Conference Panel 1_Semiotics, rhetoric, and discourse theories
In the digital era the new configuration of communicational interactions, from the architecture of channels to the thematic and emotional segmentation of the public, poses new challenges for the specialists in communication. The Internet represents, undoubtedly, a semiotic universe in which new codes and protocols of communication are developed in order to face the challenges of a new geography, a non-spatial one. The former physical distances are now replaced in cyberspace by semantic distances that force the communicators to develop new informational, persuasive or manipulative strategies of communication.
Due to the extensive use of icons that seem to prevail in the digital communicational environment, sometimes the hermeneutic potential of the messages seems to be diminished, whilst the receptivity of the public varies specifically as well. In this context in which communication became a strategic tool, subtle modifications in the syntax of the messages induce important semantic modifications as well.
For a better understanding of these trends within the new communication environment, we propose the following topics:
- The axiological profile of public discourse in the digital era
- The semiotics of cyberspace
- Rhetorical strategies in digitally mediated communication
- The role of strategic communication in structuring the perception of online messages
- The symbolism of human interactions in digital era
- Persuasion and manipulation in strategic communication
- Communication codes and protocols in the digital era
These suggested topics are only meant to work as pointers, indicating possible developments of the subject. We will also consider other contributions that deal with semiotic and rhetorical aspects of strategic communication in the digital era.
Conference Panel 2_Public relations
The ultimate goal of PR work, namely the mutual adaptation between an organization and its publics, remains the same as always. Or, to be more prosaic (hence true to facts), it is the same since the Public Relations Society Of America stated it a few decades ago. Most PR professionals across the globe have already acknowledged the fact that digitalization in this field is not just a simple add-on. On the contrary, the latest tools and technologies provided by new media have structurally altered the way the organizations design their strategies and establish meaningful relationships with their stakeholders. The press release, the press conference or the event still represent a key part of the PR toolkit, but the infographics, the blogs, the quizzes, the interactive content, the vlogs, the in-house interviews and many other digital marketing activities have been also incorporated. We can measure a lot more accurate what we do now (unique visitors, number of tweets, number of followers, number of likes, page rank, just to give a few examples) and thus we get more control over what we have invested. Google Analytics provides in-depth data and helps us understand better and in a more detailed manner online interactions. Only backed by data can PR agencies keep pace with the development of the online world. As Damian Ryan noticed, "it took television 22 years to reach 50 million households; it took the internet just five years to achieve the same level of penetration. Things are progressing at an unbelievable rate, and we're approaching a pivotal point in marketing history – a time when digital marketing will overtake traditional mass media as the medium of choice for reaching the consumer of tomorrow". In this vein, some of the possible topics for our conference include:
- The continuous shift from one-way, linear communication patterns to polylogue-like ones
- The role of social media and social listening in engaging our stakeholders
- The growing importance of shareability
- The new trends in website design correlated with the principle of "call-to-action"
- The pressure on PR agencies to offer integrated services
- The added value of the unique content
- The organizational challenge of "being present everywhere" in the context of the limited attention span of the consumer
We hereby invite the participants to discuss, interpret and revise these topics and also any other related subjects within this dense field of public relations. Theoretical and empirical contributions are welcomed, as we are interested in both gaining valuable insight from practitioners and re-designing our explanatory frameworks.
Conference Panel 3_Journalism and media studies
The polysemy of the concept of strategy (understood as science, art, approach, attitude, ability, pathway to accomplishing objectives etc.) can be challenging for researchers in the realm of mass-media. In its most frequent use, the strategic communication of a media institution is put in relation with the instrumental actions used to achieve long-term goals, as well as with the timing of these actions and with the potential synchronization of different actors that influence and are influenced by that media institution.
In the society of the spectacle – dominated by the image of "unity in a happiness ensured by consumption" (G. Debord) – in which digitalization is no longer a subject of fiction or a projection of futurists, several questions are worth exploring:
- While tactical approaches would involve rapid adaptation to change in order to achieve short-term gains, could the development of a coherent strategy bring stability and a clearly-defined road to organizational success?
- How should media practitioners approach the need to adapt (D. DeLillo) to a social environment based on emotional capitalism (É. Illonz)? What are the challenges and the opportunities this type of social environment provides for practitioners? In what way and to what extent could practitioners themselves influence this environment?
- When media professionals are called to target an audience defined by dynamism, interactivity, speed of reaction, are the key decisions that they must take rather strategic or rather tactical in nature? What are the practical implications of each approach?
- In a digital culture threatened by mental nomadism (H. Bey), and by the magic of digital freedom of expression (G. Lovink), could a strategic approach mean immersing in the digital era, while a tactical approach may be rather associated with embracing hybrid forms, the mix between the old and the new, the offline and the online, the street and the virtual (G. Lovink)?
With these questions in mind, we invite media scholars and practitioners to bring their own contribution on challenges that strategic communication has to face in a digital era, including concrete ways in which practitioners have succeeded or have failed to cope with these challenges until now. Broader-picture perspectives and predictions on the ethical, social, and political aspects of strategic communication of online and offline media in digital times are welcome as well.
Conference Panel 4_Advertising
In the context of strategic communication, advertising has its distinct place as a communication activity over which creators of a campaign have full control: its content, its timing, its targeting, are all planned and paid for. While often being criticized for its intrusive character, advertising retains its importance in the economy of strategic communication, being a powerful route by which a brand gains its place in the lives of consumers. Strategically-built advertising messages are meant to generate a cognitive scheme in the long-term memory of the audience, one that will ensure that the brand has a distinct meaning for the audience, a meaning that can further feed interest towards the brand and, on the long-term, can influence the buying behavior of the audience.
The digital era has brought significant changes on all levels of the work performed by advertising professionals, including qualitative and quantitative research, account and media planning, creative work and production processes – all of which influence and are influenced by the strategical component of an advertising campaign. With big data, microtargeting, fake accounts, brand trolling representing serious challenges for practitioners, it is worth asking:
- How does the work of an advertising account planner change in the digital era? Are the pathways towards consumer insight any different now? What is lost and what is won in this new context?
- What new possibilities for creating and pre-testing an advertising messages does the digital world provide? What are the implications for the people involved in creative work?
- Should advertising switch to consumers and vloggers for content, in the quest for the authenticity that seems to be so popular these days on the web? Can consumer-generated content be relevant for an emergent brand strategy?
- Under what conditions can engagement with public issues be a fruitful path for a brand? Can advertising help make such engagement more visible for the audience?
- How could we deal with advertising rejection in the digital era? Is it time for permission marketing to replace the intruding character that advertising is classically associated with?
Advertising scholars and practitioners are invited to contribute to the Advertising Panel by providing their own answers to these questions or by approaching other aspects of advertising as a strategic form of communication in the digital era.