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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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Although several recent studies have examined organisational use of specific social media for public relations purposes, only a few studies have explored how organisations use a variety of social media in combination with their websites. Further, there is a paucity of research exploring the differences in use of web sites between non-profit organisations and forprofit corporations. In a survey of practitioners of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Ryan (2003) found that practitioners working in non-profit organisations tended to privilege channels which were designed for “contacting organisational leadership, for gathering the publics’ ideas, and for contacting a parent organisation,” while those working in the for-profit sector regarded news releases and annual reports as most important (pp. 345-346). Naudé et al (2004) interviewed practitioners from ten South African non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and discovered that several practitioners considered their organisation’s website nonessential. Jo and Kim (2003, p. 215) contended that public relations practitioners need to take into account audience-oriented web content, which facilitates building positive relationships with a variety of target publics. Their study implied that content and features of websites need to be adjusted to specific audiences and that differences may be found in the features and uses of websites across organisation types. While these studies reveal some differences between the views of practitioners working in different organisations, they are preliminary at best. More attention needs to be given to the use of new media by non-profit organizations and to the differences in use of web sites between for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Studying the use of new media for public relations practices across time is another important area that has received little scholarly attention. Dougall (2006) commented that“longitudinal research is rare in public relations, and even rarer in the study of organisation public relationships” (p. 176). Wright & Hinson's studies (2008, 2009a, 2009b) are among the few that have tracked how organisations are using a variety of social media across time.

However, their analyses focus on blogs and other social media and not particularly on organisational websites. A large percentage of organisations, especially in non-Western countries, are still using websites as their primary online public relations tool. Further, organisations see websites as playing a symbolic role: as a reflection of the organisation’s image, as showcase of its competitiveness, making them appear as cutting edge and technologically savvy (Hill & White, 2000, pp. 44, 46-47). Some organizations also see websites as a medium whose content they can fully control (p.44). Therefore, even as new media evolve into new dimensions, analyzing the use of new media across time is direly needed.

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likely to adjust strategies and use the interactive features of the Internet and whether the adoption of interactive features favors image-building rather than relationship-building.

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Keeping the above lacunae in mind, this study sought to contribute to the body of knowledge

in three primary ways:

• Compare the changes in the websites of a sample of 78 organisations over two points in time (2004 and 2009) with particular focus on organisations' efforts at harnessing the interactive communication potential offered by the Web while also observing organisations’ linkages to other social media;

• Track the changes in the use of web sites of a sample of 78 organisations for building relationships with six stakeholder publics over two points in time (2004 and 2009); and

• Compare the web sites of for-profit corporations and non-profit organisations to discern differences in how these two types of organisations use web sites for their communication and relationship-building activities.

In attempting to address these issues, we drafted the following research questions for this study:

RQ 1 a. What communication/public relations strategies are apparent in the web sites of corporations and non-profit organisations in the sample?

RQ 1 b. Have these strategies changed in any way between 2004 and 2009?

RQ 2 a. What differences, if any, are there in the way for-profit corporations and non-profit organisations use their web sites?

RQ 2 b. Have there been any discernible differences in such use between 2004 and 2009?

RQ 3 a. How do for-profit corporations and non-profit organisations use their web sites for communicating with six key stakeholder groups?

RQ 3 b. Has this changed between 2004 and 2009?

RQ 4 a. How well have the sample organisations used the interactive features offered by this medium?

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In 2004, we studied the websites of ninety six (96) organisations seeking to understand, among other things, how they used the Web as a communication tool to build and maintain relationships with six key stakeholders: the mass media, consumers, investor/donors, employees, the government, and the community. We also wanted to ascertain if there were differences between the way for-profit corporations and non-profits used their web sites for relationship building. Therefore, half the web sites were of for-profit corporations and the other half of nonprofits. Although the data were collected and analyzed over a two-month period in 2004, the findings were not published.





In 2009, a different coder visited the web sites of 78 of the 96 organisations (some web sites were untraceable) to assess if there were any differences in web site usage among the sample organizations given the introduction of social media and the expansion of knowledge about web sites as well as the onset of weblogs. We see the analysis in 2009 as the second phase of a time-lag study with two distinct points of analysis five years apart. Data from both these analyses are being reported here for publication for the first time.

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Overall Profile of Organisational Websites We first offer findings on the overall profile of websites and then focus on individual research questions. Of the seventyeight (78) websites analysed both in 2004 and 2009, 35 (46%) belonged to non-profit organisations and 43 (54%) to corporations. There was an almost equal balance in the distribution of global (49%) and domestic (Singapore, 51%) websites. We classified websites as domestic or global based on intended target audience discerned from the websites. Global websites targeted a global audience and also belonged mostly to organizations with a global outreach such as the World Wildlife Fund, Doctors without Borders, World Vision, Dell, Microsoft, Tommy Hilfiger, Shell International, and Starbucks. Domestic websites principally targeted a local (Singaporean) audience or operated on a national scope such as the Singapore Police Force, National Kidney Foundation (NKF), People’s Association, China Children and Teenagers’ Fund, Starhub (Singapore), and MobileOne Ltd (Singapore).

