Speak out and be heard! How has Digital Social Media given publics a new voice and how does this affect PR?

In Chapter 6 of “Rethinking Public Relations (K. Moloney & C. McGrath, 3rd Edition) it states “The capacity of ordinary people to create, adapt and circulate communication has been raised by Digital Social Media (DSM) to unprecedented level”.

Whether you agree with this statement or not, what is certain is that digital and social media has allowed groups of people who would have never had a voice before, to speak out and have their opinions not only heard but exchanged, discussed and circulated. It has also given minority groups the opportunity and courage to express a view that is incongruent with the dominant view being expressed by dominant factions of society (government, authorities, big business, the church etc).

The spiral of silence theory developed by Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann in 1974, can be applied to this extraordinary phenomenon that DSM has brought about. “Spiral of silence is the term referring to the tendency of people to remain silent when they feel that their views are in opposition to the majority view on a subject.
People remain silent because:
1. Fear of isolation when the group or public realizes that the individual has a divergent opinion from the status quo.
2. Fear of reprisal or more extreme isolation, in the sense that voicing said opinion might lead to a negative consequence beyond that of mere isolation (loss of a job, status, etc.)”

Watch the Spiral of Silence Video:

Why are minority groups breaking the spiral of silence? The advent of online communities and the fact that they are to a certain degree “unseen” with a level of anonymity, has given those who would have been too fearful to speak out and otherwise stayed silent, an opportunity to connect and group together with likeminded individuals to exchange information, opinions, ideas etc. This has also shown them that they are not the minority but the majority.

In numbers there is strength and the opportunity to come together in large groups helps to lose the fear of speaking out about differing feelings, opinions and beliefs. Digital and social media therefore offers a huge platform and opportunity for minority opinion holders to speak out and be heard! There are literarily thousands of online communities to be found on line.

For PR departments and practitioners this has meant a much more heightened sensibility and awareness of your differing stakeholders and publics and that the dominant societal view may not necessarily be the one that you should take into primary consideration when planning PR pitches and campaigns. It has also meant that PR departments and practitioners can no longer be under the illusion that they can control the message and in fact that you really truly need to engage with your publics to build a relationship. Digital media can really be the door to a much more fruitful relationship with your publics if used not as somewhere to dump information but in which to engage in a meaningful dialogue.

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