Lobbying and democracy

Next year, the International Communication Association (ICA) will be in Prague. A post-conference on lobbying and democracy was approved today. A call for papers will be issued in due time. The post-conference is sponsored by the Department of Marketing Communication and PR, Charles University in Prague; the Public Diplomacy Interest Group of ICA, as well as Public Relations Division and the Political Communication Division of ICA, and the Network for Public affairs and Lobbying of the European Public Relations Research and Education Association (EUPRERA).

Organizations that conduct lobbying include business associations, companies, non- governmental organizations (NGOs), public affairs consultancies, labour unions and foundations. Since they are trying to shape public policy without running for office, this have important normative implications for how democratic systems function. How does this influence the one-person-one-vote democratic principle?

Critics often question the contribution to democracy, and whether or not lobbying is yet another tool for society’s most resourceful. Research on lobbying has produced a number of tomes that shed light on the importance of, for instance, lobbyists’ resources and their use of different tactics (e.g., Baumgartner & Leech, 1998; Berry, 1977; Chari, Hogan, & Murphy, 2010/2012; Drutman, 2015; Heinz, Laumann, Nelson, & Salisbury, 1993; Nownes, 2006). A conclusion from the research is that financial resources and human capital are important components for organizations and their ability to succeed with lobbying efforts.

With a few noteworthy exceptions, however (e.g., Baumgartner, Berry, Hojnacki, Kimball, & Leech, 2009; Godwin, Ainsworth, & Godwin, 2013), there has been little attention devoted to how lobbyists actually communicate. Thus, this post-conference invites contributions addressing the topic of lobbying and democracy, and the role communication plays in this regard.

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Visuals, more visuals

Have dedicated my latest column in the practitioner magazine Kommunikasjon to findings from the latest results from the European Communication Monitor concerning visual communication. While social media and cell phones are pushing the visual agenda, practitioners are lagging behind.

Zerrfass, A., Verhoeven, P., Moreno, A., Tench, R., & Verčič, D. (2017). European Communication Monitor 2017: How strategic communication deals with the challenges of visualization, social bots and hypermodernity. Brussels, Belgium: EACD/EUPRERA.

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Challenges of the Bots

Have written op.ed. piece in the largest Norwegian business daily, Dagens Næringsliv (behind pay wall), about the latest results from the European Communication Monitor. I am focusing on the fact that most of the respondents thought the use of social bots raised ethical challenges. Still few think they are updated about the development and a small minority has actually used the technology for their organization.

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Digital dialogue, crisis and social media

A consistent finding in the crisis communication literature is that organizations should attempt to have a well-established relationship in place with stakeholders before a crisis occurs. Organizations need to engage in dialogue in advance of crisis situations. Together with Abbey Levenshus (Butler U), I have written a chapter that summarizes and discusses the literature that gives advice on how to use social media in this regard. It is argued that there is still a lot to learn from the more sophisticated theoretical conceptions of dialogue. Dialogue can be seen as a quality of communication and of relating with others, and/or an ideal to strive for. The main contribution of the chapter lies in the discussion of the limits of dialogue in an organizational context, and the practical suggestions for how the dialogue ideal can be approached.

Ihlen, Ø., & Levenshus, A. (2017). Digital dialogue: Crisis communication in social media. In L. Austin & Y. Jin (Eds.), Social media and crisis communication (pp. 389-400). London: Routledge.

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Fanning the Flames of Discontent

New chapter out soon going on about the potential for public relations as a radical activity. Three different aspects or versions of radical public relations are discussed. In the first instance, public relations as a radical activity can be seen as that which provides a break with the previous functionalistic paradigm of the discipline. A second take is that radical public relations applies critical and postmodern theories that call attention to power struggles in society and criticize the role public relations plays in this regard. Ultimately, the chapter ends with a discussion of a third possible take, namely that radical public relations promotes agonistic, consensual conflict as the ideal for practice.

Ihlen, Ø. (2017). Fanning the flames of discontent: Public relations as a radical activity. In E. Bridgen & D. Vercic (Eds.), Experiencing public relations: International perspectives. London: Routledge.

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Risk, crisis, and social media

New pub with Joel Rasmussen: The literature on social media use in risk and crisis communication is growing fast, and it is time to take stock before looking forward. A review of 200 empirical studies in the area shows how the literature is indeed increasing and focusing on particular social media platforms, users, and phases from risk to crisis relief. However, although spanning 40 countries, a large proportion of the world’s social media users are under-represented in the research. In addition, little attention is given to the question of who is actually reached through social media, and the effects of the digital divide are rarely discussed. This article suggests that more attention is given to the questions of equal access to information and ICTs, complementary media channels, and cultural diversity.

Rasmussen, J., & Ihlen, Ø. (in press). Risk, crisis and social media: A systematic review of seven years’ research. Nordicom Review, 1-17. doi:10.1515/nor-2017-0393

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Critical public relations

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Have to brush up on my (non-existent) Portuguese. Heading off to Belo Horizonte on May 17 to attend the congress of the Brazilian association for org.comm. and public relations (Associação Brasileira de Pesquisadores de Comunicação Organizacional e de Relações). Will present a keynote on perspectives of critical public relations: Fanning the flames of discontent!