Public Relations and traditional propaganda have been most effective when publishers control the narratives. Today, however, people—not the publishers—have greater control in the broader Social Media arena. The future of marketing, the key to setting the narrative is the amount of participation, not publication on its own.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, a fake news site held the top search result for “Election Results,” and the article stated (falsely) that Donald Trump had won the popular vote. That article had over 325 backlinks, hundreds of comments, and over 450,000 shares on Facebook; the CNN “Election Results” page, on the other hand, had only 300 backlinks, no comments, and 1/10th of the shares on Facebook.

Proving that participation is more powerful than publication…

Alica Wanless is the queen of “participatory propaganda,” and in her article on La Generalist, she contends that it is the key reason Brexit, Trump, and ISIS have been so successful as of late.

Wanless writes. “Propaganda is changing in a Digital Age. Audiences are no longer passive consumers of persuasive content, but active in its creation and spread, helping to further the agenda of propagandists whose messaging resonates with the target’s world view.

Participatory propaganda moves beyond a one-way form of communication (the propagandist using mass media to persuade a passive target audience), to a “one-to-many-to-many more” form of communication (the propagandist engaging in dialogue with the target audience such that more people are recruited to spread persuasive messaging to others, essentially snowballing the effect). Participatory propaganda offers the ability to truly dominate the information space through volume of messaging, delivered through a mix of real people and automated accounts, effectively making it difficult to discern where fake ends and authenticity begins.

In the Digital Age, this traditional approach is evolving into a participatory propaganda model in which the target audience is no longer mere passively consuming persuasive messaging but also becoming active in producing and distributing such content. The original propaganda message triggers, reinforces, or exacerbates pre-existing sentiments associated with the message in a way that prompts the consumer to actively engage in its propagation through available social networks, both on and off-line. Even if modified through the consumer’s own interpretation, the core message remains intact, and even acquires ‘new life’. At the same time, online monitoring tools enable the original propagandist to follow and assess the spread of his or her messaging, adapting strategies in a constant feedback loop.”

“Participatory propaganda is the deliberate, and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, direct behaviour, co-opting grassroots movements as well as recruiting audience members to actively engage in the spread of persuasive communications, to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”

Her article outlines the steps necessary in the application of a Participatory Propaganda model: In reviewing the Donald Trump 2016 presidential election campaign, seven steps emerged that clearly demonstrated this:

  1. Conduct hyper-target audience analysis;
  2. Develop inflammatory content that erodes faith in the opponent and manipulates audience cognitive biases: Fake news; Memes; Data Leaks/Hacks;
  3. Inject this content into echo chambers identified through audience analysis;
  4. Manipulate Feed and Search Algorithms;
  5. Mobilize followers to action;
  6. Win media attention: Be a trend; Stage a Scandal; or Commune with the news; and
  7. Rinse and Repeat.

Click here for an analysis of each of these steps.

PR is about controlling the narrative, and in our modern world collective engagement has proven to be a more powerful at narrative-setting than placement or coverage. The future of PR is participatory.

Do you need help negotiating the slippery slopes of PR? Contact Us for a no-obligation consultation.

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