Grunig revisited: digital communication and the Four Models of Public Relations
It must be the time of year but I've had a couple of conversations in the last week or so with post graduate students seeking opinion on how digital communication fits with Grunig's Four Models of Public Relations. If I've lost you already I make no apologies. Every public relations practitioner should have a working knowledge of James Grunig's work - for a quick primer check this excellent post by Heather Yaxley.
In 1984 Grunig and Todd Hunt published the Four Models of Public Relations as part of a book called Managing Public Relations. The model describes the different forms of communications between an organisation and it's stakeholders.
The first model is publicity or press agent, the second is known as the public relations information model, the third asymmetric persuasion, and the final one the two-way symmetrical model is formal definition of public relations best practice.
Grunig's model remains as relevant today as is it did when it was first created almost 30 years ago. We get excited about the potential for digital to disrupt organisations only because so many organisations are wedded to propaganda rather than public relations.
You don't have to look far for Grunig's damming views on social media and the public relations profession. He committed his thoughts to paper for PR Prism in 2009 called Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation (PDF).
"Public relations has long been a professional practice where fads are common and conceptualisation of faddish concepts is weak or non existent."
"Most practitioners following these fads have skill sets limited to media relations. Thus it is not surprising that so many public relations practitioners view the new digital social media as a revolutionary force that changes they way they think and upsets the way they practise public relations."
Grunig claims that there is a danger that organisations embrace social media as a knee-jerk reaction with little thought to how they can use it as a strategic means of communication.
You can see that happening everyday as organisations broadcast editorial messages in networks with no effort to engage in conversation with their audience. As a means of communication it's no smarter than propaganda.
The opportunity is to move to two-way symmetrical communication that digital platforms enable.
Grunig is optimistic.
"Although many practitioners have simply transferred their media relations skills and techniques to digital media, the new fascination with social media promises to have positive consequences for the public relations profession."
I've never met Grunig but I'd like too. I think we'd get on.
Update 18 June 2013 - I explored this topic for my CIPR Chartered Practitioner paper exploring the relevance of the Four Models of Communication and the Excellence Theory in an era of digital communication.