prof. dr.
Dieter Georg Herbst

How digital media and technologies can contribute: Peculiarities of Digital Media

Marie-Laure Ryan stresses that every medium possesses a unique combination of features (Ryan 2004: 19). Digital technologies provide storytelling with a combination of four peculiarities – the Big Four: integration, accessibility, connectivity and interactivity (Herbst, 2004a). The two most important for Global Relationship Management are Connectivity and Interactivity.


Connectivity means that the building blocks of devices, technologies, applications, media assets, etc. are connected with one another and communicate (key word: supersystem of systems; Herbst 2014). Connectivity with and within the digital realm has increased dramatically in recent years. Three examples:

  • Media Convergence is the consolidation of traditionally distinct disciplines like print, tv, radio, digital (Jenkins, 2006).
  • Devices and Technologies: people mail with their phones, go online with their televisions and listen to radio online. Mobile end devices like smartphones and tablets open up new user scenarios and multi-screen experiences via apps and digital utilities like Location Based Services.
  • Social Networks and Sharing Platforms enable new forms of communication where every individual can access, forward, rate, comment and themselves create content. Marie-Laure Ryan talks about networking computers in physical space in order to bring users together in virtual environments.

Connecting with the space outside the Digital Media: the digital realm is increasingly connected with the spaces outside of digital media.

Users have three possible modes of navigation: first, the haphazard pursuit of links through which the user drifts; secondly, goal-oriented travel along a certain path and thirdly, a concrete search for a particular piece of content undetermined by a particular path.


Interactivity is closely tied to integration and connectivity. Many authors see interactivity as the essential difference to traditional storytelling: “interactivity is repeatedly cited as the feature of digital media that most clearly distinguishes it from older, non digital genres.” (Ryan 2004, 2006; Aarseth 1997; Alexander 2011). Interactivity can either be described as selective, from clicking on a link, or productive, from participation in a story plot with dialogue or gesture (Ryan 2004: 339).

Accordingly, PR in digital media entails a very active user in contrast to classical PR, which consists of an active narrator and a passive audience. Users in digital media aren’t required to wait until something happens, rather they can make something happen. The digital PR user can influence the relationship directly: users can reach into the communication and help shape it. The question is as follows: does the user select a story (human interacts with machine) or tell a story as user-generated content? (human interacts with content).

Organized and collective consumer movements against a company are a part of the risk of interactivity. The examples in recent years of how interactive critical discussions have gravely damaged corporate images are many.

Relevance of Global Relationship Management in PR

The relationships between an organization and its publics represent a central concern for the research and practice of public relations: “Public Relations are the management of communication of an organization and its publics.” (Grunig & Hunt, 1984: 7). Ströh defines Public Relations as “the umbrella function that manages the communication between an organization and its publics to build and enhance healthy relationships to the benefit of all parties involved.” (Ströh, 2007) Cutlip, Center and Broom define Public relations as “the management function that identifies, establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.” (Cutlip/Center & Broom, 2009: 5)


Very different social media channels world-wide

Many companies think that they can be reached globally with their Facebook account – “the web is global”. In fact, Facebook has a very limited reach in China and India, two very fast growing markets.

Social Media and Relationship Management

Social media have radically changed communication behavior and created new means to manage relationships. “Social media presents new opportunities but also risks for political actors. The moment they start using social media they enter an implicit communicative agreement with the public; they are expected to seek reciprocity and interaction and not, as they traditionally have done, prioritize the internal party organization, members, supporters, and the media, instead of the public.” (Karlsson, Clerwall & Buskqvist, 2013: 2).

In particular, social media platforms grant companies opportunities to contact and engage with existing and potential customers. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ have radically altered the possibilities for engagement of publics and relationship management. Social media enable users to participate, both passively and actively, in communication, such that they can integrate and co-create brand messages (Kozinets et al. 2010).

Social media enables real time communication among people and groups. As such, social networks are “Platforms […] which foremost serve to establish, nurture and manage social relationships as well as create new ones.” (Meckel & Stanoevska-Slabeva 2008: 21). They serve to “expand and care for relationship networks.” (Ebersbach, et al. 2008: 33).

Passive and active participation on brand pages both have measurable effects on the customer–brand relationship and consumer behavior.  Thus, managers who invest in social media brand pages open an efficient channel to communicate brand messages, engage customers, and strengthen individual bonds with the brand (Jahn & Kunz 2012).

Boyd & Ellison summarize the three primary functions of social networks. According to which, social networks are “web-based services that allow individuals to

(1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system,

(2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and

(3) view and traverse their list of  connections and those made by others within the system.” (Boyd & Ellison 2007: 211).

