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This chapter provides results of the analysis conducted and further discussion of findings derived from content analysis and secondary sources. The causal links and relationships between the concepts are recognized, which help to build richer understanding of the processes and answer the questions of the research. Hence, this chapter aims to reveal the meaningful explanatory factors of the corporate blogs. Moreover it seeks to demonstrate how the emerging patterns link to the initial research objectives and how the findings enrich the existing research. The newness of this medium allowed this study to take on a descriptive and exploratory aspect about Corporate Blogs as a communication tool, but it also goes further into the public relations practices on micro blogging, social networking site. The following section will further identify common trends on Corporate Blogs and some best practices according to previous research and findings from this study.
The previous chapter explained the method employed by this research and coding scheme used. This chapter will be introducing the results obtained from the research and data analysis.
RQ1: Key characteristics of corporate blogs
The data analysis reveals some interesting developments over the years. A total of 31 companies had corporate blogs in 2006 and which has risen to 79 in 2010 out of which 68 blogs are fully functioning. Among the corporate blogs found in 2010, 27 blogs were by the companies that had those in 2006 and 41 blogs were new which did not exist in 2006 (Social Text, 2006; 2010). The data also revealed that companies that maintained multiple blogs are 26 which indicate that the adoption and the level of utilizing blogs for corporate communication have gradually increased over the years.
To determine key characteristics of corporate blogs, industry types, author characteristics, and blog topics were analysed. The data showed that the number of manufacturing companies maintain blogs were 33, service industry were 30, and retail industry were 5 respectively. This result suggests that the industry categories of companies implementing corporate blogs appear to be diversifying. Results also showed that the number of blogs in computer, communication or electronics sector was 29 and the rest 39 were shared by automobile, food and beverage, finance and other industries. These results are a sign of more diverse types of companies in various industries beginning to use blogs for corporate communication. Descriptive statistics for characteristics of corporate blogs are presented in Table II.
In terms of number of authors, multi-vocal blogs are more popular as 47 (69%) blogs have opted for this format. Whereas, only 21 blogs (31%) have followed the single author format. The results suggest that the nature of corporate blogs might have shifted from a form of personal journals that truly resembled personal blogs to a form of online publication maintained by a group of people.
Table II - Descriptive Statistics of blog types and topics.
The blogs were categorized according to the main topics they discussed. It was found that most of the companies (53 blogs, 78%) discussed regarding the products, their brand identity or technological advancements in their industry. This indicates that companies are trying to promote themselves using the blogs as a tool in order to attract customers and build positive relationships with various stakeholders. Another important observation that was made is that all the blogs carried their company logo.
RQ2: employment of relationship maintenance strategies
The RQ2 asked to what extent corporate blogs utilize relationship maintenance strategies and what specific strategies are most commonly used. This question was addressed by analyzing various blog features and individual content elements. Table III summarizes the results.
Table III - Blog features and relationship maintenance strategies.
Positivity: The analysis results revealed that most corporate blogs provided a number of different user-friendly navigational features. The RSS syndication tool was the most popular feature, followed by site search, hypertexts within posts, monthly archives, categories, and calendar. Multi-media features were less popular than navigational features. The most popular multimedia feature is video clips as 29 (43%) of the blogs offered this feature, but, only ten blogs offered podcasts, and only seven provided animation. These findings suggest that, while the positivity dimension has been the most commonly used relationship maintenance strategy, corporate blogs need to pay more attention to the enjoyment and entertainment aspect of positivity.
Openness: As the majority of corporate blogs did not provide bloggers' personal contact information, leaving comments in the blog site was the only way for visitors to share their thoughts and feelings with a corporate blogger and to carry out two-way communication. 57 blogs (84%) offered a comment function and 21 blogs (31%) had a trackback function. The results seem to suggest that the openness strategy is widely adopted by corporate bloggers. However, it should be noted that in most cases visitors' comments appeared to be monitored and pre-screened by the blog operator: 25 out of the 57 blogs with a comment function had a policy statement stating they screen or erase readers' comments; and there were three blogs that did not allow visitors to view comments posted by other visitors. In sum, the openness strategy appears to be adopted by many corporate blogs, but below the surface, even those blogs offering the open comment function do not seem to be really "open" to two-way communication.
Social Networking: A total of 42 blogs (63 percent) had a blogroll function. To better assess the usage of the social networking strategy, the destination of hyperlinks was also examined. The most common hyperlink destination from blogrolls was the company's official web site, followed by other industry-related web sites and other employees' blogs. The results suggest that, although the majority of corporate blogs seem to have features that facilitate social networking, most corporate blogs were connected rather internally to their own official web site.
Sharing: The results indicated that 23 blogs (35%) were updated 2-3 times a month and number of blogs that were either updated once a month or once a week are 12 each. There were only 7 blogs which were very active and updated content more than twice a day. Although most of the blogs were active there were 3 blogs which updated content with a gap of more than a month. These findings suggest that majority of the companies want to keep their stakeholders informed and up-to-date.
