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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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Indeed, the relational approach to public relations argues that “a positive relational outcome is dependent on an organization’s effort to cultivate and maintain positive relationships” (Ki & Hon, 2007, p. 4).

Since this two-way communication is basically asymmetrical as a result of the asymmetry in resources, information, and motivation between organizations and inactive publics, organizations may wish to undertake a relationship that at least appears symmetrical with these groups (Iacobucci & Ostrom, 1996). Referring to the symmetrical/excellence theory (Grunig, 1989, 1992) and the four models of public relations management (Grunig & Hunt, 1984) this study presents the argument that although the existing public relations literature generally acknowledges the importance of two-way communication (especially two-way symmetrical communication) to organization-public relationship building, it insufficiently emphasizes a basic condition for two-way communication, which is responsiveness. Researchers pay much attention to the advantages and disadvantages of different organizational communication strategies, while taking for granted their implementation. However, this study shows that although various organizations intend to (or pretend to) engage in two-way, symmetrical communication with their publics by inserting various dialogic elements into their Web sites, they fail to respond to external applications. As a result, instead of an interactive process, there is no interaction at all.

Hence, when referring to two-way communication and especially to symmetrical communication, there is a need to explore whether responsiveness actually exists, or whether it is just a declarative symmetrical communication. Similarly, Kent, Taylor and McAllister-Spooner (2008) suggested the need to differentiate between “feedback” and “relationship.” They argued that dialogue and symmetrical communication differ since the symmetrical model is a procedure aimed at building relationships while promoting listening and soliciting feedback, but it does not involve responding to stakeholders as equals.

Response time Seven hundred ninety-nine businesses and nonprofit associations responded to an online query sent to them by an individual member of a public. The response time was distributed in a heavy-tailed distribution (Barabasi, 2005) while most responses occurred quickly within a few hours and days, and only a minority of responses took place later. These findings correlate with other studies (Kalman, Ravid, Raban & Rafaeli, 2006; Leichty & Esrock, 2001), suggesting that organizations either provide quick responses to inquiries or they do not respond at all, while delayed responses are rare. Indeed, a quick response has the signaling power of immediacy, care, and presence, and therefore there is a preference for quick replies (Kalman et al., 2006; Kalman & Rafaeli, 2010). No significant differences were found among the response times of businesses and nonprofit associations although more nonprofit associations than businesses were very fast or very slow to respond.

Number of responses The vast majority of businesses and nonprofit associations (87.5%) sent only one e-mail message as a response to the query. Since every 10 organizations received a separate e-mail address in order to detect spam, these findings suggest that most organizations did not use the 42 request for information as an opportunity to send spam. Since spam is a worldwide problem and the Israeli parliament (Knesset) even approved a law to fight spam (Paragraph 30(A) to the communications law (Bezek and broadcasts) [Hebrew], 1982), these findings are very encouraging because they suggest that most Israeli businesses and nonprofit associations do not exploit their contact lists in order to promote themselves without permission.

Dialogic elements and responsiveness rates Similar to previous studies (Ingenhoff & Koelling, 2009; McAllister-Spooner, 2005), the findings of this study reveal that businesses and nonprofit associations that insert more dialogic elements into their Web sites are significantly more responsive than businesses and nonprofit associations that insert fewer dialogic elements into their Web sites. It seems that the insertion of additional dialogic elements into a Web site demonstrates a real willingness by the businesses and the nonprofit association to engage in a two-way communication with their publics.

Similarly, nonprofit associations that offer Web 2.0 dialogic elements in their Web sites are more responsive than nonprofit associations that do not offer these elements.

Summary This study reveals that nonprofit associations are more responsive than businesses and more willing to actually engage in a dialogue with individual members of a public. Similarly, the findings indicate that organizations that insert additional dialogic elements into their Web sites are more responsive than other organizations and that Israeli businesses and nonprofit associations perform equally and even better than similar organizations worldwide regarding responsiveness rates.

Nevertheless, one-third of the businesses and nonprofit associations that ignored the request for information provided additional evidence, in the Israeli context, that a gap exists between the dialogic potential of the Internet and its actual utilization by organizations.

Furthermore, this finding has a theoretical implication suggesting that the measurement of symmetrical two-way communication should differentiate between a declarative symmetry and an actual symmetry.



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