First of all, what is dialogue? Looking at various meanings in the dictionary, it is often described as a “two-way conversation between two or more people…”
So, what does dialogue mean in public relations practice and how has online media influenced this?
Reflecting on my own PR practice, all organisations that I have worked for, use online/social and digital media as a channel of communication towards their stakeholders.
They have a company website, have social media channels (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc) to post news and have an “Email us” account where stakeholders can email their queries and questions and they measure the interaction they have online with how many likes and shares they have received from a post, how many followers they have and if the followers are increasing or decreasing.
I see the above as closely aligned to scholars Kent & Taylors’ (1998, 2002) theory on dialogic communication who suggested that a dialogic approach to relationship building could be achieved online for organizations and their publics. In their work Kent & Taylor found that the online environment provides communication/PR practitioners an opportunity “to create dynamic and lasting relationships with publics”.
Follow the link to an interesting paper written by Agozzino, A. (2015). Dialogic Communication Through “Pinning”: An Analysis of Top 10 Most-Followed Organizations’ Pinterest Profiles. Public Relations Journal, 9(3). Available online: https://www.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/Vol9/No3/
In this paper, the author describes how Kent & Taylor identified five principles of strategic website design that organizations could implement to promote the dialogic communication approach to relationship building.
These principles include:
1. ease of interface
2. usefulness of information
3. conservation of visitors
4. generation of return visits
5. dialogic loop.
Aganozzi also goes into detail about the academic research that has considered the potential of the dialogic approach to relationship building via an organizations’ website.
The author states that much research has been done looking at a spectrum of industries, where researchers found that the organizations’ websites were employing several features of Kent & Taylors’ dialogic communication – that websites were easy to use, informative, and motivated users to stay on the site and to return. However, most of the researchers found that many of the websites they looked at lacked commitment to providing feedback through what Kent & Taylor describe as “the dialogic loop”, the fifth principle and meant they were missing the relationship building opportunities that an online environment could offer to organizations, and which is a key element of public relations practice.
Certainly, for the organizations that I have worked for, social media has not been a dynamic way to build relationships but rather something that had to be done to put communication out the stakeholders rather than have a real exchange in communication.
I think the fundamental issue is that there has been no real commitment by management or the culture of these companies, to really want to have a two-way communication. This would mean dedicated resources that were allowed to really engage in meaningful dialogue and conversation on behalf of the company/organization. The majority of companies/organizations want to control what is said by all of their stakeholders – including what employees and even the communications team say to the outside world and in committing to a real two-way dialogue, there is a risk that the conversation may deviate from company and corporate messages and positions and therefore cannot be truly controlled.
Instead, information is posted by the organization on all the social media channels it has. At no time is a two-way conversation between its stakeholders and the organization really the goal, rather, the amount of posts and likes and shares and followers seem to be the main goal of the exercise.
Instead, information is posted by the organisation on all the social media channels it has. At no time is a two-way conversation between its stakeholders and the organisation really the goal, rather, the amount of posts and likes and shares and followers seem to be the main goal of the exercise.