«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
Nevertheless, even though blogs have been studied by PR researchers, none of these studies have taken up the theoretical issue of how individual organizations might find their key publics in the blogosphere. Neither public relations practitioners nor researchers are ignorant to the fact that a public relations program cannot be executed without identification of important target publics to an organization (Wilcox & Cameron, 2008). Research identifying potential publics in the blogosphere nevertheless remains neglected. This may be because current public relations research has mainly focused on how organizations technically use blogs in the application of public relations and online marketing practices, or in building a positive relationships with customers, rather than developing the segment models or theories for blogger publics (Kent, 2008; Seltzer & Mitrook, 2007; Sweetser & Metzgar, 2007; Yang & Lim, 2009).
Grunig’s situational theory, of course, has been used traditionally for identifying publics.
(Atwood & Major, 1991; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Grunig & Repper, 1992; Hamilton, 1992;
Sweetser & Metzgar, 2007). Yet the theory has limitations in its application to the Internet, and specifically to the blogosphere context. Situational theory categorizes publics in an attempt to predict their communication behaviors, which are mainly measured by active or passive mass media use— information seeking and processing, respectively (Grunig, 1978; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Grunig, 1989; Grunig & Repper, 1992). However, bloggers have different media use patterns and characteristics; bloggers who own their media cannot be neatly separated into either media producers or consumers (Edelman & Intelliseek, 2005). Bloggers are not just mere receivers of mass mediated information, but are co-creators of information, and become part of journalism. (Gillmor, 2004; Scoble & Israel, 2006). In other words, the act of blogging re-situates the place of the “public” from the end of journalism (its consumption) to a central place in its productive processes. Situational theory, which concentrates analytic focus on mass media use, must necessarily have limited applicability to bloggers’ journalistic (that is, non-consumptive) behaviors.
In sum, previous public relations research on blogs lacks a comprehensive or systematic model of blogger public segmentation. This article therefore takes a first step toward filling that void by proposing a model that typolosizes segmented blogger publics within the blogosphere. Addressing the limitations of situational theory in its application to the blogosphere, this study begins with an overview of blogger publics. This informs the new model advanced for making sense of blogger public segmentation. Furthermore, this paper disproves the applicability of situational theory in the blog context, and verifies the proposed model by applying the empirical example of food security in Korea 595
Public and Blogger Public Public relations studies have defined a public as a homogeneous social group whose members face a problem, recognize the problem, and work together toward resolution (Blumer, 1966;
Dewey, 1927; Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Ni & Kim, 2009). In classifying publics from non-public to active public, communication is a critical criterion (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). Also, a public evolving from communication behaviors requires social spaces where the communication behaviors are present (Ni & Kim, 2009). Similarly, a blogger public can be defined as a group of bloggers who face a problem, recognize the problem, and engage in blogging about how to proceed or organize to take action. The social space in which this occurs is known colloquially as “the blogosphere.” Likewise, as communication leads publics to become involved with corollary issues, conversation in the blogosphere appears to make bloggers active in related issues (Scoble & Israel, 2006). Thus, depending on communication in the blogosphere, bloggers can show up as a key public to organizations.
Despite the absence of a universal definition for the concept of “key” bloggers, previous studies have offered approximate titles, for example: A-list blogs, well-known blogs, most read blogs, elite blogs, highly interconnected blogs, and information hub blogs. (Bar-Ilan, 2005; Farrell & Drezner, 2008; Herring, Scheidt, Wright, & Bonus, 2005; Trammell & Keshelashvili, 2005).
These titles emphasize individual blogs’ popularity, i.e. how many people visit the blog or the frequency at which people visit. (Bar-Ilan, 2005; Blood, 2002b, 2004; Marlow, 2004; Trammell & Keshelashvili, 2005). These previous studies assert that blogs with popularity are more powerful at generating public discussion and transmitting issues rapidly in the blogosphere.
In identifying key blogger publics, however, people underneath the surface of the blogosphere should be targeted. Even if the existence of popular blogs may indicate the existence of key blogger publics, blogs cannot directly testify to the existence of these users. One of several reasons is that one can have multiple blogs, or several people may operate one blog at the same time (Herring, et al., 2005). Another reason is that despite low popularity, in several cases, some bloggers play pivotal roles in journalism practices (Asaravala, 2004). On the other hand, bloggers as active creators of media represent a centralized locus of control and unique subjecthood behind their blogs (Qian & Scott, 2007; Siapera, 2008). This is why blog popularity indices have limited meaning to public segmentation research. Thus rather than technical popular indices of blogs, it is necessary to investigate the people who are closely associated with issues in the blogosphere.
