Have your selfie an app-y little Christmas – fragmented PR narratives

bauble-smashedThis is the year of the selfie – which the Washington Post illustrates with some great examples.

For post #11 in my 12 Days of Christmas series, I’m situating the selfie within a broader trend of 2013 – the great use of photographs by online publications (and social media) which work superbly on tablets. On Friday, the BBC broadcast a fascinating review of 2013 “Moments in time” which celebrated both the professional and citizen photographer. It is interesting that although television works in moving images, it told the story of the past 12 months through static shots.

What I found of great value as a PR practitioner was insight from newspaper picture editors – who Luke Korzun Martin, the programme’s Assistant Producer, reports receive over 25,000 professional photographs every day supplemented by amateur shots. Indeed, he states:

2013 is apparently expected to produce more photographs than every previous year in the entire history of photography combined.

Phil Coomes, BBC News picture editor reflects in a post on the 10 year history of user generated images as part of capturing breaking news, and also how it gives a greater access to events both on a personal and a public basis.

Two interesting aspects of social media emerged from discussion of the Boston Marathon bombing. The first relates to how a journalist knows there is a breaking story when “a Twitter feed lights up like a firework”, the second was reflection on how an amateur iPhone image of the Boston Marathon bombing led to a hunt for someone spotted on a roof:

There is a saying that Twitter is at its best five minutes after a disaster and at its worst in the next 12 hours.

This quote seems to originate on Twitter from Matt Roller (@rolldiggity), who describes himself as a Writer on Community.

Again a building trend as the source of quotes, news-breaking images and odd fads can come from anywhere, or nowhere. I didn’t make any PR predictions for 2013, but reviewing my 2011 and 2012 thoughts , I noted an ever short-crisis cycle and how’everyone’s a celebrity’ – although I didn’t actually anticipate the selfie.

Imagery is undoubtedly of increasing importance in story-telling and PR practitioners absolutely need to understand and use photography and other graphics much more from the perspective of brand, news, semiotics and an ability to be memorable and remarkable (in ways that words often cannot be).

The second major trend of 2013 also needs to be evident in the PR Toolkit. That’s mobile and apps. Again, this is an ongoing trend, which is led by games (Apple reports Candy Crush as its #1 download free app). I argued in The Public Relations Strategic Toolkit that gamification is of increasing relevance in PR. I’m not convinced this has actually proved to be true so far, but the potential is there.

Snapchat and Vine have been among the most popular apps of 2013 – largely driven by personal use, but also with potential for PR practitioners to use for professional communications (and not simply the wacky). The opportunity does not yet seem to have been developed by brands.

Not only do these app-based technologies require digital competencies (or at least the ability to conceptualise and contract specialists in these), they need different story-telling and narrative skills.

Talking about narrative in gaming, Jennifer Cover discusses a narrative economy where people:

might take bits and pieces from several related narratives told in multiple media in order to form a full view of a particular story.

This requires familiarity with a nonlinear, disjointed or disruptive narrative technique where the story is not controlled temporally and may be harder to follow or understand. People may only access part of the story – which may be historic, inaccurate or lacking in context. Indeed, it is likely to be told by different sources, from different perspectives, with different communicative aims.  That seems to me a new dimension of narrative where PR practitioners could and should learn from literary and film scholarship.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.