Too much conversation?!

6 02 2009

[by Mihaela Vorvoreanu, cross-posted from PR Connections]

PR practitioners talk of engagement and conversation. PR academics talk of relationship management and dialogue. Everybody agrees that this is what PR should be doing: building relationships with publics by engaging them in conversations.

So we see organizations eager to engage with publics, and a lot of PR-motivated conversations out there. Some conversations happen between faceless organizations and publics, and others, in Cluetrain Manifesto fashion, between people who work for organizations and publics.

But, can we have too much conversation?! Is it possible that these PR engagement and relationship building efforts are flooding society with too much conversation?

PR-motivated conversations and the resulting relationships, however beautiful and friendly and useful the might be, do not come from the heart. They are not relationships motivated by care and affection. As much as we hate to admit it, they are relationships motivated by ROI.

So what happens to a society flooded with corporate, or PR conversations?

The worst case scenario, from the PR perspective, is that those conversations are discarded as spam and unwanted noise. We already have plenty of that.

The best case scenario, from the PR perspective, is that those conversations become seamlessly weaved in the fabric of everyday conversations and relationships (the kind motivated by care and affection).

But what does this best case scenario mean for society?

I’m afraid it might lead to a society that blurs the lines between personal and commercial in ways that privilege consumerism to a dangerous degree. (You’ll tell me that in these economic times there’s nothing wrong with consumerism. I’ll tell you that as much as consumerism runs this country, there’s more to life and to human beings.)

I’m afraid it might lead to a society where trust in people and relationships is eroded. I can imagine becoming “real” friends with @Person_from_corporation, and feeling affection and care. But are my affectionate interactions with this person measured at the end of the month, do they become data points in ROI reports?

So what I’m asking is, is it possible that the PR drive for engagement and relationships will lead to too much conversation?

Should we be engaging in conversation with publics all of the time, in all contexts?

When should we just keep quiet, stay out, and encourage the ongoing conversation by NOT joining it?




2 responses

7 02 2009
Tiffany Gallicano

You presented interesting points to consider. In my view, we see both best case and worst case scenarios, depending on the example you select. I believe that relationships that are motivated solely by ROI can often be exchange relationships. If I feel like someone has cultivated a professional relationship with me through the personal influence strategy, I am happy to be counted as a dot on his or her metrics. Afterall, it’s an exchange relationship. I think an exchange relationship is better than no relationship because it contributes to a sense of community — even if it’s not as rich.

Another point too though is that people who are doing something for ROI might also genuinely care, and I am guessing that this is the place where your question arises about cynicism and whether a ROI-motivated person “really cares” or not. It’s a good question. Based on my research about relationship types, I believe that whether this question is asked depends on the person. I interviewed people in the same relationship with an advocacy organization — some insisted that the relationship was exchange and others insisted that it was communal. And I couldn’t find any real differences in their experiences with the organization — it seemed to be more of an orientation toward the world. My preliminary thoughts are that some people are in more of an “exchange” mindset and others have a more “communally oriented” worldview. These are just initial thoughts; of course more research is needed.

7 02 2009
Strategies for Cultivating Personal Relationships « The PR Post

[…] What strategies do you use to cultivate personal relationships in professional contexts? What benefits or drawbacks do you see from cultivating personal relationships in professional contexts? On the PR Profs blog, Mihaela Vorvoreanu talks about a potential drawback of cultivating personal relationships — see her discussion here. […]

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