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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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Various studies point to the importance of responsiveness for the continuation of an interaction. Davis and Holtgraves (1984) argued that as an independent variable, responsiveness has a variety of consequences, both to the process and outcome of interaction. As a process, responsiveness affects the maintenance of the interaction and the focus on particular topics, communication efficiency, and accuracy; as an outcome, it affects the degree to which goals are achieved. Joyce and Kraut (2006) showed that receiving a response to an initial post in a newsgroup increases the likelihood that the poster will post again; hence, responsiveness encourages the continuation of an interaction and reinforces commitment.

A gap between the promise of responsiveness and its actual utilization In order to have responsiveness, there must be at least two participants that actually engage in two-way communication; otherwise, there is a breakdown in the process of communication. When an organization includes interactive features in its Web site, it creates expectations among individuals that their communication will receive a quick and relevant response (Leichty & Esrock, 2001). Nevertheless, studies on responsiveness point to the fact that businesses and nonprofit associations fail to respond to external e-mails (Customer-RespectGroup, 2004; eGain Communications Corp., 2004; Harrison-Walker, 2001; Hirsh, 2002; Kent, Taylor, & White, 2003; Matzler, Pechlaner, Abfalter, & Wolf, 2005; Newhagen, Cordes, & Levy, 1996; Taylor et al., 2001; Voss, 2000; ZDNet India, 2005). In many cases, the failure to respond means a lack of responsiveness; in other cases, the response is not given in time or is only partial or unhelpful.

Research concerning organizational Web sites and their dialogic potential and implementation reveals several important findings (Customer Respect Group, 2004; eGain Communications Corp., 2001, 2004; Esrock & Leichty, 2000; Ha & James, 1998; Ha & Pratt, 2000; Harrison-Walker, 2001; Hill & White, 1999; Hirsh, 2002; Johnson, 1997; Kang & Norton, 2006; Kent et al., 2003; Kent & Taylor, 1998; Marken, 1995; Matzler et al., 2005; Naude et al., 33 2004; Taylor et al., 2001; White & Raman, 1999; ZDNet India, 2005). Although public relations practitioners generally express positive attitudes toward the organizational Web site, they underutilize it as an interactive/dialogic tool for two-way direct communication with their publics. In addition, organizational Web sites sometimes lack sufficient dialogic/interactive elements that can enable two-way, direct communication between representatives and publics, while the interactive/dialogic elements that already exist in organizational Web sites remain underutilized.

Attempts to explain these gaps include such explanations as a lack of organizational resources and especially of time, staff, or budget (Kent & Taylor, 2002; White & Raman, 1999);

the need to train members of the organization to respond to electronic communication and to make sure that someone is available to do this is viewed as prohibitive. Other potential explanations include public relations practitioners’ loaded schedules, low organizational priority given to the Web site, lack of technical and conceptual training (Ha & Pratt, 2000; Hill & White, 1999; Kent et al., 2003; Ryan, 2003; White & Raman, 1999), organizational “red tape” that slows down response time to external messages, threat-rigidity, and the “freezing” of organizations whenever they received a message from an unknown external source (Kent & Taylor, 2002).

The gap between the interactive potential of an organizational Web site and its actual utilization damages the organization’s image and its ability to build relationships with publics (eGain Communications Corp., 2001; Hirsh, 2002). It also makes it harder for the organization to acknowledge the opinions and state of mind of its publics (Cooley, 1999) and, hence, to solve problems and potential issues before they develop into critical issues and crises (Botan & Taylor, 2004).

Research questions As previously explained, “responsiveness” does not have a formal operational definition.

Thus, referring to Rafaeli’s interactivity model (Rafaeli, 1988), online responsiveness is defined in this study as “a message sent online by participant B to participant A as a reaction to its previous message(s).” Since the literature review points to a worldwide failure of businesses and nonprofit associations to respond to online queries sent to them by individuals, the aim of this study is to reveal responsiveness rates among Israeli businesses and nonprofit associations.

Two research questions are asked:

RQ1: Is there a difference between responsiveness rates of businesses and nonprofit associations?

RQ2: Are businesses and nonprofit associations with more dialogic Web sites also more responsive than are businesses and nonprofit associations with less dialogic Web sites?

Since previous studies pointed to a failure of both businesses and nonprofit associations to respond to online queries, and a recent study noted that “regardless of type, organizations do not seem to be fully utilizing the interactive potential of the Internet to build and maintain organization–public relationships” (McAllister-Spooner, 2009, p. 321), hypothesis 1 suggests


H1: No significant difference will be found among the responsiveness rates of businesses and nonprofit associations to a request for information sent to them by an individual member of a public.

As for the relations between the insertion of dialogic elements into a Web site and the level of responsiveness, a study that analyzed the relations between the number of dialogic 34 elements in college Web sites and their actual responsiveness found that the more dialogically oriented an organization appeared, the more likely an organization was to actually respond to its stakeholders (McAllister-Spooner, 2005). An additional study found that charities that responded to online information requests also provided more dialogic features in their Web sites compared to non-responsive charities (Ingenhoff & Koelling, 2009). Taylor, Kent, and White (2001) suggested that organizations that were found to be more dialogic turned out to be more responsive, although these findings were not relevant for ease of interface and the dialogic loop (Kent et al., 2003).

Hence, hypothesis 2 suggests that:

H2(1): Businesses and nonprofit associations with more dialogic Web sites will be more responsive than businesses and nonprofit associations with less dialogic Web sites.

