ONLINE COMMUNICATION AND PR IN ROMANIAN PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION. THE CASE STUDY OF PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS FROM TRANSYLVANIA.
|Balaban, Delia Cristina
The emergence and evolution of the Internet not only has meant the abolition of the space-time dimension of communication by facilitating instant access to global information, but also marked a shift to a new level of communication. Thus, if the Web 1.0 has meant mainly Internet based on communication by e-mail and websites, Web 2.0 releases the so-called social media era that made new possibilities of interaction available to users. New media communication marks a turn that does not start from the media to a specific target group, being defined by an exchange of information directly and multilateral (Zerfass, 2007, p. 31).
With the introduction of the term Web 2.0, Tim O'Reilly has observed a series of changes in communication, mainly due to interactive trends, and a change in perception of the communication process. Thus, the communicator status changes and the term takes on new meanings, as well as media consumption behavior. Through Web 2.0, users can participate and even take an active role in the communication process given the fact that in the social Web message receptors can also become content generators (Ruisinger, 2007, p. 193). In this respect, the idea of symmetrical communication between public institutions and external actors is emphasized in the Law no. 52/2003 on transparency and openness.
One of the major changes caused by the emergence and spread of Web 2.0 is altering the role in media consumption and behavior of users. The key term governing their new status is participation. If until now the mass media users were simply receivers or consumers of information, this innovation facilitates the active involvement of everyone, generating and publishing content online without technical or financial effort and without communication specialists. Thus, access to mass communication is free for almost anyone who wants to produce textual content, audio or video through communication tools such as weblogs, podcasts or social networking. The exceptions are still some groups of people who unfortunately have no Internet access due to their economic situation or their age. Based on the Internet World Stats, in 2014, there were more than 11 million Internet users, with around 56% penetration of the Romanian population. However, although communication has been broadened through the use of Internet, its impact is not yet significant, the rural population being almost entirely excluded. Moreover, the websites of local authorities from the rural areas are likely not to be functional and updated.
New media also allow users to connect to global networks. Since software is located on the Internet, as a common platform, any user, regardless of location, can access or generate content at any time. Thus, Web 2.0 provides the right to participate and be actively involved in the communication process, guaranteeing the democratization of its kind worldwide. Web 2.0 has also launched a series of debates regarding the authenticity and subjectivity of its applications. They filled news from conventional media with blogs and podcasts, forming a second public opinion, which exerts its influence on traditional media, expanding them, adding new and interesting perspectives.
As we have said, the greatest achievement of new media is the determination to overcome the borders of sequence and linearity of communication, the revolution in the principle of role separation in sending and receiving messages in the communication process. Thus, if the classic media functioned according to the principle few-to-many, which designates limited access to the media production process, selection, filtering, processing and dissemination of information, social media overlaps the roles of generator and content user. The boundaries of unidirectional communication specific to mass media are abolished in favor of bilateral directions, dialogue, which operates by the principle many-to-many and facilitates unrestricted access to mass communication process.
Within the context of new tools and ways of communication, public administration, which is often perceived as being characterized by rigidity and conservative approach, now has to line up with the technological evolution and respond to the new society's needs. Thus, considering the aforementioned ideas, there are two major sets of issues the paper aims to emphasize and to analyze. Firstly, based on content analysis, the research is focused on identifying the new media tools the public institutions use, as websites, Facebook profiles, etc. Moreover, covering a large number of public institutions from Transylvania, Romania, the paper explores whether there are major differences between small cities and big cities from the point of view of new media usage. Secondly, through an in-depth interviewing mechanism, the analysis aims to underline the main factors that influence the structure of the online media mix within the public institutions. The research was conducted in two steps, the same quantitative and qualitative methods being used in 2011 and four years later, in 2015, aiming to determine the dynamic of change in the new media usage in the public sector.
Public relations in the online space
The focus of this paper is mainly on the way new technologies and new types of communication succeed in improving the online communication of public administration. As the information and communication technologies arise and are profoundly integrated into the communication system of public institutions, the communication tools between public institutions and individuals facilitate a better interaction between the two mentioned entities.
This discussion is important in the context of digital divide, a still present issue in the Romanian context. Thus, while the digital divide is defined as the gap between the individuals that are computer literate and that have access to technology and those that are not (Norris, 2001, p. 4).
In the process of development from Web 1.0, Internet communication characterized by e-mail and websites, to Web 2.0 or social media, new ways of interaction occur. Targeted discourse is not only oriented from the media towards each dialogue group, but is rather characterized by a direct exchange of information. In this context, the biggest challenge for public relations is addressing new dialogue groups that benefit from active participation, content generation and connectivity in various online social networks.
Success of public relations, both online and offline, is based on detailed knowledge of the dialogue groups. Such planned action involves a thorough description of socio-demographic data, of criteria such as media literacy, knowledge and usage patterns of communication channels, etc. (Ruisinger, 2007, p. 19).
Opinion leaders of virtual communities represent new groups of reference for public relations in the online space, approaching them through traditional media channels that are normally limited. Exclusive users of the online environment generally fall into a young age category. They get informed especially through online channels and regard the information provided by traditional media as secondary. The presence of online journalists must be also considered in the activity of public relations. Even conventional media turns more and more to the online space, their communicators can therefore be easily accessed online (Ruisinger, 2007, p. 20).
Social media also brought new challenges in the business of PR. These issues include the inability to categorize subjects through journalists. Thus, ways must be found to generate attention among online users, who turned from simple receptors to content generators, multipliers and potential opinion leaders. Regarding press relations, discussion partners are now particularly online journalists who are different from conventional ones in terms of training and access to the profession. PR activity must adapt to these new communication tools to reach the new gatekeepers.
Another debate launched with the rise of new media is linked to the formation of public opinion in the virtual world, which is still characterized by a lack of transparency. For public relations this means that the linear distribution of messages is no longer possible. Opinion formation process must be adapted to new communication tools and models, bearing in mind that potential multipliers and opinion leaders exist everywhere in the online environment. Given the new conditions, content and PR practitioner's attention must take into account the degree of networking and digital reputation as crucial factors in the designation of new forms of opinion.
The study was conducted in 48 public administration institutions...
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