Table 1. Distribution of Websites by Organisational Type and Origin

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global/mother websites in such areas as the products, services, store/branch locators, promotions, games/quizzes, graphics, and music. Local job opportunities and volunteer opportunities were also specified, including local employee profiles and testimonials from local staff and volunteers. Feature articles or videos of community or consumer-related activities were also made available. Some of the domestic websites directed visitors to the global website for product history and a range of investor information such as financial factsheets.

RQ 1 a. What communication/public relations strategies are apparent in the web sites of corporations and non-profit organisations in the sample?

RQ 1 b. Have these strategies changed in any way between 2004 and 2009?

Although scholars (including J. Grunig) have contended that the models of public relations are now dated, we found the description of the “original” four models of public relations useful in categorizing the communication strategies apparent in the web sites we analyzed. In both 2004 and 2009, most websites seemed to engage in the public information model (67% for each year), followed by the two-way asymmetrical (45% for 2004 and 50% in 2009). As in numerous previous studies, the least used model was the two-way symmetrical (27% in 2004 and 35% in 2009) indicating that most organisations still use their website primarily as an information dissemination tool. It was disappointing that the use of websites by a majority of organizations in the sample has not changed significantly over the past five years despite the growth of interactive Web 2.0 features that are more aligned to dialogic public relations and relationship building.

The only encouraging change appears to be the 6% increase in the percentage of organisations who use two-way communication. Organisations that preferred two-way communication in 2004 continued to do so in 2009 with about 25 organizations even improving their efforts at two-way communication by using newer developments such as blogs, forums, wikis, and social networking sites and by embedding links into their websites. Most of the organisations that used the press agentry and public information models in 2004 continued to do so in 2009.

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RQ 2 a. What differences, if any, are there in the way for-profit corporations and non-profit organisations use their web sites?

RQ 2 b. Have there been any discernible differences in such use between 2004 and 2009?

We discerned clear distinctions between the public relations methods of corporations and non-profits both in 2004 and 2009.

In 2004, corporations used their websites to practice two-way asymmetrical and press agentry models (each used about 31% of the time) followed by the public information model (28%). The two-way symmetrical model of public relations was again found to be the least practiced by corporations (13%), confirming yet again that this model is normative.

The most widely used public relations model by corporations in 2009 was press-agentry (37%), followed by the two-way asymmetrical (27%) and public information models (26%). As in 2004, fewer websites engaged in two-way symmetrical communication (19%). Nonetheless, the percentage of corporations using the two-way communication models increased slightly between 2004 and 2009. Four more corporations (5% increase) practiced the two-way asymmetrical model in 2009 and six more (8% increase) used the two way symmetrical model.

In 2004, non-profit organisations focused on disseminating information with 38% preferring the public information model. Two-way symmetrical and asymmetrical models were a distant second (14% for each model). As expected, non-profit organizations in the sample preferred the public information model over press-agentry (13%) confirming the propositions of the original four models.

In 2009, non-profit organisations continued to favor the public information model (41%), followed by the 2-way assymmetrical model (23%). We observed a negligible increase of 1% non-profit organisations that used the two-way symmetrical model compared to 2004, for a total of 15%. Press-agentry remained the least used model among non-profits (8%) continuing a downward trend over time. These findings show that there is a clear difference in how corporations and non-profit organisations conduct public relations online and that over time such fundamental differences in world views do not appear to change.

765 Figure 2: Public Relations Techniques observed by websites RQ 3 a. How do for-profit corporations and non-profit organisations use their web sites for communicating with six key stakeholder groups?

RQ 3 b. Has this changed between 2004 and 2009?

Media Relations In general, the web sites of corporations were better developed than those of non-profits vis-a-vis media relations. Members of the media seemed to consistently get more extensive, organized, and current information from corporate than non-profit web sites both in 2004 and 2009. For example, corporate web sites offered more comprehensive news and information on the corporation, extensive and searchable news and press release archives (some dating back ten years), and specific press contact details (some providing more than one contact). Some corporations even included “notes to editors,” and provided proprietary high-resolution pictures and graphics for use by the media.

In 2009, almost 40% (31 of 78) of organizations in our sample used podcasts and webcasts to supplement traditional newsletters and textual media reports to communicate important issues and activities. Although both corporations (e.g. Cisco, Nike, Samsung, Hewlett Packard, Starbucks, Dell, and Microsoft) and non-profits (e.g. Locks of Love, World Vision, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Lance Armstrong Foundation) use podcasts/webcasts, the percentage of corporations using them was much higher (48.8%) than non-profits (28.6%).

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listed, with organisations even offering an automated email “reminder service” for events that members of the media could attend. Some organisations also offered links to their Twitter and Facebook accounts where media and consumers alike could access information on various activities and promotional material.

In contrast, although most non-profit websites provided the same type of information to members of the media as corporations, the information was usually less organized. News articles about the organisation, interviews, speeches, press releases and research papers were often archived in a way that made information searches difficult. On some non-profit websites, no specific press contact was provided and media inquiries were directed to a generic “catch-all” email address. Most provided extensive write-ups on their organisations as well as calendars of events – an example of public information mindset. However, some non-profits were actively using interactive online features to enhance their communication with the mass media, including the use of online videos, podcasts, and social networking sites to complement media kits.

Consumer Relations



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