Teddi’s Blog

Rushkoff (as cited in Bruns 2008) suggests “the rise of interactive media does provide us with the beginning of new metaphors for cooperation, new faith in the power of networked activity and new evidence of our ability to participate actively in the authorship of our collective destiny”. The rise of this media has ultimately led to this notion of produsage as explored in my previous posts. But to what extent can this concept of produsage be applied? Is it possible for this approach to be translated from the digital realm to create a physical product?

There have been suggestions indicating both sides of the equation. As von Hippel (as cited in Bruns 2008) states “production and diffusion of physical products involve activities with significant economies of scale”. He is ultimately suggesting that the translation of produsage unlikely. However there has been the suggestion by Bauwens (as cited in Bruns 2008) that as physical products contain an informational layer there is a possibility for produsage to be employed in the design stage. There are many limits to the scope that produsage can have outside the digital realm; however there is clearly untapped potential.

As public relations is about mutually beneficial relationships and symmetrical communication this informational aspect could be employed to influence the collateral constructed for cliental. Alternatively there have been suggestions that physical products have the potential to be morphed into these liquid artifacts. However given the nature of the products this may not be possible for public relations.

But what does this mean for the future of produsage? As suggested in discussions re: the lasting posting, to gain the most from this innovative social production we must strip away the competition element and emphasize creativity and cooperation. Thus mean in order to truly find success within this new framework of produsage and the emerging concept of Pro-Ams, companies must incorporate this internally as opposed to battling it externally. “The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distribute organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost” (Leadbeater & Miller as cited in Bruns 2008).

The nature of business is forever changing. Web 2.0 has put in motion a far more rapid series of changes. Businesses, in particular public relations professionals, must internalize all these aspects in order to maintain continued success.

As was touched on in my previous writings the distinctions between professionals and amateurs have long since been blurred. We have seen it in many aspects of web 2.0 proliferation. The rise of citizen journalism and collaborative information sites such as Wikipedia indicate that we are no longer solely reliant on what the supposed professional feed to us. In this media landscape can we even make the definition between what the distinctions between a professional and an amateur are?

Charles Leadbeater notes:

“The 20th century was marked by the rise of professionals in medicine, science, education, and politics. In one field after another, amateurs were driven out by people who knew what they were doing and had certificates to prove it. Now that historic shift seems to be reversing. Even as large corporations extend their reach, we’re witnessing the flowering of Pro-Am, bottom-up self-organization”

This notion of Pro-Ams is not a new one. They are people with a passion. A Pro-Am pursues an activity as an amateur, mainly for the love of it, but sets a professional standard. Pro-Ams are unlikely to earn more than a small portion of their income from their pastime but they pursue it with the dedication and commitment associated with a professional. For Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory; it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career. Given the nature of Pro-Am work it usually involves many sacrifices and frustrations.

There is a demand we rethink many of the categories through which we divide up our lives. Pro-Ams are a new social hybrid. Their activities are not adequately captured by the traditional definitions of work and leisure, professional and amateur, consumption and production. We have all heard and most likely used a variety of terms – mostly derogatory and definitely none satisfactory – to describe what people do with their serious leisure time: nerds, geeks, anoraks, enthusiasts, hackers, men in their sheds.

Pro-Ams are knowledgeable, educated, committed and networked, by new technology. The twentieth century was shaped by large hierarchical organisations with professionals at the top. Pro-Ams are creating new, distributed organisational models that will be innovative, adaptive and low-cost.

Charles Leadbeater indicates below where this notion of Pro-Ams fit in our current scale of professional engagement:

Understandably some professionals will find this notion unsettling; and will in turn seek to defend their monopolies. The more enlightened will understand that the landscape is changing. Knowledge is widely distributed, not controlled by a select few in their organisational fortresses. The most powerful, and some would say most intelligent, organisations will enable professionals and amateurs to combine distributed know-how to solve complex problems.

