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This paper hypothesises Public Relations as the most important component of
human life and the elements of relationship building. It sets out to
identify the form for measurement of people and groups and takes the
concept of socio-economic and demographic grouping and concepts of publics
and advances their relevance in order that public relations can be relevant
in Internet mediated society.
The proposition accepts that, to understand the complexities that motivate
people and address the issue of one-to-one interaction needed between
organisation's and their (especially Internet) constituents, there may be
little by way of common understanding or even culture. This is especially
true when different people and cultures reach each other across a networked
The argument is put that people live in social space. The paper proposes a
methodology for thinking of such circumstances to assist management process
for evolving relationships which is described in terms of social frames.
This methodology allows the researcher to examine the complexity of
relationships in a simple and special way and forms a theory of Social
Frames for Public Relations.
The logical extension of the arguments is that public relations is a much
more powerful area for human development than has been claimed so far and
is certainly greater than any other subset of public relations as practiced
and even taught.
The practice of public relations intervention (commonly called public
relations) and the agentry services such as reputation development, press
relations, community affairs, investor relations, corporate affairs,
marketing and advertising, all have a place within the context of
relationships between people, organisation and organisations with each
other. Other relationship disciplines also come into focus as the
consequences of relationship management coming to the fore.
The theory of Social Frames for Public Relations outlined here provides an
approach for measurement that can be applied to all forms of PR
intervention including agentry, researching, measuring, evaluating,
planning and moderating relationships.
Relations with publics
Because all people have relationships with their environment and other
people and it is in our nature to work in and with groups of people, we
have powerful and sophisticated relationship building capability. Our
ability to rearrange our approach to relationship management on a personal
and, to an extent, commercial level is a special and heightened human skill.
People can subsume basic instincts (to the extent of compromising personal
survival) to ensure family and social/economic group survive long term and
thrive in the immediate future.
Humankind is programmed to demonstrate commitment to relationships and to
re-adjust them from time to time as is relevant to its environment,
knowledge or ability to interact. At one time a relationship may be pivotal
and at another trivial.
In order to work in groups, this subjugation of the individual allows
people to be quite capable of presenting very different aspects to groups
and individuals. This is true even to the extent of disguising age,
physical attributes and even sex. Equally, given conviction based on
knowledge, ability to interact and an appropriate environment, people can
be exertive and even exertive in the extreme.
If we can define the circumstance of an individual within society and we
are able to measure those circumstances, then we are able to develop a
range of theory and practice in an environment where a market of one or a
public of one can be addressed. Such a theory needs to take account of
the apparent changing mood, opinion, attitude or behaviour of the
individual in a moment in time. Using such a process and, by extrapolation
we can identify markets and publics and the extent of variation between
individuals within such groups and can apply such knowledge of variance in
our understanding of publics. In addition we can examine how such publics
interact and have consequences for each other. To achieve this we need to
define, what I call social space. Social space, I postulate as having the
three dimensions of knowledge, environment and interactivity.
By using the concept of social space and knowing that social space can only
exist at a point in time, we can theorise as observers in uniform relative
In this way public relations has the basis by which it can borrow some of
the thinking behind other concepts of relativity to describe social space.
In addition Social space can offer a level of precision determined only by
the extent of precision we require.
As public relations activity (i.e. relationships between publics and
associated PR, and marketing agentry) aims to change the relative position
of social space between publics, this is significant for identifying how
change is and can be effected.
The social frame
The significance of time is very important. At a unique moment in time,
which one can call an event, a person will be affected by a physical
environment, available knowledge and an ability to interact (social space).
Outside the biological being, there are no other influences. The social
frame, being an absolute, means we can observe very precisely.
Equally, a person can only survive by applying an effect, to a greater or
lesser extent, on all three components of social space and the effect can
only be observed in a different social frame.
The only way we can identify change is by comparisons between frames which
requires the application of relative measures.
This means that at the moment of an event, knowledge, interactivity and
environment have a specific value and can be measured when compared
relatively to another event. The person can be said to be framed by that
one event. A person cannot experience the same frame more than once.
