The Illusion of Predicting the Future, and How to Manipulate Public Perception
It’s that time of the year, when the various industries go gaga over predicting the future, as if they were all born clairvoyant. Somehow, the bug touches all of us – and we don’t call those “predictions” on their true name (aka a pile of crap), but we give them other names that make the reader believe whatever we say, as if it were the gospel: market predictions, market outlook, industry forecast.
The PR industry is not immune to this. In fact, if there is one industry that likes to pile crap and call it research, that’s ours. We are the guilty part in serving people illusions, we are the ones who drive the madness, setting up the trends. If there are any people out there still believing that the public dictates, it’s probably time to reconsider. The truth is that, the PR industry has been manipulating the public perception since the day it officially appeared as a discipline, and in fact, many years before that.
Sure thing, PR appears to develop a mutually advantageous relationship between the public and whatever business you want to put in the equation, but the truth is that PR doesn’t work for the public. PR works for the industry, and wants to see that industry thrive, because it benefits from its success.
If this sounds a bit obscure, let’s take a look at some contemporary realities. There are a number of people depending on the Internet for subsistence – PRs inclusive, but there are also actors, chefs, politicians, lawyers, retailers, and so on. In fact, every business has an online presence, one way or another, because some PR or marketing expert said so. There is an even larger number of consumers, using the web in various ways, to cover a number of personal needs: entertainment, shopping, culture, etc.
The PR industry identifies the public and these needs, and helps businesses find the fastest and most effective channels to them. The outreach has to be fast, because this is the nature of the beast – in other terms, the consumers on the Internet expect information in real time. They expect this to be not only timely, but highly relevant as well. Because the public doesn’t like to feel manipulated, this information has to appear genuine. And the PR industry developed an art to appear as if it were working for the public interest…
The PR industry is monitoring the social media – that environment described as driven by consumers – and gathers business intelligence. Social media monitoring tools provide the PR industry the necessary insight about when and how to engage. If people are talking one day about food, a PR will “engage” the masses with “targeted” communication. Expect to see an unusual interest for a specific restaurant, fast food chain, deli or product on this occasion. Because it is hard to trace who “started the conversation” everything appears like a natural development, where the consumers determined the news. But did they? Can an obscure somebody really start a trend, without a boost from a popular somebody with a vested interest? It is naive to believe so.
If an ordinary individual manages, through some inborn qualities, to become an influencer, the PR industry will identify that individual, and use him/her to “rise the noise level on the social Web.” Whoever believes that a PR cannot influence them, is delusional. PRs have so many means to identify the triggers that make people act, that they can manipulate literally anybody. For instance…
A number of modern PR gurus like to talk a lot about engagement, conversations, relationships. The same people, however, wouldn’t bother to give you an answer to a question if it doesn’t bring them a type of gratification: monetary, ego-boosting, exposure… you name it. You know these people, you follow them, you read their every word like the gospel, and when you try to practice what they preach, you blame yourself for not being skilled enough.
The problem for you is that their theories are hard to apply – time consuming, redundant. The Internet doesn’t wait for you to catch up. You cannot build relationships in a short notice, you cannot trigger conversations without the help of an influential guru. You cannot even talk about engagement if you don’t have a community to engage. But you can always practice personalization, and believe me, you cannot be “personal” with thousands.
So when you see a marketer followed by thousands on a social network, you see, in fact, a very skilled professional who knows how, and wants to manipulate the public perception for his/her benefit. The “giving” is staged to create the illusion of altruism. In real life, no one gives anything for free without expecting something in return, anything. And it’s more than fair to expect something in return for hard work, and for knowledge that you share with others.