Pro-Ams help to build social capital: networks of relationships that allow people to collaborate, share ideas and take risks together. Social capital can help glue a society together and allow people to trust one another more easily, thus helping them to adjust to change collaboratively and share risks. New media and technology enable Pro-Ams to organize. They’ve embraced the nature of produsage and collective collaboration so it would seem that society is a step behind and needs too to embrace this new form of social hybrid.

Wikipedia’s editing processes are facilitated through a two-fold communicative engagement, they combine communication through changes to the content of the entry pages themselves and communication through the discussion features attributed to each pages (Bruns 2008). Given this from a public relations standpoint there is little threat for problems to arise from content being included on pages within the Wikipedia framework. Wikipedia also dictates that all entries must remain civil and neutral, ruling out the risk of attack from any contributors based on any issues that may arise.

This however does not suggest that Wikipedia and PR work in harmony. It has been raised in PR forums as to whether you should you create a Wikipedia entry for your own company and its products and/or services? Similarly, if you’re a writer, for your books? If you’re a composer, should you plug your achievements on the popular, free encyclopedia? The simple answer is yes, but based on the nature of Wikipedia and its restriction of neutrality many entries lose sight of the true point. This point referred to by Todd Defren, writer for online blog PR Squared, as the “dark side” to Wikipedia’s popularity, influence and openness.

When looking to create a new entry it is not just as simple as banging something up. 2 important questions to keep in mind are:

1. Whether you already have enough PR influence to warrant a Wikipedia listing – meaning that there is no merit in sticking up a Wikipedia entry that is little more than a stub because the subject matter is about a massively inconsequential local venture.

2. Is Wikipedia going to offer more content to people than what you’d offer on your own website – what more needs to be said about your organisation that has a place on Wikipedia but not within the website that you currently offer.

There is a high chance that a Wikipedia entry about your client exists. Chances are just as high that this entry is inaccurate, skewed, and perhaps even destructive to your clients business and there is nothing you can do about it. However If you do not have a Wikipedia strategy there is a huge hole in your PR program. When it comes to content on Wikipedia firms are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t. There is no escaping the dominant nature of Wikipedia and its forecasted continued growth.

Jimbo Wales, the co-founder and promoter of Wikipedia, has been quoted saying:

“I think that PR-firms editing in a community space is deeply unethical, and that clients should put very firm pressure on their PR firms to not embarrass them in this way…

It is a bad idea because of the conflict-of-interest. It is perfectly fine to talk to the community, to show them more information, to give them things that show your client in the best light. But it is wrong to try to directly participate in the process when you have an agenda”

However I disagree, no one is lacking and agenda. Wikipedia is not a form of one-way communication. So if a company decides to write up an entry that’s self-serving and unrealistic about their product or inserts self-serving content into other Wikipedia entries, Wikipedia prosumers can deal with it. No one gets the last word on the Wikipedia . PR and Wikipedia can ultimately work in harmony as long as the PR practitioners leave behind the marketing-speak and contribute just the facts about their company and/or products.

But I put it back to you, is PR firms editing their own clients pages unethical or is it fully undertaking their role as relationship managers to ensure that their clients have an accurate representation in the vast Web 2.0 landscape?

“The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another and who today are not in a situation like that at all” (Press Think 2006). Citizen Journalism as defined by Flew (2008, 144) is “the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide- ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires”. Blogging is the new printing press, podcasting is the new radio, YouTube is the new TV; no longer is the public forced to consume what traditional media is streaming us, we are now connected to news in far more ways than could have been predicted (Press Think 2006). It is opening an infinite possibly of new channels for news distribution that may ultimately be detrimental to organisations creating a public relations nightmare.

