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Public Relations Research Showcase Presentations

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One of the more intimate and personal of the session formats, the Public Relations Research Showcase Presentations, allowed participants to sit at eight-person tables with each presenter. After a brief discussion of the topic, participants could interact and discuss the topic with the speakers. However, after 20 minutes you had to move on to the next table. So you got a lot of information and fast, but direct contact with the presenter.

The key takeaways from four of the five tables are outlined below as well as could be gathered in 20 minutes.

Are We Engaged Yet? A proposed framework for measuring engagement in social networks.

Katie Delahaye Paine of KDPaine and Partners

Because traditional web metrics (hits, visits, trackbacks) have little to do with what people want to know about their efforts in social media, social media and public relations measurement professionals have to find ways to dig deeper into the numbers. Ultimately, there are three fundamental things companies use social media for:

  1. To Sell Something
    These metrics are easy. How many conversions, downloads, leads from email opt-ins, etc., did I get
  2. To enhance branding or build buzz
    This is essentially measured by traditional Website metrics since what you’re ultimately looking for is an increased number of eyeballs exposed to your messaging or Website.
  3. To influence an agenda or position the company as a thought leader
    Measurement for this can include traditional metrics, like those listed in No. 2, but is more stealthy measured in the results of the agenda influence and surveys of the target audience using traditional research methods.

The most important measurement in the later two is influence which is most clearly represented in engagement. The most clear representation of engagement in social media is the number and quality of comments on a given piece of content. This is even more accurate than influencer scores.

Unfortunately, the measurement of engagement is not absolute. There are a lot of lurkers who never participate. But you can add to comment measurement conversations on Twitter and other sites to get a more full picture of what your efforts are accomplishing.

Ultimately, the key question to ask in measuring engagement is, “Are we getting what we want out of the conversation.”

Confronting Media Nihilism: How transparency builds meaning during crises

Capt. Robert Pritchard, APR, Fellow PRSA – Associate Professor, Ball State University

Pritchard makes the argument that public relations can, and in some cases already is, supplanting the traditional roles of media in society by communicating in an open, transparent fashion. He cited the traditional roles of media in society from James Curran’s work as being:

  • Representing the people in that society
  • Acting as a public watchdog
  • Informing the public
  • Facilitating social unity

His argument is based on the theory that with fewer companies controlling more of the traditional media landscape the news has become a profit-centric business and has spiraled into more entertainment and opinion programming than journalism. As a result, media nihilism results, where the media exaggerates and sensationalizes events, taking them out of their original context, giving it an impact it doesn’t have and creating a crisis that doesn’t actually exist, resulting in distorted reality and societal awareness.

An example he used was the death of a high school student in Virginia linked to the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) staff infection in October of 2007. That, coinciding with a report from the Journal of the American Medical Association indicating MRSA caused a higher number of annual deaths each year than expected resulted in the national media (NBC and CBS were cited) sensationalizing the story, resulting in school closures, parental panic and a “health scare,” that was in actuality not nearly as impactful as the news reports indicated.

To combat this media nihilism, Pritchard’s position is for public relations professionals to advocate and practice transparent communications, requiring organizations to be open in their communications and accountability. His call to action is for PR pros to lead the way, build trust with company leadership, make it easier for them to have the courage to do the right thing and be transparent in our communications. If we do that, we replace the role of media in society.

Online Instructive Churn: One recipe for turning lemons into lemonade

Tim Coombs, Ph.D., associate professor and Sherry Holiday, Ph.D., professor, Eastern Illinois University.

The professors presented research that contradicts traditional thinking that companies should never approach activist groups who protest or oppose the company and present a points system as a way of judging a rank and order of groups to prioritize which to seriously consider outreach to. The hypothesis is that there are three options to dealing with activism groups:

  1. Partner with them.
  2. Adapt the policies and approaches they oppose
  3. Ignore them

The points system proposed awards credit for the activism groups based on its Internet marketing efforts (in-bound links, search engine rankings, variety of Internet channels and crossover into mainstream media), mobilization possibilities (online petitions, emails to officials, letters to officials, action centers or links on website and email alerts to members) and whether or not they are becoming a resource (provide training/media kits, information materials for interested parties or educational games or outreach).

Ultimately, the higher the score when judging those factors, the more seriously the possible engagement of that activism group should be taken.

Examining the increasing impact of social media on public relations practice

Donald Wright, APR, Fellow PRSA – Professor, Boston University and Michelle Hinson, Director, Development and Administration, Institute for Public Relations.

Wright and Hinson’s discussion centers around a now four-year study of public relations professionals with regards to the impact social media is having on the practice of public relations. When they set out to poll PR pros four years ago, they hypothesized that social media and new technologies would bring about dramatic changes to the field.

Guess they were right.

The discussion was really just a renumeration of the latest numbers, including:

  • Two-thirds of those polled say blogs and social media have enhanced PR
  • More than 60 percent say social media and mainstream media compliment one another
  • 89 percent say social media has influence over the coverage of their clients or companies in the traditional media
  • Traditional media has a much higher expectation to be fair, honest and ethical
  • Approval of employees posting negative items about their company on blogs is steadily decreasing every year
  • Blogs and social media have a huge impact in facilitating a two-way communications line between companies and their audiences. This has dramatically reduced the turn-around time in communicating with certain publics.
  • An open-ended answer in their survey included the indication that social media truly puts the “public” back in public relations.

The 2008 version of the research can be found in the Spring postings from PR Journal by clicking here. Or download the paper by clicking here.

By Jason Falls of Doe-Anderson, the fifth-oldest brand-building agency in the United States, and, a leading social media, public relations, marketing, and communications blog, and one of Advertising Age’s Power 150 marketing blogs. Falls is a 16-year public relations veteran and the director of Social Media for Doe-Anderson, a brand-building agency in Louisville, KY. In his role he advises clients like Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek and Jim Beam bourbons on the use of social media. He is a frequent speaker on social media strategies and tools, public relations in the new media era and communications strategies, and is the co-founder of the Social Media Club Louisville.

For coverage on the PRSA 2008 International Conference: The Point of Connection, visit

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Lauren Vargas

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