Being (in) a frame is exclusively the circumstance that permits a
relationship or relationships and is the elemental component of
relationships with publics. As a consequence, this becomes the means by
which we can identify the social position of a person at a moment in time.
For this reason, I call it a social frame. This is an event (a point in
time) for a person with its own social space.
A social frame can be very different when environment, knowledge and
interactivity are different and from time to time. As a result the same
person can be sensitised to different issues in different social frames.
In practical application, social frames provide the means to measure and
understand the many sided nature of people, their public relations and the
apparent dichotomy of the same person apparently able to support divergent
social events, ideas and interactions which I call the Christmas tomato
Observing Social Frames
An observer in a uniform relative social frame would identify a person or
organisation in a social frame and at which time the environment, available
knowledge and interactivity will be constant for the subject and observer.
The observer may apply forms of measurement to describe a social frame.
Such measures must be consistent for all observations.
While their nature is infinite, we do have an ability to measure
interactivity, knowledge and environment which can be used for research and
the practice of public relations intervention. Typically they fall into
· An existing absolute
· relative to a norm
· measured relatively to another person/organisation.
Existing measures at the disposal of the researcher are:
· Where socio-economic and demographic measures identify environment.
· The availability of knowledge can be measured by, among other things; the
extent of education
· Interactivity is mediated by literacy, access to information and an
ability to deploy the environment and technologies to access and act on
In this paper, there is no mention of stakeholders and the considerations
of stakeholders. The reason is that, the concept of Social Frames for
Public Relations implies two-way asymmetrical relationships which is not
always apparent for some groups/publics claimed as stakeholders. An
observer of Social Frames requires social space to be definable. The
inherent presumption of a relationship (latent, aware or active) between an
individual or organisation and a stakeholder would only work when the
stakeholder has an actual feeling for, or actual two way asymmetrical
relationship - in other words is a public.
In social science, there are many other such measures than may be applied
but which must be applied consistently in any piece of research.
The complex interaction of available knowledge, physical environment and
available interactivity is such that it makes sense to observe social
frames as simply as possible.
The ability to mode social space with a limited number of variables is
helpful in applying research to actual relationships. For example to be
able to model an individual (or public) for their changed interactivity
between one frame an another and to be able to leave available knowledge
and physical environment as constants, will allow the researcher to
identify the relative effects of the three axis of social space
individually and then together.
To achieve this we can observe two frames along a single axis.
In this way we observe Social Frames for Public Relations showing that
there is no absolute distinction between social-space and time. Rather, all
observers share a common social-space-time that they separate into social
space and time in a way that depends on their relative relationships. This
allows us to be able to be more precise as influences are more complex for
the publics environment, knowledge and interactivity.
Identifying publics using social frames
The idea of being able to model a relationship between individuals and
individuals and organisations (or even between organisations) in social
frames means that the subject publics can be individual and special and
identified relative to one of a range of measurable attributes and each
other. Social Frames for Public Relations offers the opportunity to be much
more specific about what affects relationships and opens up opportunities
to consider markets and publics of one.
Observing a person in a social frame that has extensively common attributes
to other people allows us to transmute an individual into a group in a like
social frame and we can observe such a group of people as a public.
It is this ability that allows us to mix and match between publics in
researching, measuring, evaluating, planning and moderating relationships.
Publics are described by Cutlip, Center and Broom in terms of "a public
is simply a collective noun for a group of individuals tied together by
some common bond of interest and sharing a sense of commonness
". This is a
rather dismissive and superficial view but has merit once one defines the
sense of commonness more carefully. An effective way to segment publics is
to label them according to a system of relative importance, influence and
attitudes towards an organisation of issue.
Using social frames, it is not difficult to use this approach because it is
possible to identify the relative important, influence and attitude between
one person (or public) and another. This can be done for each of the
attributes of knowledge, environment and interactivity. The process can be
through any of the processes identified above (see Observing Social
Frames). Indeed, there already exists software for the process of
establishing such relationships .
Grunig and Hunt suggest that when an organisation or its publics behave
in a way that has consequences for each other, they create public relations
issues. When affected people choose to react, they can become members of a
public. Publics form around issues.
