New Media and Online Participation: The Dialogic Potential of the Internet and its Actual Utilization by Businesses and Nonprofit Associations.

TitleNew Media and Online Participation: The Dialogic Potential of the Internet and its Actual Utilization by Businesses and Nonprofit Associations.
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Avidar, R.
Affiliation (1st Author)Yezreel Valley College
Section or WGParticipatory Communication Research Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodePCRW2b
Slot Code (Keyword)PCRW2b
Time of Session11:00-12:30
RoomC114
Session Title‘New’ media technologies generating participatory action
Submission ID4989
Abstract

The emergence of the Internet enabled publics to participate in an online conversation with organizations. Indeed, businesses and nonprofit associations created their own Web pages and Facebook accounts and invited publics to communicate. Nevertheless, as this study tries to reveal, in many cases when a member of a public tries to approach an organization online, the organizational response actually discourages participation and even terminates an interaction. Theoretical Framework This study combines the fields of public relations, computer-mediated communication, and interactivity. The study embraces the co-creational perception from public relations theory and utilizes two relational maintenance strategies,, “interactivity,” and “responsiveness.” This study presents the responsiveness pyramid, a model that suggests a clearer theoretical distinction between responsiveness and interactivity. Research Questions This study explores whether and how businesses and nonprofit associations respond to a request for information sent to them by a member of a public. (RQ1) Is there a difference between responsiveness rates of businesses and nonprofit associations? (RQ2) Is there a difference between the level of responsiveness of businesses and nonprofit associations? Methodology First, a field experiment was conducted in which a request for information was sent via e-mail to 1200 Israeli businesses and nonprofit associations to explore their responsiveness rates. Second, a content analysis of 799 organizational responses was conducted in order to explore the level of responsiveness. The content analysis was based on a novel codebook that contained variables considered by previous researchers as encouraging further interaction. Hence, a distinction was made between responses with a low level of responsiveness, a medium level of responsiveness and a high level of responsiveness (interactive responses). Results The combined responsiveness rate of businesses and nonprofit associations was 66.6% (n=799), categorized as follows: 62.2% (n=373) of the businesses and 71.0% (n=426) of the nonprofit associations responded to the request. A cross tabulation and a Chi-square test revealed that nonprofit associations were significantly more responsive than businesses (χ2 (3) = 36.23, p<0.001). The responses differed according to their level of responsiveness. Most responses had a medium level of responsiveness [businesses: 43.2% (n=160), nonprofits: 40.9% (n=173)] and did not include interactive elements. The second largest group contained responses with a low level of responsiveness [businesses: 40.5% (n=150), nonprofits: 39.2% (n=166)], and only a small group of responses contained a high level of responsiveness and encouraged the continuation of an interaction [businesses: 16.2% (n=60), nonprofits: 19.8% (n=84)]. An independent samples t-test did not reveal a significant difference in the level of responsiveness among businesses and nonprofit associations (t (791) = 1.09, p>0.05). Discussion This study reveals that organizational representatives, from both businesses and nonprofit associations, do not utilize the interactive and dialogic potential of the Internet in order to encourage interaction and promote organization-public relationship building. The small group of high-level responses (businesses: 16.2%, nonprofits: 19.8%) might suggest that representatives from both organizational types either were not interested in the continuation of an interaction or were not aware of the dialogic and relational potential of the organizational responses. Given that organizational representatives can be trained to embed interactive elements in their ongoing communication with publics, this study may contribute to the improvement of organization-public relationship building and promote online participation.

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