities
Fussell-Sisaco and McCorkindale: Communicating “Pink”: A Quantitative Content Analysis of the Trustworthiness and Communication Strategies of Breast Cancer Social Media Sites (Download it here)
Tina McCorkindale of Appalachian State University and Hilary Fussell-Sisaco of Quinnipiac University presented a fascinating study on the use of social media among non-profits, specifically in the breast cancer charity arena. They found that:
- Organizations that were most involved in social media were also perceived as most credible and transparent.
- Five of the top 20 breast cancer charities don’t use social media at all. (Not surprisingly, those are the ones that are not household names.)
- The credibility of the organization in the mind of potential donors was strongly correlated with the transparency of the organization and its communication effort.
- Organizations that tweeted more, had more likes, more followers, and more overall tweets were seen to be more transparent and credible by virtue of activity alone. The organizations that updated less frequently also appeared to be less transparent. Organizations appear to benefit from both quality and quantity of communications.
Social Media for Communicating Health Issues to Young People and Women
Lee and Bae: How Can Social Media Be Effectively Employed for Public Relations in Health Communication? Implications from an Analysis of the Health Information National Trends Survey ( Download the presentation here)
A study by Suekyung Lee and Beom Jun Bae of Florida State University found that social media was particularly useful for communicating health issues to younger people and women. However, online social networking was found to be no substitute for off-line support. Users of social media were found to have more depressive symptoms and poorer perceptions of their overall health than those who participated in off-line support groups.
This was surprising given that the Internet was the second most trusted source of health information, after doctors. The assumption is that too much of online health information is put there by patients rather than doctors.
Social Media Use Changes Perceptions
Eichhorn, Bullard, Caraccioli, Early, and McCarthy: @ PRHealthIndustries: An Examination of Public Relation Practitioners‘ Use of Social Media in the Health Care Industry
Kristen Campbell Eichhorn of SUNY Oswego, Andrea Bullard of Step OneCreative, Pamela Caraccioli of Oswego Health, and Caroline Early and EileenMcCarthy of Purdue University studied Oswego County’s use of social media in the health care industry. In-depth interviews with communication strategists and administration revealed there is some interest in understanding how social media can be utilized in changing perceptions of hospitals and healthcare in the county. The interviews revealed concerns surrounding health privacy issues and how to best utilize social media during a crisis situation. Findings suggest Oswego County’s communication team saw social media as a way to recruit new physicians, encourage patient compliance, andinform residents of health information and facilities.
Twitter Use Affects Coffee Consumption Intentions
Kim and Kwon: Exploring Effects of Corporate Social Media Messages on Audience Behavior: Relationship Management Perspectives
Researchers Ji Young Kim & Jinhyon Kwon of the University of Florida took on the task of evaluating the impact of corporate Twitter use on followers’ intentions. In a study of 182 undergraduate students they found that Starbucks’ use of Twitter did have persuasive power when it came to communicating with students. They used Grunig’s relationship theory to demonstrate that communicating via Twitter positively impacted the communal aspects of relationships between students and Starbucks. Their conclusion: Direct communications between corporation and customers promotes stronger behavioral intent.
Media vs. Non-media Companies’s Use of Social Media
Supa and Zoch: Non-Primary Audience Involvement: An Analysis of Corporate Media Companies‘ Use of Online Dialogic Communication to Communicate with Varied Audiences
Dustin W. Supa of Ball State University and Lynn M. Zoch of Radford University took what can only be termed an ironic look at the top global media companies by comparing their social media behavior with the top global non-media corporations. They found virtually no difference between the two. In their use of social media, media companies aren’t doing any better or worse than the Fortune 500 companies. Non-media companies were found to have more links to Twitter feeds, PR contacts, and company ads, while media companies had more links to emails, streaming media, corporate branding, news, and investors.
Social Media Use in Fire Departments
Slusarski and Sheil: Command and Control v. Social Media: The Inherent Dilemma for Fire Department Public Information Officers
Kevin Slusarski and Astrid Sheil of California State University, San Bernadino studied the use of social media in the continuous crisis environment of fire departments. Fire departments face an interesting dilemma in today’s media culture. For 50 years all communications related to fires have flowed through Public Information Officers. But in today’s society, when information now flows in real time through Twitter and other forms of citizen journalism, who has time to go through PIOs?
The single significant differentiator found in this study was whether the social media user was a sworn firefighter. In other words, people on the front lines are more credible and frequent users of social media than civilian employees. Which raises an interesting question: Do we still need Public Information Officers, or should communications simply be embedded in everyone’s jobs?
Automating Trust Measurement
Paine: Beyond Sentiment Analysis, Can We Automate Trust Measurement? (Download a pdf of the presentation here)
I wanted to learn to what extent relationship elements could accurately be measured using content analysis, text mining, and natural language processing. I analyzed 2000 Twitter posts using human coders, and 12,000 using machine coding. Results showed that linguistic tool sets can be used to pull concepts from data, but a high quantity of emotional content data is required. A preliminary model for communal relationships was validated against 858 items.
Using a Conversational Human Voice in Social Media to Build Relationships
Park and Park: The Use of Human Voice as a Relationship Building Strategy on Social Networking Sites ( Download it here)
Hyojung Park of the University of Missouri and Hyunmin Park of the University of Florida studied how sounding like a real human being in organizational public relations impacted perceptions of the organization. Using 40 students they studied two non-profit organizations, Teach for America and Junior Achievement, as well as two for-profit organizations: Continental and Southwest Airlines. The presence of a human voice, (as opposed to a corporate-speak PR voice), had a significant impact on individuals’ trust, commitment, and satisfaction with the organization. However, the presence of a human voice did not impact the participants’ intent to engage in communications with the organization. It did impact the participant’s intention to talk about the organization to others.
Their conclusion: Providing a more human social media presence improves relationships and creates the perception of transparency, which builds trust and positive feelings towards an organization. It may also contribute to positive word-of-mouth and the likelihood for information to go viral.
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements.
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