Social media has been at the core of many political uprisings that we have witnessed in the recent past. These democratic revolutions have proved that technology can enable ‘positive participation’ that eventually reshapes our communities. So, where do we as PR and communications practitioners fit in?
Associate Professor Pradip Thomas, co-director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at the University of Queensland talks about how PR can leverage technology for encouraging ‘positive social change’.
In what ways do you think that communities are re-shaping?
Communities have never been static. On the contrary, they have always been characterized by ‘change’. However today, in the context of the accentuation of globalization and the proximity of technologies and cultures, communities are being re-shaped that much faster. Dispositions and habits, attitudes and behaviours are being re-shaped like never before. It is interesting however that in spite of such changes communities do hold on to their core values and it is intriguing that in many parts of the world the heterogeneity of globalisation has been accompanied by the strengthening of tradition.
Do you think that technology acts an ‘enabler’ in this social change?
Yes technology has from time immemorial played a key role in social change. Just think of the enormous influence of ‘industrial’ technologies on societies and lives over the last three centuries. And in the more recent past, the digital revolution that has taken the world by storm and that is re-creating the world in its image. Recent events related to the Arab Spring, point to the enabling role of social networking technologies in helping people to network for a democratic future.
How can PR leverage technology for encouraging positive participation?
While technologies are not value neutral, most technologies can be intentionally used to strengthen positive values and participation. PR agencies do use the media – sometime effectively, although in our world today, the issue is whether PR strategies intentionally embrace two-ways flows of communication. Since people the world over have become active producers and consumers, they value genuine ‘interactivity’ and participation and I guess this is what they expect from leveraging of technologies via PR strategies.
Do you have any recent examples where PR has successfully used social media for ‘communication for social change’?
There are many examples from around the world with the Pink Ribbon campaign being one of the most profound. There is also the use of social networking by anti-AIDS activists in South Africa. At the end of the day, PR campaigns are successful to the extent that they factor in the ability of consumer’s to translate messages into positive change practices and behaviours. There is little point in advocating people from low income groups to eat 2 fruits and 5 veges everyday when it is cheaper for them to eat fast food. Positive messages need to be accompanied by enabling environments.
What are you looking forward to at Conference 2012?
Networking, listening to other speakers and enlarging my own understanding of why PR is critical to social change today.
About Prof. Pradip Thomas
Associate Professor Pradip Thomas is the UNITEC headline speaker, presenting at the 2012 PRINZ conference to be held in Auckland on 10-11 May. He is the co-director of the Centre for Communication and Social Change at the University of Queensland. He is a leading academic in the area of communication and social change, communication rights and the political economy of communications.
This year’s PRINZ Conference offers a line-up of local and international speakers who will present case studies, research and insights to help you address a changing world as communities reshape. Follow updates on Twitter via #prconf12.