Social networking sites provide constant connectivity among consumers (Jansen, Zhang, & Sobel, 2009) and PR-managers are focusing on leveraging these social interactions among customers to achieve benefits for their customer relationships. In today’s connected world, online content is an integral part of a customer, and sharing online content can have a big impact on sales and the development of customer relationships (Godes & Mayzlin, 2009). CRM is as “a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation” (Greenberg, 2010: 34).

Social media and relationship management

All in all, social media seem to be the perfect channels for corporate relationship management:

  • The company uses channels that already exist
  • Enormous reach
  • High usage
  • Many active users searching for corporate and brand information

Belonging to the challenges is that human behavior has changed dramatically: users have evolved from passive receptors into active participants. Social networks are places where relationships arise, but also where they may end as quickly as they began (Stegbauer 2011: 252).

Global relationship management

Although there seem to be many opportunities for relationship management with target audiences there are some important problems in regard to Global Relationship Management:

  • Social media channels vary widely worldwide
  • Enormous cultural differences worldwide
  • Regulatory differences
  • Language differences
  • Differences in design: pages are too colorful, loud and tacky for our tastes (China)
  • Many channels we use in Europa are censored or restricted in use (“Great Firewall of China“ like for Facebook, Twitter and Google+)
  • Popular users get arrested like the Sina Weibo user Charles Xue (12 million followers)
  • Governments claim a „Real Name Policy“

One example of different uses and activities in Germany and worldwide: In Germany 9% of users are members in a brand community (15% worldwide). 8% write about brands on the web (world-wide 15%). 17% interact with brands (40% worldwide).

Examples of different Chinese channels

Many companies think that they can be reached globally with their Facebook account – “the web is global”. In fact, Facebook has a very limited reach in China and India, two very fast growing markets. The number of Facebook users in China is 597,520 (as of 25 February 2013), only 0.04% of the population. Its rank is 99th (Grothe & Weber, 2013). Is China a developing country in Social Media? Not at all:

Digital Brand Management around the World (

Digital Brand Management around the World (

China has 591 million internet users (Simcott, 2014). 57% are male users, 70% are under 35 years of age. 91% of the Chinese online population have a social media account. These social media are different to those in the rest of the world. The social media channels they use are a parallel universe to our social media channels:

  • Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo: China’s Twitter
  • Renren, Kaixin 001 and Qzone: China’s Facebooks
  • Youku: China’s YouTube
  • Weixin: China’s Whatsapp
  • Jiayuan: China’s Friendscout 24

Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are the largest microblog services. Both claim approximately 500 million users (Niklas, 2014). Sina Weibo is the favorite social network in China with 280 million active users and 500 million registered users (Simcott, 2014). Due to increased censorship, the network lost about 9 % of its user base in 2013.

Renren, Kaixin 001 und Qzone, China’s Facebooks, have over 100 million users each. Qzone is China’s largest social media platform with 600 million registered members (Niklas, 2014). 

Social media channels differ world-wide

Social media channels differ world-wide (source:

Challenges for global relationship management

The example of Chinas shows that there are very different social media channels world-wide with different reach, users, cultures and languages.

Twitter Invests $10 Million in MIT’s Media Lab


By Kurt Wagner

October 1, 2014, 1:51 PM PDT

Twitter Invests $10 Million in MIT’s Media Lab to Better Understand Online Communication

Twitter is investing $10 million in MIT’s Media Lab — and providing access to its entire Twitter stream and tweet archive — in pursuit of a better understanding of how people are communicating and sharing online. The investment will help fund the Laboratory for Social Machines, according to MIT, a new organization that will build “collaborative tools and mobile apps” to support and study public communication. The organization, which will include MIT students, will operate independently of Twitter, although Twitter’s chief media scientist, Deb Roy, will lead the LSM (he’s also a professor at MIT).

It’s unclear whether Twitter will have any ownership over products or findings that result from the LSM, although MIT’s characterization of Twitter’s involvement as an “investment” seems to imply that it will. A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to Re/code’s request for comment.

Round Table, Open Innovations Forum 2014, Moskow

My Open Innovations Forum 2013 on Digital Reputation Management

My Open Innovations Forum 2013 on Digital Reputation Management

Invitation as Special Guest Speaker

Just got the invitation as Special Guest Speaker to this year’s Open Innovations Forum in Moscow (Technopolis) from October 14-16. Very happy to be participant in the Round Table “From profesional occupations to competenices: Human capital assets of the future.”

About the Round Table

The fledgling knowledge-based economy is determined by the dynamic forces that are impacting and influencing industries, across markets, including the new opportunities that advanced technologies enable. From ICT robotics in medicine, to the extraction, and transformation of raw materials for construction, the result of this emergence dictates the professional opportunities of the future. Who are these future industry experts, and what are the unique skill-sets that will provide the competitive advantage in their respective field? Participants in this round-tablediscussion will examine best practices, and lessons learned from different educational systems, that are meeting this challenge in response to the shift in demand.