The Grunig/Hunt theory outlines three characteristics that affect how
publics react to issues, problem recognition, constraint recognition and
level of involvement. Within the context of social space, one will find
these ingredients of change between frames of a person (or public)
evidenced as follows:
· Interaction with their environment seeking knowledge about the issue that
concerns them and/or record (or process) information that comes to them
· A constraint being the extent to which the individual/organisation finds
there are obstacles that limit their ability to change/sustain their
environment and or knowledge and or interaction.
· A level of involvement being the extent to which the person/organisation
interacts in a particular environment or with available knowledge.
Using other forms of definition and measurement such as socio-economic and
demographic data a higher level of precision also becomes possible using
social frames because the element of relativity compares and contrasts the
nature of different social space as between social groupings and
organisations and at different time events.
Modelling social-space-time offers very powerful insights into the changed
nature and behaviour of publics.
Identifying the change
People have to change social space to survive. This means that people have
to move from one social frame to another. This change is the essence of an
individuals ability to respond to relationships. Social frames will
initiate or sensitise an individual to an issue (or issues) to a greater or
lesser degree. The extent to which a public will change between events will
determine the extent to which they are significant.
By developing from Grunig:
latent publics are low in problem recognition (knowledge) and involvement.
They may be affected by an issue, but are not involved in any activity
(interactivity) concerning it. The environment can be minimal in regard to
the issue. An expression of opinion is offered as a symptom.
aware publics while high in problem recognition (knowledge) may be
constrained in their action and involvement through lack of access to
interactivity or because there are environment constraints. Typically this
is evidenced in attitudinal change.
active publics are high in problem recognition (knowledge) and involvement
(interactivity) and have few (environment) constraints for action. Active
publics are noticeable as their behaviour changes.
By analysis in social frames we can identify the nature of publics using a
variety of existing methodologies and data and with enhanced precision.
The practice of public relations is frequently focused on changing
opinions, attitudes and behaviours which are evident in comparisons of
Math in PR
The advantage of the theory of Social Frames is that it is possible to
apply mathematical process to researching, measuring, evaluating, planning
and moderating relationships. The simple process of being able to identify
(t1 x k1 x i1 x e1) = (t x k x i x e)
is one and the same event for interactivity, knowledge and environment
opens up considerable opportunities for the development of public relations
theory and practice and, with robust mathematical process, there is an
enhanced opportunity to create effective software.
It would be naive to imagine the PR industry could or would use a theory
unless it was simple to understand an delivered immediate returns.
Fortunately the idea that a public (audience, market sector etc) can be
expressed as having three dimensions is helpful. In addition this approach
also means that there is a migration path from much existing theory and
The big benefit is that this postulate offers a solution for people who are
building processes for relationship development on the Internet where much,
if not most, public relations practice is now mediated and there is
considerable complexity especially arising from the vast array of new
channels and convergence of historic channels for interaction and broadcast.
Hitherto, remote publics or publics once remover from an organisation were
insignificant. Today, this is no longer true. Activism, consumerism and a
wide range of inter-related relationships combine with transparency,
porosity and Internet agency. This means that there is a need to be able to
in research, measure, evaluate, plan and moderating relationships using
effective and common processes. There is every opportunity to compare and
measure apples and oranges and social frames offers and approach for
disparate methodologies to come together.
28 March 2001
© David Phillips March 2001 All Rights reserved
>DATE: Sun, 01 Apr 2001 10:47:05
>From: "David Phillips" <dphillips@...>
>With a significant amount of work underway in the filed of PR
>evaluation, I have published three papers for peer review at:
>The nature of multi-motivated-dimension publics which we now have to
>address in our PR roll, has required a re-think of
>Cutlip/Center/Broom and Grunig/Howe in order that there is a research
>capability that can develop PR research, measurement, evaluation,
>planning and moderating relationships. The paper "Social Frames"
>begins to answer the technical needs of the industry and its research
>base. Your comments will be appreciated.
>Internet Reputation Services Ltd:
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