Advances in information communication technology continuously alter the face of public relations (PR). The PR communications are improved by the technological changes bringing a host of implications to the public relations practice. The integration of the modern communication techniques in a PR media strategy help to bridge the gap between the information-rich and information-poor individuals (Reddi, 2014, 289). One such technological innovation for communication that has an effect on PR communications is teleconferencing. Effective communication is an essential component of public relations practice. A media strategy that not only reaches the intended audience but is also effective is, therefore, mandatory for the modern PR practice. Teleconferencing is an emerging communication telecommunication technology that involves a conference in which participants in different locations are connected by telecommunication devices (Lordan, 2003, 95). This paper intends to assess the implications of video conferencing as a communication tool in public relations.
Technological Innovations in Public Relations
Lordan (2003, p. 81) opines that some of the greatest challenges and opportunities in the management of public relations are found in technology. Some of the implications that the PR managers have to contend with include a diverse array of communication technologies with different adoption rates. The technologies influence every area of PR practice such as research, developing business proposals and the final assessments of campaigns. Lordan further emphasizes that in working with some of the useful communication innovations; the PR managers should ensure that they are familiar with the technologies as well as those that are being applied by their clients or audiences. The changes have made the process of gathering of information to be accessible but difficult to control. Some of the modern means of distributing information include fax, e-mails, video conferencing, websites, internal and external databases among others.
It is necessary to evaluate how the new technologies have impacted the public relations as well as how the innovations can be used to promote effective communication to the target audience. Information technologies can be used to reach a various target audience that may include the media, public communities, organizations, government officials, employees, clients and other relevant stakeholders such as suppliers and business owners or investors. The innovations can be grouped into two categories. The first group targets bigger audiences and may include video conferencing, satellite videos, social platforms and other website-based tools. The second categories of the modern tools entail electronic communication media that are intended for one-on-one audiences. Such applications may include e-mails, fax, text or short messages services (SMS), video calls and other related technologies (Panopoulos, 2007, 3). Most of the applications are based on the Internet, a channel that is viewed as an essential and powerful element for public relations communications.
According to Johnson, (1997), innovations in communication have brought lots of changes into the practice of public relations. Some of the changes include the adoption of computers for word processing, management of media databases and budgeting as well as using the tools to assess the PR programs and for communications between the co-workers. Telecommunication technologies are seen to include the application of hotlines and video conferencing as well as satellite video feeds whose impact on the PR practice is a point of interest to many practitioners. The impact of new information highways on public relations practice is mainly seen to have a major effect on the roles of the PR professionals and the manner in which the practitioners are capable of carrying out a two-way communication. Panopoulos (2007) proposes that electronic PR comprises of the challenge of digital challenge and opportunities for firms globally. Long-term relations emerge when an organization applies electronic social networks to reach out to the target audience. Other electronic public relations that organizations use include monitoring of blogs and social networks among others. The sections below will focus on teleconferencing as an emerging technology and its implication on the public relations practice.
Teleconferencing in Public Relations
Teleconferencing has evolved from relying solely on telephones and speaker phones to the integration of visuals and web applications into the process. The practice of teleconferencing now comprises of video and audio conferencing as well as groupware. Groupware is a software that allows multiple users of computers to work on the simultaneously on a different document from various locations (Lordan, 2003, 95). Dwyer (2012, p. 253) views teleconferencing as the act in which two or more individuals in different locations participate in interactive communication sessions as a part of the virtual meeting. Three forms of teleconferencing can be seen: audioconferencing, the web and videoconferencing. One simple way of achieving teleconferencing is using a speaker/phone with no visual effects a practice that forms the main part of the audio conferencing.
Audio conferencing allows people who are in geographically dispersed regions to communicate verbally without having to meet face-to-face. The process takes place over the internet with telephone calls being made part of the process. Relevant software, microphone, and earphones are required to send and received the digitized information over the web. Web conferencing is a practice that is used to conduct meetings via the internet. Video conferencing, on the other hand, allows two or more groups to see each other through telecommunication devices (Dwyer, 2012, p. 253). The concept can be used for applications such research group, business, product presentation and general communication to remote audiences. Some of the strategies that are applied to improve the video conferencing process include introducing the participants, emphasizing the facial expression and gestures as well as getting to the point quickly while seeking feedback from the audience. A teleconferencing system is practical when the crucial elements of the conference room and transmission facilities are in existence. The practicality in the public relations is when the targeted audiences are reached and information dispensed efficiently with, and a relevant feedback attained.
