I want to thank the Institute for Public Relations and EUPRERA for the opportunity to share my research. This blog post describes the potential applications of the research I conducted.
In a recent discussion, Shel Holtz wrote, “People listen to each other these days more than organizations.” In addition, I conducted a study and found that cultivating strong personal relationships can help an organization achieve its goals by
- Fostering an emotional connection with the organization
- Building social capital
- Enhancing recruitment and retention
I have outlined below the strategies that the advocacy organization I studied uses to cultivate personal relationships. You can learn more about these strategies by reading my research paper.
Facilitate relationship building among members of your publics. Many organizations focus on cultivating relationships between an organization and its publics – this research also points to the value of establishing and encouraging relationships among members of publics, such as employees or customers. Facilitating relationships among employees or among customers can contribute to a strong sense of community with your organization and brand, which can affect retention among employees and brand loyalty among customers. I call this strategy peer linking.
Create an identity for your publics within your communication. Macintosh’s “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” advertisements exemplify this strategy because they send messages about the kind of person a Mac user is and the kind of person a PC user is. In the rhetorical criticism literature, Stein (2002) wrote about the 1984 Macintosh commercial that created an anti-establishment identity for Macintosh users.
When deciding how to create an identity for employees or users of your brand, ask yourself, “What kind of employee works for my organization,” or “What kind of a person uses my brand?” Then narrow your list to a core message. Applying insight from Jim Collins’ Good to Great book, make sure this core message is something that your employees or brand can be the best at and make sure that it is profitable to position yourself in this way. I use the original term for this strategy that was presented in the rhetorical criticism literature by Charland (1987), which is constitutive rhetoric.
Help your publics achieve their goals. Helping people resolve problems and achieve goals can result in strengthened relationships and social capital. This strategy was introduced by Hon and Grunig (1999) as task sharing.
Train staff to respond to questions and concerns when possible rather than referring someone to others. Generally speaking, people appreciate receiving a direct response to their inquiries rather than being passed around to several people within an organization. In some cases, organizations might consider empowering their front-line staff with greater decision-making authority to decrease the need to appeal to higher levels of command. Although referral is sometimes necessary, organizations should look for opportunities to reduce this. I call this strategy direct engagement.
Invest in the local level and frontline staff. Relationships are built locally, so organizations need to invest in their local offices and the staff who work there. Furthermore, organizations should evaluate satisfaction with the performance of their local offices.
Interviewees in this study who had only worked with the organization’s local level evaluated their entire relationship with the organization based on their local experiences. In many cases, the strength of the relationship and the benefits that accompany strong relationships hinge on the local level’s performance. I refer to this strategy as local investment.
Diversity Strategies for Grassroots Advocacy Organizations
Use the hat-in-your-hand approach. This term represents a four-step process for cultivating relationships with diverse communities. The first step is to get to know as much as possible about the desired outreach community. The second step is to partner with a member of the desired community and humbly approach community members together. This person could already be a member of the organization, or this person could be found through associations that are based on aspects of people’s identities, such as gender or race. The third step is to listen to the needs of desired communities. The fourth step involves sustaining efforts, even when improvement is not readily attained. Of course, evaluating unsuccessful efforts is also wise.
Target aware affiliates. If you would like to personally help local affiliates of your organization with their diversity outreach programs but cannot work with all of them, consider focusing on the “aware” affiliates who are interested in engaging in diversity outreach but are stopped by constraints. The organization in this study found that the affiliates who were actively interested in diversity outreach and who were not impeded by constraints were going to engage in diversity outreach anyway.
Tiffany Derville Gallicano
Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, University of Oregon
Winner, 2008 Institute for Public Relations Special Award at EUPRERA World Congress