As a public relations professional in this age of new media, you likely find yourself asking questions such as these:
How do I reach mobile-device users with my messages – and what effect will that platform have?
When do I use video, audio, virtual reality, or just plain text to produce the most compelling content?
In this era of misinformation, how do I distinguish my organization’s information as credible?
How can I use data for storytelling?
Best manage international news flow?
Can my message break through to multi-screen users?
Which Twitter users are really the most influential?
Given the undisputed centrality of media and subjects such as these, the need is greater than ever for public relations professionals to more fully understand how people use media and, in turn, how media affect them.
At Boston University’s state–of-the-art Communication Research Center (CRC), more than 30 research fellows meet that need by applying cutting-edge research technologies to examining the dynamics of media and communication.
For example, the CRC’s iMotions Biometric Research Platform enables researchers to directly observe - in real time and through a series of measurements such as galvanic skin response, eye-tracking, and facial-expression analysis - aspects of the user experience. Biometrics can tell us how, when, and where certain channels and/or approaches to content design on social media platforms, websites, in advertising campaigns, video games, etc., might grab attention, influence memory, heighten arousal, induce positive or negative emotional responses, or shape attitudes and behaviors. These metrics also can help predict users' subsequent reactions to these channels and messages.
- How is attention allocated when using a new media format, such as interactive television or social video? For instance, Twitch is a live-streaming video service that allows game players to narrate videos of their own gameplay for a community of millions. CRC researchers have examined how the gender of the narrator, as well as the presence or absence of a picture-in-picture feed of the narrator’s face can influence when, where, and how long users attend to different portions of the screen.
- How does the degree of immersion impact users’ emotional experience? For instance, how does watching a video segment influence an audience’s level of arousal when viewed on a flat computer screen versus through 360-degree videos or immersive virtual reality? CRC researchers have studied how the feeling of psychological presence – or "being there" – may impact the strength of our emotional responses to such content.
- How does emotional state influence swiping behavior in dating apps? For instance, might one’s level of arousal – influenced by the movie or the advertisement one just saw – cause users to spend more or less time gauging a potential Tinder partner? How does the level of arousal change when simply browsing the visual images in a dating profile versus actually reading through content of profile text?
- How does meaningful media content affect emotions? For instance, how does watching videos online or through virtual reality that emphasizes themes such as human compassion affect viewers’ cognition, emotions, and behaviors? CRC researchers have investigated the potential for such content to increase real-world, pro-social behaviors.
Studies such as these, along with explorations using other new research technologies, are providing novel insights into media use, its effects and application to public relations. In turn, investigating questions such as these, CRC researchers are able to not only advance classic theoretical frameworks and apply them to our modern media landscape, but also to derive insight into very real implications for content development, product design, policies on usage, and the everyday practice of public relations.
For more information on Boston University’s Communication Research Center, contact us at email@example.com. You can also visit us as 704 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215.
Dr. James Cummings is assistant professor of emerging media studies at BU’s College of Communication and is co-director of the university’s Communication Research Center. He received his PhD in Communication from Stanford University.
Dr. Mina Tsay-Vogel, who holds a PhD in mass communications from Pennsylvania State University, is assistant professor of communication at BU and co-director of the University’s Communication Research Center.
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