Hooked on PR Research

One of the great professional pleasures of my life involves an academic conference filled to the brim with fascinating public relations research. It’s the International PR Research Conference put on by the Institute for Public Relations, and I’ve attended four of the past five years. That it’s held early in March in Miami, Fla., has NOTHING to do with it!

OK, well, it has a little bit to do with it.  The tropical breezes feel especially fine in the icy wake of February in Cleveland, and there is terrific food, shopping, pleasant walks and an excellent pool. But, other than that, it’s all business for three days.

I’ve had the good fortune to present at IPRRC twice; the first time, 2008, I presented a paper with my research pal Dr. Julie O’Neil of Texas Christian University that covered one large company’s internal communication program, focusing especially on the measurement of the work. It won an award, of which I am very proud indeed – the Jackson-Sharpe Award for research by an academic and a practitioner (I’m not the academic, or wasn’t…).

This year, I presented a work in progress, an exploratory study of corporate blogs and Twitter activities, with an eye on whether they’re demonstrating James Grunig’s Excellence Theory – are they conversations? – or other PR theories.

The idea is to see what actually IS in this space for 18 companies – the work is ongoing (frantically; the final paper is due May 1), and I was able to share a few key findings.

  1. There’s a lot of using social media as a broadcasting tool – no two-way, no evidence of symmetry (mutual change) – and persuasion, therefore, still rules.
  2. There are a couple of firms that are doing yeoman’s work and engaging in conversations – there are also seven or eight companies who’ve abandoned their blogs since December 2009.
  3. One industrial giant, interestingly, has subject matter experts blog and then engage engineers and customers in a discussion about improving the product – this is a rarity.
  4. Twitter as link-bait is quite in evidence.
  5. The Cluetrain may have left the station, but it’s creeping along a siding, not hurtling on a MagLev track.

This is hardly conclusive or particularly scientific – that’s why we call the paper exploratory. Dr. O’Neil and I have more work to do this coming month, but this paper is intended to be the first of three. Next step is a qualitative discussion with some of the people behind social media at our subject companies, followed (we hope) by a quantitative survey of users of corporate blogs and their associated Twitterverse (we’ll see; that’s going to take some cash…).

In the meanwhile, stay tuned over the next few days as I recount some of the work that impressed me the most at IPRRC this year.  Once our paper is done, we’ll share.


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4 Responses to “Hooked on PR Research”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sean Williams, Sean Williams, Denise Bortree, Frank Walton, RF|Binder and others. RF|Binder said: RT @CommAMMO: A bit of explanation for my Tweet-Paucity of late: http://bit.ly/9kNqz0 Presented at #IPRRC2010 More to follow soon! […]

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by gail_nelson: RT @CommAMMO: Explanation for my Tweet-Paucity of late: http://bit.ly/9kNqz0 Presented at #IPRRC2010 [Sean, can’t wait to read your study!]…

  3. Greg Smith says:

    Sounds interesting, Sean. I’m still a Twitter sceptic. Just too many people in PR using it to go around in circles. I’d be more interested in a summary of your Jackson-Sharp award for measurement. Congratulations.

  4. Sean says:

    Greg, thanks for stopping by. You’re right, I should write a summary of that paper — that was before I launched the company and started these feverish musings, and I should babble a bit about it. Thanks for the idea.

    Cheers for now!