In typolosizing blogger publics, one must consider the reality that blogging blurs the boundary between journalists and non-journalists. What distinguishes the blogging revolution from previous informational transitions is that people have a medium which transfers journalistic power to ordinary people (Blood, 2002b, 2004; Domingo & Heinonen, 2008; Scoble & Israel, 2006). In other words, blogging enables regular citizens to be journalists who can communicate freely in an often unregulated, uncensored, multinational, and very public environment (Blood, 2002b;
Delwiche, 2005; Gillmor, 2004; Lowery, 2006; Wall, 2005). In this respect, bloggers can be understood as journalists who have easy access to publicize their own subjective perspectives about the outside world (Edelman & Intelliseek, 2005; Gillmor, 2004; Siapera, 2008). Rather than traditional, passive media users, bloggers are consumers who also exercise journalistic perspectives. By blogging, bloggers evolve as active media publics with the motivations and 596 capabilities to report or comment on issues. Accordingly, theories or models of public segmentation must grapple with the blogger publics’ journalistic behaviors Situational Theory and Its Limitations in the Blogosphere Traditionally, Grunig’s situational theory has been used for public relations to identify key publics (Atwood & Major, 1991; Grunig, 1978, 1983, 1988; Kim, Ni, & Sha, 2008; Sha, 2006;
Sriramesh, Moghan, & Wei, 2007). To classify publics methodologically, situational theory examines related communication behaviors of specific publics using three independent variables (problem recognition, constrained recognition, and level of involvement) and two dependent variables (information seeking and processing). Four behavioral types of publics (problem-facing, constrained, fatalistic, and routine), sorted by the matrix of problem and constrained recognition variables, are multiplied by two levels of involvement (high and low) so that publics are assorted as one of eight kinds of groups. Indeed, this methodology of situational theory has been replicated, applied, and extended in predicting the communication behavior of publics regarding various issues (Hamilton, 1992; Major, 1998; Sha, 2006; Sriramesh, et al., 2007).
Nevertheless, situational theory has received criticism in respect to both theory and methodology. One of the theoretical criticisms is that situational theory has a tendency to overemphasize the view that a public is anchored on situations or issues (Cozier & Witmer, 2001;
Slater, Chipman, Auld, Keefe, & Kendall, 1992). Indeed, several studies have reported that the embedded variables, which include individual motivation, political efficacy, and sociodemographic variables, influence publics’ communication behaviors (Hamilton, 1992; Ni & Kim, 2009; Postmes & Brunsting, 2002; Slater, et al., 1992). The other criticism is that the situational theory provides a model lacking in explanatory power. Indeed, several studies have addressed the statistical insignificance in which independent variables predict publics’ communicative behaviors (Atwood & Major, 1991; Grunig, 1983, 1988; Kim, Downie, & Stefano, 2005; Major, 1998;
Slater, et al., 1992). Particularly, Slater and his colleagues (1992) found that the main statistical instability in situational theory was rooted in the multicollinearity between two variables: problem recognition and level of involvement. This ought to be unsurprising, as even Grunig (1983) admitted that involvement and problem recognition variables offset each other in predicting communicative behavior since there might be multicollinearity problem between two variables.
An additional criticism of situational theory is that the variable of constrained recognition has weak measurement reliability and validity. Grunig and Hunt (1984) have measured constrained recognition with a one-dimensional scale by asking “Would you think of whether you could do anything personally that would make a difference in the way these issues are handled” (p.150).
However, in order to draw valid and reliable inference from respondents’ psychological constructs, only multidimensional items which are clearly associated with each other should be used (Osterlind, 1988). The single item assessment for constrained recognition fails to reflect the variance of that specific psychological construct. Accordingly, the measurement for constrained recognition should be reassessed to assure the reliability and validity in assessing the publics’ psychological status in solving problems.
597 Conceivably, in the blogosphere context, it is estimated that situational theory will have more limited explanatory power to segment blogger publics. As noted previously, bloggers have different psychological conditions surrounding problem solving in the blogosphere. Bloggers may not feel constrained severely in blogging on issues because the blogosphere offers them freedom of expression; thus the constrained recognition variable fails to characterize the psychological state of bloggers. Also situational theory’s multicollinearity problem is statistically lacking in predicting blogger public’s communication behaviors. Furthermore, situational theory’s dependent variables will have low internal validity in detecting bloggers’ journalistic behaviors because bloggers have different media use patterns compared with traditional media; bloggers tends to behave journalistically. In sum, a public segmentation model for bloggers needs to reflect the unique influence of bloggers’ psychological status on their journalistic behaviors.
The Blogger Public Segmentation Model
In response to prior literature, the present study proposes a new public segmentation model, the Blogger Public Segmentation model (hereafter called BPS model). The BPS model is based on the causal relationships between two dimensions—issue involvement and blog self-efficacy—and journalistic behaviors. This assumes that bloggers’ journalistic behavior will vary depending on the two dimensions. Before presenting the BPS model, conceptualizations for the variables of BPS model are discussed.
Journalistic Behavior The BPS model considers bloggers’ journalistic behavior as a dependent variable to see how blogging connects to problem-solving efforts. Bloggers’ journalistic behaviors refer to how often bloggers are commenting on issues, editing information, checking facts, correcting errors in their blogging, going to fields to report, and monitoring the mass media.
The proposed model assumes that bloggers’ journalistic behaviors are the most critical to an organization. In fact, there are many cases which show that bloggers have received attention for their attempts at setting the public agenda, and even watching the mass media (Andrews, 2003;
Domingo & Heinonen, 2008; Hewitt, 2005; Kaye, 2006; Kerbel & Bloom, 2005; Rosen, 2005;
Smolkin, 2004; Thelwall & Hellsten, 2006). For instances, some bloggers raised the issue of a politician’s racism (Glaser, 2002); a blogger reported the war situation by his blog to the world, which reached millions (Andrews, 2003); and blogger pundits even coerced the famous CBS anchor, Dan Rather, to retire early (Hewitt, 2005). These cases suggest that bloggers take part in journalism in ways ranging from watching the watchdogs to providing early warning information to the society (Cooper, 2006; Farrell & Drezner, 2008). For this reason, PR practitioners are monitoring the blogosphere in an attempt to determine the agenda of the blogosphere.