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Online dialogue? Engaging stakeholders on a public health issue through collaborative storybuilding on the internet

Desai, R.ORCID: 0000-0001-7190-0602 and Surma, A. (2012) Online dialogue? Engaging stakeholders on a public health issue through collaborative storybuilding on the internet. In: World Public Relations Forum 2012, 18 - 20 November 2012, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Melbourne, VIC


The sophistication of new communication technologies continues to grow, and allied industries such as marketing, advertising and journalism are trying to keep pace. But what about public relations? How should the field evolve to take advantage of the unprecedented access to communities on the Internet, which in the past would have been too remote, expensive or marginalised to communicate with? Social media challenges the way public relations is conceptualised, approached and practised. However, while there is much discussion about the increase in interactivity, and mutual exchange between organisations and stakeholders, there is little hard evidence to support the 'view that communication via online channels is increasingly dialogic or collaborative (Pieczka, 20 II).

With a persistent emphasis on the normative approach to public relations, that of the organisation working to establish mutually beneficial relationships with publics (Grunig and Dozier, 1992; Grunig, Grunig and Dozier, 2002), rather than a critical approach, in which the 'public' is considered central to the success of such relationships, not as a receiver of carefully conceived messages (Surma 2006), the dominant paradigm is not conducive to understanding the nature of relationships and dialogue in the online public sphere. However, websites and social media do present real and accessible platforms for those organisations determined to develop and extend authentic and reciprocal relationships with stakeholders, with the Internet providing a platform for large-scale communication activities and a testing ground for online engagement.

We want to illuminate and illustrate this critical approach in public relations by conceiving of the organisation as establishing and developing a community through an ongoing process of what we have coined storybuilding. Importantly, this term suggests the way in which the most effective public relations communications are not composed of discrete 'messages' 'delivered' by one entity to another but, rather that such communicative processes embed, and are embedded in, the stories that give our lives meaning (and see Petraglia, 2007), and that enable our relationships to be reciprocal. Moreover, this approach both highlights the significance of narrative in constituting, shaping and negotiating human experience, and it pays attention to the connections between both the agency and the interdependence of community members and the organisation involved-that is, their mutuality.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
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