Implications of Video Conferencing in Public Relations Communications
The impact of video conferencing as an information highway in public relations can be seen in the form of the benefits, disadvantages and how the technology influences the roles PR professionals as well as their perception of such systems. Effective communication is one of the major goals of public relations practice. It can, therefore, be argued that the impact of video conferencing as a new channel of communication has brought significant changes in the manner in which the PR perceive and perform their roles while improving the dissemination of relevant information to the relevant audiences. In an attempt to determine the effect of video conferencing in public relations communications, an understanding of what is driving the need for change and adaptation of such innovations in PR professions is necessary. It is also crucial to determine whether the new technologies are helping to reach to new publics as well as achieving strategic and unique objectives (Brown, 2009, 7). The role of public relations is to regulate the flow of information from the firm to the general public and other stakeholders. The discipline further engages and informs the relevant audiences as well as building relationships and bringing back information to the organization for analysis and evaluation. It can thus be seen that public relations have a direct and measurable impact on the strategic goals of the organization. A factor that influences public relations, therefore, has critical implications for the success of any firm. The impact of an effective communication innovation should help to change the attitudes and behaviors of the public concerning the overall issues that are affecting the business. Studies indicate that the most effective communication occur when there is a face-to-face interaction something that is allowed by video conferencing without incurring traveling costs.
Oliver (2009, p.107) asserts that the use of video conferencing especially for data collection has critical implications for the long-term planning of the public relation activities. Some of the concerns that are raised by the stakeholders include the broader strategic considerations of telecommunications. Public relations research is therefore affected by the constant shift in video conferencing technology that requires the researchers to define the new technological changes continually. The use of video conferencing and such like communications technology requires the setting of specific organizational objectives. Adoption of video conferencing for mass communication may affect the manner in which the public relations interact with the public. Creation of awareness of the organization’s products and services that require the firm to interact physically with the masses can be done through virtual spaces without necessarily going to the physical location of the customers. The business also gets the opportunity to create a global public relation practice by engaging individuals who are at different geographical locations of the world.
Video conferencing also affects the roles of the public relations. The functions that the public relations personnel enact include communication facilitator, problem-solving process facilitator, expert prescribers and communication technicians. As a communication technician, the PR person is concerned with taking care of the communication materials. The expert prescriber is in-charge of PR challenges and solutions. Information transmission facilitator acts as a mediator between the organization and its publics while the problem-solving facilitator helps to define the organizational problems as well as setting strategic decisions to solve the identified issues. In performing these roles, the PR managers require a systematic and efficient communication tool so as to achieve the desired change. The impact of video conferencing on the above roles can be seen significantly to influence the outcome of the performance of the PR personnel (Johnson, 1997, 216). The mediation process is enhanced when the facilitators apply video conferencing as a face-to-face interaction helps to disseminate the relevant information clearly. The PR managers are also capable utilizing the media to relay the problem-solving strategies to the employees.
Advantages of Video Conferencing in Public Relations
Video conferencing is increasingly replacing the face-to-face meetings. Several benefits of video conferencing can be observed in public relations. Some of the benefits include reduced costs of travel, improved public image, elimination of the communication gap and a direct impact on the organization’s strategies. Video conferencing eliminates the wastages of time by the public relations personnel when inefficient communication channels are used. Costs of transport and money for brief meetings are also reduced by video conferencing to a large extent. Poor communication techniques have massive cost implications on the organizations as messages may reach unintended audiences who may use the information to hurt the firm. Ineffective communication may also involve the company losing its competitive edge in the market (Whittaker, 1995, 503). Communication gap further exists when the PR department cannot disseminate information to the target audience. Communication is also improved since the weaknesses of the traditional modes are eliminated.
There is also the elimination of miscommunication that arises from absorbing and retaining the information that is being relayed. Video conferencing allows transmission of messages through trusted channels that ensure that the specific people get the information. Video conferencing helps to build strong personal relationships as well as holding good communication with every employee. The technology enables every individual to share without the intimidation of the boardroom. Productivity and performance of PR activities can also be increased through video conferencing since the technology helps to promote relationships through effective communications.
Productivity is also seen to improve because the favorable environments can be created when strong relationships are created between the business and the public. An improved customer relation is another significant benefit that can be obtained in the application of video conferencing in public relations practices. Video conferencing is an important tool for gathering information that is deemed critical in the public relations practice in the virtual space in which data can be collected more efficiently than the traditional modes. The PR department can keep in touch with important clients or potential customers through (Panopoulos, 2007, 4). Relationships can thus be built with the customers without necessarily having to engage the said stakeholders physically.
The challenges of video conferencing bring about some of the disadvantages of the communication technologies in public relations practice. Privacy is a major issue as unauthorized parties may have access to the video calls and thus, be able to eavesdrop on confidential conversations even in remote locations (Dwyer, 2012, 253). The innovation can be inadequate when large groups are involved and when complex communication issues are being discussed. Video conferencing as a type of teleconferencing may possess peculiar rhythm that at times may lead to an overlap or delay of the message that is being transmitted. Complexity also arises due to the lack of clear distinction between the interpersonal and mass media communication (Johnson, 1997, 215). Another challenge that public relations scholars and practitioners face is the fact that video conferencing and other innovations in communications may not fit into the interpersonal constructs of controlled and uncontrolled media.
Innovations in communication have a host of implications for the public relations. PR communications are improved by the technological changes bringing a host of consequences to the public relations practice. Effective communication is an essential component of public relations practice. The implications of video conferencing as an information highway in public relations can be seen in the form of the benefits, disadvantages and how the technology influences the roles PR professionals as well as their perception of such systems.