Public Opinion and Persuasion (Chapter 7)

Public Opinion and Persuasion
(Chapter 7)
What is Public Opinion?
Public Opinion is a Moving Target
People constantly form and revise their opinions about public figures
often in response to recent tv appearances or Internet gossip
Fickle and variable
Even when a group shares an opinion, there may be
subgroups within the group that conflict
Only a small number of people at any given time participate
in public opinion formation
Three reasons explain the profound influence
of vocal segments of society and public
opinion momentum
Society is passive.
Society is segmented.
Society is divided.
PR professionals need to identify and track public opinions
to affect outcomes.
Public Opinion is Powerful
Plays a role in moving a group of people to action
Awareness and discussion crystallizes opinions
Through media coverage, an issue is placed on the public agenda
Identify key audiences through analysis of public opinion
Opinion Leaders as Catalysts
10-12% of the population drive public opinion and trends
"Opinion Leaders" or "Power Leaders"--knowledgeable experts who articulate
opinions about specific issues in public discussions
Interest and knowledge in a subject
Formal or informal
Not always highly visible in communities
Not always leaders in other regards
Help frame and define issues
Public Relations professionals seek to influence these opinion leaders
Two-Step Flow Theory of Communication
People rely on mass media, but also rely on formal and informal
person-to-person communication
Information is disseminated through media to opinion leaders
who then itneract with other less informed members of public
Indicates that some people eventually become interested in an issue
through a chain of two-step flow processes
"Opinion Makers" are at the heart of this process
"Attentitive public" are interested in the issue but
rely on opinion leaders to synthesize information
"Inattentive public" are unaware and uninterested in an issue
and remain outside the opinion-formation process
N-Step Theory of Communication
People are seldom influenced by only one opinion leader
Diffusion Theory of Communication
Explains that individuals adopt new ideas or products
through face stages
The Role of Mass Media
Agenda Setting
People tend to talk about what they see or hear on TV news programs
or read on the front pages of newspapers.
The media not only sets agendas but also
convey a set of attributions about the
various subjects in the news.
Select certain facts, themes, treatments, and words
to frame or shape a story
Interpretation of issues
Creation of subtle nuances
Framing is a continuous process and that the behavioral, attitudinal,
cognitive, and affective statuses of individuals influence how they
interpret issues
Ultimately, the goal is to encourage voters to change
the basis on which they make decisions about voting
rather than simply change their choices about a given
candidate or issue
The Role of Conflict
"Conflict"--Any situation in which two or more individuals,
groups, organizations, or communities perceive a
divergence of interest.
Conflict theory offers insight into differences
and explains conflict.
PR professionals often have the role of trying to minimize or resolve controversy in conflict situations.
At other times, PR professionals may generate or promote controversy to engender positive or supportive public opinion.
"Escalation"--Mass media play a role in the unfolding of
a conflict and serve to promote public debate by engaging
widespread public involvement.
Conflict can be framed to look a certain way.
Persuasion in Public Opinion
The Uses of Persuasion
History: Greeks formalized the concept of persuasion by
instituting rhetoric as a central part of the educational
Artistotle introduces ethos, logos, and pathos
"Persuasion is an activity in which a communicator attempts to induce
a change in the belief, attitude, or behavior of another person or
group of persons through the transmission of a message in a context
in which the persuadee has some degree of free choice."
Persuasion is used to:
change or neutralize hostile opinions
crystallize latent opinions and positive attitudes
maintain favorable opinions
It is difficult to turn hostile opinions into favorable ones.
Persuasion and Negotiation
"Negotiation"--the process by which two or more parties
attempt to settle disputes, reach agreement about
courses of action, and bargain for individual or collective
How parties position themselves before negotiations
can be crucial to how the give-and-take unfolds.
PR plays a major role in this positioning
Factors in Persuasive Communication
Audience Analysis
Characteristics, beliefs, attitudes,
values, concerns, and lifestyles
Helps communicators tailor messages
that are important
Demographic information
Available through census data
(unless the government is shut down)
Can help determine an audience's age, gender,
ethnicity, income, education, and geographic
residence groupings.
Buying habits, disposable income, ways
of spending leisure time
Polls and surveys
Classify people based on their lifestyles, attitudes,
values, and beliefs
Appeals to Self-Interest
People become involved in issues or messages that
appeal to their needs
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Basic needs (food, water, shelter)
Audience Participation
Attitude and belief is changed by involement
Suggestions for Action
People endorse ideas and take actions only if
they are accompanied by a proposed action
from the sponsor.
Furnish detailed information as to how
Source Credibility
Clarity of Message
Will the audience understand the message?
What do I want the audience to
do with the message?
Offer in-depth information
Discuss conflicting views
Flexible and adaptable in
format and content
Reaches audience quickly
Texting or Tweets
Has the means to reach thousands or millions
of followers with instant, targeted messages
Social Networking Sites
Has benefits that can't be matched by media
Timing and Context
More persuasive if environmental
factors support the message (timing)
And if the message is received within the context
of other message and situations with which the
individual is familiar. (context)
Important to have a firm understanding of the public's
core values so that can be taken into consideration
when designing a message
The Limits of Persuasion
Lack of Message Penetration
Not everyone looks at the same thing
Message distortion as they pass
through media gatekeepers
Competing or Conflicting Messages
Messages are filtered through social
structures and belief systems
People act on what they know
"The people most sought after in an audience
are often the least likely to be there."
The channel through which messages are interpreted
different people will see the same
message in a different way