Similarly, it is suggested that businesses and nonprofit associations that insert “special” dialogic elements into their Web sites requiring extra organizational resources (such as Web 2.0 dialogic elements) will be more responsive than businesses and nonprofit associations that do not

insert Web 2.0 dialogic elements into their Web sites. Hence:

H2(2): Businesses and nonprofit associations whose Web sites offer Web 2.0 dialogic elements will be more responsive than businesses and nonprofit associations whose Web sites do not offer Web 2.0 dialogic elements.

Method This study is based on a field experiment that explored the actual responsiveness rates of 1200 businesses and nonprofit associations to an online request for information sent to them by an individual member of a public. Two sampling frames of 32,348 businesses and 6,049 nonprofit associations were constructed from various online sources such as the Israeli Yellow Pages (www.d.co.il). The next step was to draw a simple random sample of 600 businesses and 600 nonprofit associations that had at least one dialogic element that enabled two-way online communication and were public oriented (not wholesalers).

A request for information was sent by e-mail or by a contact form to the 1200 businesses and nonprofit associations in order to explore their responsiveness rates. The request had a subject line titled "a question" and it was in Hebrew. Its translation is as follows: "Shalom, my name is X (the researcher's name), I saw your e-mail address on the Internet and I would like to know about you more. How can I receive additional information? Thanks, X (the researcher's name and surname)." The request for information was sent during a period of two weeks to all the sampled businesses and nonprofit associations, from the researcher's personal home computer. The testing days were regular Israeli working days (Sunday−Wednesday) within regular working hours (9:00−16:00), and there were no holidays or special national events on those days. On each day, approximately 150 messages were sent to both businesses and nonprofit associations.

One hundred twenty e-mail boxes with 120 different e-mail addresses were especially created for the field experiment, while every 10 businesses/nonprofit associations were directed to one e-mail address. This was done in order to track potential junk-mail senders among the businesses and nonprofit associations. In addition, a separate cell phone number was assigned to the field experiment with a voice-mail recording of the researcher asking the caller to leave a message. This was done in order to detect businesses and nonprofit associations that preferred to respond by phone. Indeed, in another study, unresponsive businesses claimed that they tried to reach the sender by phone (Shani, 2006).

Approximately two months after sending the first request for information, the same request for information was sent again to all the businesses and nonprofit associations that had 35 not responded to the first request or had e-mail messages that bounced back. This was done to reduce the odds that a business or a nonprofit association did not respond because it did not receive the first message.

The responses were collected approximately three months after sending the first message and a month after sending the second message. The reason for waiting this period of time was that businesses and nonprofit associations continued to call and send messages till the 93rd day of the test.

Results Responsiveness rates The combined responsiveness rate of businesses and nonprofit associations was 66.6% (n=799), categorized as follows: 57% (n=684) responded after the first attempt; 9.6% (n=115) responded after the second attempt; 6.7% (n=80) of the messages bounced back; and 26.8% (n=321) did not respond at all.

A cross tabulation and a Chi-square test revealed that nonprofit associations were significantly (p0.001) more responsive than businesses: A higher number of nonprofit associations responded to the message after the first attempt as well as the second attempt, and a lower rate of nonprofit associations than businesses did not respond at all. Nevertheless, more messages that were sent to nonprofit associations bounced back compared to businesses (Table 1).

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Response time Twelve hundred online requests for information were sent to businesses and nonprofit associations. Those that did not respond to the first request or had their messages bounce back received the same message again approximately two months after the first message was sent.

When exploring the response time of the 799 responses that were received, the findings reveal that 32.79% (n=262) of the responses were received within the first hour (0−60 minutes);

43.17% (n=345) were received before the end of the second hour (0−120 minutes); and 49.93% (n=399) of the responses were received before the end of the third hour (0−180 minutes). Hence, within 3 hours almost half of the responses were received. In addition, 80.35% (642) of the responses were received within 24 hours (0−1440 minutes); 86.60% (n=692) were received within 48 hours (0−2880 minutes); and 93.99% (n=751) of the responses were received within one week (0−10,080 minutes). The remaining 6.01% (n=48) of responses arrived within 8−62 days (11,520+ minutes).

The large gap found between the mean (2,414.35 minutes) and the median (185.00 minutes) indicates that the distribution of the time of response is not a normal distribution, but rather a heavy-tailed distribution (Barabasi, 2005). Therefore, a non-parametric test (MannWhitney) was conducted in order to detect differences in the response time of organizations (both businesses and nonprofit association) to the first attempt and to the second attempt (while 36 the response time to the second attempt was measured from the time the second message was sent).

The non-parametric test revealed that organizations that responded to the second attempt responded significantly more slowly than organizations that responded to the first attempt (Z= 2.75, p0.01) (Table 2).

Table 2: Response time of businesses and nonprofit associations to the first and the second attempts

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When only the businesses were explored and a non-parametric test (Mann-Whitney) was conducted in order to compare the businesses’ time of response to the first and the second attempt, no significant differences were found (Z=1.14, p0.05).

When the same non-parametric test (Mann-Whitney) was conducted among the nonprofit associations, a significant difference was found between the response time of nonprofit associations that responded to the first attempt and those that responded to the second attempt.

Nonprofit associations that responded to the second attempt had a significantly longer response time than nonprofit associations that responded to the first attempt (Z=2.70, p0.01).

An additional non-parametric test (Mann-Whitney) that compared the response time of businesses to the response time of nonprofit associations in both attempts did not reveal any significant differences (Z= 0.88, p0.05) (Table 3).

Table 3: Response time of businesses and nonprofit associations (to both attempts)

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