Twitter is the agency for the realisation of true rhetorical symmetry. It has forged a forum where the equality of ideas is nurtured and promoted, and where all participants are involved in the co-creation of shared meaning.
‘Shared meaning, a vital outcome of public relations, results when each market, audience, or public that has a stake in some matter co-creates meaning through dialogue.’ (Heath 2001)
Rhetorical symmetry is the idealistic notion that each idea contested in public has an equality of strength. It is ethical because it empowers participants to engage. It bypasses the market-like struggle for superiority, where the luxury of having the ability to speak loudest to the largest audience (the traditional media) is subverted, empowering the voices of everyone.
The traditional media, in the days before Twitter, had the authority to be heard above any conflicting voices. Organisations with the financial means to command the process of transmission reigned superior over less powerful stakeholders.
Social media platforms have provided everyone with the resources required to become a journalist, and the audience, segmented and emancipated, are in control of where they decide to learn about news stories or where they seek new information. This shift of power has opened the door to true two-way symmetrical models of communication.
The idea of a two-way symmetrical model of communication was born at a time when it was an idealistic notion. An attempt to make the inherently unfair struggle for dialogic equality seem achievable. But this supposed utopia is now upon us.
Twitter functions as a negotiation situation for a pluralist society, providing every stakeholder with a platform to share ideas and co-create meaning through dialogue and engagement.
There is of course still a process of negotiation but the thoughtful idea is champion, not the transmission process. The better argument is superior to the stakeholder who is better at arguing, or who has access to more effective means of arguing their point of view.
The challenge for PR is how we embrace this opportunity. It will not go away and it can not be defeated; the counter argument to every argument has the potential to be in the public domain, and it is very likely it will.
It is time for the true value of public relations to be recognised and utilised. Public relations can play a vital role in the building of communities and assist in the construction of micro-societies where organisations can take part in the conversation, and engage in discursive challenges to their point of view or practices.
The days of organisations disseminating information to stakeholders on their own terms have passed. Genuine engagement is essential in the quest to gain social value, or build reputation.
Welcome to democracy, what have you got to say?