Chapter 9: Public Opinion & Persuasion

Opinion leaders are described as:

  • Highly interested in a subject
  • Better informed on an issue than an average person
  • Avid consumers of mass media
  • Early adopters of new ideas
  • Good organizers who can get people to take action

There are two types of leaders:

  1. Formal opinion leaders:  These are also called power leaders.  Examples: elected officials, presidents of companies
  2. Informal opinion leaders:  These may be role models who are admired and emulated.  Example: celebrities supporting certain issues.

There are several theories about mass media effects:

  • Agenda-Setting Theory:  Theory says that the media content sets the agenda for public discussion.  The media tells people what to think about but not necessarily what to think.
  • Media-Dependency Theory:  When people have no prior information regarding an issue, the mass media plays a role in telling them what to think.  They depend on the media for information.
  • Framing Theory:  The framing of issues occurs because such framing impacts- public understanding and policy formation. 
  • Conflict Theory:  Conflict in the public arena can be a constructive process that builds toward consensus.  They generate or promote conflict to gain positive position in the marketplace of ideas.


Persuasion is the freedom of speech used by all individuals to influence opinion, understanding, judgment, and action.  Persuasion is used to:

  1. Change or neutralize hostile opinions
  2. Crystallize latent opinions and positive attitudes
  3. Conserve favorable opinions

A number of factors are involved in persuasive communication:

  • Audience analysis:  Knowledge of audience characteristics such as beliefs, attitudes, concerns, and lifestyles
  • Source Credibility:  Makes the message more believeable if the source is credible. 
  • Appeal to Self-Interest:  People are motivated by 8 basic appeals:  power, respect, well-being, affection, wealth, skill, enlightenment, physical/metal vitality
  • Clarity of Message:  Most persuasive messages are direct, simply expressed and contain only one primary idea.
  • Timing and Context:  The environmental factors must support the message and the audience should be familiar with the context of the message.
  • Audience Participation:  Affects a person’s change in attitude or reinforcement of beliefs.
  • Suggestions for Action:  People endorse ideas only if they are accompanied by a proposed action from the sponsor.
  • Content & Structure of Messages:  Experts use devices such as drama, statistics, surveys, examples, testimonials, mass media endorsements, and emotional appeals.
  • Persuasive Speaking:  There are several techniques successful speakers use, such as yes-yes, which is when the speaker starts with questions that the audience will answer “yes” to.

Public relations people should be careful when using persuasion.  Here are a few ethical criteria for using persuasion:

  • Don’t use false evidence to support arguments or claims.
  • Don’t intentionally use unsupported reasoning.
  • Don’t represent yourself as an “expert” on a subject when you’re not.
  • Don’t deceive your audience by concealing your real purpose.
  • Don’t advocate something in which you do not believe yourself!

This information was taken from the book  Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, Ninth Edition by Dennis L. Wilcox and Glen T. Cameron.

Published in: on April 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

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