Citizen Journalism has been seen to have exploding on the main scene as more and more people gain access to technology that incorporates all aspects of reporting into everyday life. With the introduction of the camera phone even the most basic knowledge of technology can mean you have the ability to be a citizen journalist, with many of the reports being simple a luck of location rather than a skill of sourcing. McQuail (2005 as cited in Flew. 106) identifies a key feature of mass communication to be “the use of media technologies which enable large-scale production and distribution of informational and symbolic content to reach the largest audience possible”. These technologies have been seen to put in to process the convergence of digital technologies allowing for a far greater sphere of the Web. It has been seen that with emergence of Web 2.0 people are expecting to be included in journalism. Web 2.0 technologies will see the evolution towards “journalism as a conversation or seminar” (Gilmour as cited in Flew 2008, 144). With the prevalence of sites such as Digg and YouTube, we have been allowed accessibility to a wide and previously untapped audience. From this as stated by Gilmour (as cited in Flew 2008, 144) “the lines will blur between producers and consumers, changing the role of both in way we’re only beginning to grasp now”. For PR practitioners creating a target public group that may be difficult to define.

Jeff Jarvis (as cited in Press Think 2006) suggests “give the people control of media, they will use it”. But is it really that simple? Audiences have been given the means to report on news but the question remains; can ordinary citizen really function as journalists (Alternet 2007)? Technology allows for each individual to have their written, spoken and acted news be seen, but are the technologies available enough to validate their voices? The answers to these questions are in uncertain territory, audiences are no longer just passively consuming what the media is putting on the table. It can be seen that the growth of technology has facilitated the way we can both receive and report news. It is turning what was once a passive audience into an active participant. But are these news sources really filing this void or are they just providing us with bias and a public relations nightmare? That is for you to decide!

Alternet. 2007. http://www.alternet.org/mediaculture/55915/?page=entire (accessed May 2, 2009).

Flew, T. 2008. New media an introduction. 3rd ed. Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Press Think. 2006. The People Formerly Known as the Audience. http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2006/06/27/ppl… (accessed May 2, 2009).

Walker, L. 2004. On Local Sites, Everyone’s A Journalist. Washington Post. December 9.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46519-2004Dec8.html (accessed May 2, 2009).

The notion of produsage is a recent development in much work done by QUT academic Axel Bruns, both within his online writings and his book, of varying concepts involving the evolution of the web from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 concepts and how we are receiving information. The nature of produsage has been extensively covered by Axel but has yet to be engaged fully by other academics. While the definition of produsage amply covers the recent trends in the online environment whether or not it is a widely accepted notion remains to be seen. Many bloggers and academics alike still refer to this behaviour as collective collaboration. However many aspects of the behavioral patterns explored are vital for the way in which businesses continue to function.

Produsage is currently defined as the notion of collaborative creation and extension of information and knowledge in which the roles of consumer and end users have long disappeared and the distinctions between producers and users of this content have faded into comparative insignificance (Bruns 2008). Broom (p21, 2009) suggests “public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and the public on whom it success or failure depends”. As it is all about relationships it intertwines with the concept of Web 2.0 alternatively referred to as social networking media (Flew 2008).

Public relations is about creating a message for the masses, accordingly it is necessary to properly understand how the target publics interact and receive information in this new form. With produsage and the interactivity available within the web 2.0 framework it has opened up the possibilities for crowdsourcing (Bruns 2008). Griswold (as cited in Hutton, 1999) who suggests that “PR is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an organisation with the public interest, and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance”. This new concept is turning the notion of business on its head. It opens the formation and execution of problem management to a wider field and maybe possibly be changing the way companies deal with public relations.

As seen below Daren Brabham identifies the crowdsourcing process:

While this would be an ideal way to effectively dealing with many problems companies face in the game of public relations it could also in turn result in more problems. A key element identified in the produsage model is that all content is shared and not owned. Although this can be seen as a positive by opening the participation to publics directly involved it can run the risk of creating backlash from the participants if solutions are utilized in a way that they had not intended upon openly suggesting them in this model. As well as creating a nature of bias in the way companies are dealing with a situation as there will be little objectivity in responses received in this manner.

While the nature of produsage is changing the communication process it currently lacks enough structure to be effectively incorporated into the problem resolution in many business scenarios. However it is a notion that will be forever changing an adapting to suit the new movements in web 2.0 technology thus must be monitored for future implementation.