In this post I look at classic book on understanding public opinion. Edward Bernays’ Crystalling Public Opinion.
Some Advice Has Stood The Test Of Time In Helping Understand Public Opinion
Firstly, this book clearly has a decent amount of the material that has stood the test of time pretty well. As far as PR precepts go I would suggest the following remains pretty accurate in many cases.
Mere denial, of course, no matter how vigorous or how widely disseminated would accomplish little.Bernays, (1923), page 32
Appealing Beyond Academia
He has some advice that would work well for academics. Essentially, the message is that you need to engage with people about what they are interested in. Saying what other people should be interested in is not a communication strategy.
The public relations counsel….advised them to make these studies into interesting stories of news value.
I would imagine many university public relations people have despaired about trying to get professors to describe the prof’s research in a way that appeals beyond a very narrow circle of interest.
Can We Ever All Get Along?
As Raymond Pirouz said to me, Bernays has lots of relevant ideas for our politically fractured times. (To be honest lots of times are politically fractured. Still that doesn’t stop this from being one of them). Bernays had many insights into the problem of getting political agreement. He notes that our minds and convictions can prevent us from seeing what we should see. Our own mind allows us to believe nonsense.
His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the factsBernays, (1923), page 138
That said, it isn’t all negative. It seems a reasonable point to emphasize that we all belong to many groups. And we change groups at different times.
The ordinary person is a very temporary member of a great number of groups. This is one of the most powerful forces making for progress in society because it makes for receptivity and open-mindedness.Bernays, (1923), page 164
Ideally, this will make us receptive to ideas that don’t fit with a single viewpoint. QAnon followers are much more than just QAnon followers. They are also members of school groups, they have friends of different backgrounds, and they have professional ties. Many are sceptical of certain elements of QAnon thought. Hopefully some of that can break through. (For more on understanding QAnon followers see here).
Century Old Books Are Old
It is interesting how the book veers between seeming modern and then the not at all modern. It avoids most offensive language. I can only remember one bit of terminology that I wouldn’t use nowadays — and that might be somewhat obscure.
That said, you can tell it is old. You might well be able to see the funny side looking from the right angle.
The public, on the whole, has refused to join the fight against censorship, because there is a more or less articulate belief that children, if not women, should be protected from seeing shocking sights…Bernays, (1923), page 98
To be fair this is reporting, the public probably did think this, even if the paternalism is pretty jarring.
My personal favorite generated imagery that reminded me of a very old fashioned seaside postcard.
a police captain’s edict in Coney Island against stockingless feminine bathers..Bernays, (1923), page 167
What was happening in Coney Island at the time? It sounds positively shocking.
Read: Edward Bernays (1923, 2019 reprinted edition) Crystallizing Public Opinion (with introduction by Mitch Horowitz), Gildan Media LLC