Divergent in the World of Social Media

This article by Tom Kelleher originally appeared on the Institute for Public Relations site on Oct. 9, 2015.

As a public relations scholar researching social media and teaching an introductory communication course at the University of Hawaii more than ten years ago, I found Henry Jenkins’ concept of convergence to be a godsend. In a two-pager in MIT Technology Review, Jenkins wrote that we shouldn’t think of convergence as a single construct, but rather multiple types. I’ve found four types of convergence especially helpful in making sense of social media in public relations:

  1. Technological convergence. “When words, images and sounds are transformed into digital information, we expand the potential relationships between them and enable them to flow across platforms,” wrote Jenkins.[i] This adds all sorts of social media options to the quiver of public relations tactics.
  2. Cultural convergence. According to Jenkins, convergence is “both a top-down corporate-driven process and a bottom-up consumer-driven process.”[ii] Public relations practitioners work where the two meet. They must understand and communicate from the standpoint of their organization’s cultural values while understanding and interpreting their publics’ cultures back to the organization. Participating actively and transparently in social media is an important part of managing these relationships.

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