RQ3: differences in relationship maintenance strategies across industry types
To examine differences among industry types in the extent to which various relationship maintenance strategies were employed, a summated relationship maintenance strategy score was computed by summation of the four individual relationship maintenance strategy scores created by the method presented in Table I. A series of independent t-tests was to examine differences in relationship maintenance strategy scores between blogs for manufacturers and services/retailers. Table IV presents results from the data analyses.
Table IV - Descriptive statistics and t-tests of relationship maintenance strategies
When comparisons were performed for four individual scores, only one pair showed a significant difference: the mean score for social networking was significantly higher in blogs by service/retailers than that of manufacturers (Manufacturers = 0.85; Services = 1.21; t = 3.2; p<0.05). No significant difference was found for the other three.
The results of this section helped identify common trends in how corporations use blogs to communicate to and with their publics. Over the one-week sampling timeframe, 68 company blogs for 55 companies were analyzed. The results also highlight the different ways in which corporations followed the four models of public relationship management. In addition, the data examines the different types of relationships and relationship indicators present in corporate blogs. Finally, this thesis looked at the level of difference present in corporate blogs on relationship strategies followed across different industries. The corporate blogs helped identify visual elements, as well as quantitative aspects of each company. Each company had different ways in which they projected the company's personality. All companies identified the logo somewhere on the homepage, as to clearly identify the source of information.
5.4 Discussion and Findings
The study's findings show that although a very small share, but a growing number of major corporations have implemented blogs as a corporate communication tool. Also, the study showed that organizations implementing this as a communication tool have been increasing and many organizations are using them since 2006. Another important finding obtained from the data was that corporate blogging has diversified through different industries over the years as the use of corporate blogs is not just limited by companies in the computer or technology industry; the type of industries involved now include services and retail.
Topic-oriented blogs appear to have gained popularity over time even though there are three different types of blogs still in use - personal journal, community, and topic-oriented blogs. Lee et al. (2006) proposed that topic-oriented corporate blogs belonged to the same category of "promotional corporate blog". Based on the findings from a content analysis of different types of organizational blogs, it was found that organizations did not promote sharing of personal opinions and feelings because most promotional corporate blogs are likely to employ a top-down blogging strategy with a high level of corporate control, because this type of blogs focuses on distributing information and knowledge about one topic, and does not require two-way sharing (Lee et al., 2006). The majority numbers of corporate blogs are topic-oriented blogs; this data suggests that corporations may prefer having more control which is provided in abundance by topic-oriented blogs compared to other types.
More than one third of the company's blogging had multiple blog sites and it was interesting to see that most of these companies were the largest organizations having a strong global presence. This is interesting because it shows how well the organizations are incorporating blogs strategically. The findings also show that most of the blogs are multi vocal where different people from the company post their views and update about the company's progress. Although there were a few number of uni vocal blogs a small share of them was maintained by CEO's which enhances the image of the company and the CEO. Another benefit of having a CEO blog is that it encourages trust among the readers as it is more personal form of communication.
Observation of relationship maintenance strategies was revealed in many different features of corporate blogs, it was found that efforts in application of strategies such as positivity were more than compared to various other strategies. It appeared that most of the corporate blogs had enabled user-friendly interactive features which made navigation easier (positivity strategy). Even though two-way communication comment features (openness strategy) were implemented by majority of the blogs, it was often not open enough to aid two-way communication. The fact that many blogs did not support or encourage two-way communication between the corporation and consumers is of concern as it affects the long term relationship and creates trust issues.
Many previous studies (Cass, Munroe, & Turcotte, 2005; Kelleher & Miller, 2006; Lee et al., 2006), have demonstrated that the ability to facilitate conversation with audiences and for them to make their own comments has a substantial and a positive impact on users' perception of the organization. Lee et al. (2006) argues that companies must understand that setting up open dialogue with consumers is the best way to forge good relations with them, based on familiarity and credibility. Additionally, they believe that this is the prime benefit of corporate blogs - their capacity for dialogue. Cass et al., 2005 J. Cass, C. Munroe and S. Turcotte, Corporate blogging: Is it worth the hype?, Backbonemedia (2005) http://www.backbonemedia.com.Cass et al. (2005) add that blogs which foster participation from consumers and take on board their comments not only build good relations but achieve more sales and business since ascertaining consumer needs and encouraging them to give ideas and suggestions leads to better sales figures.
It was observed that the blogs analysed did not make use of multimedia features. Weblogs should make fuller use of the possibilities for interactivity afforded by the medium since this is one of its distinctive characteristics. Furthermore, a study by Du and Wagner (2006) showed that the most successful blogs - those pulling in millions of visitors - are those that manage to give their readers greater worth, both through the manner in which the content is presented and organized, and through the social interaction resources on offer to users. Hence, the variables of usability and interactivity are vital to blog efficacy. As has been shown, the latter has still some development to undergo.
Even after many blogs having implemented the social networking strategy and having blog rolls, most common destination of the blog roll links turned out to redirect to the companies' official web sites, which does not really count as social networking. However, few of the corporate blogs that offered blog rolls, had links to other web sites of relevant organizations and news web sites, signifying potential for the social networking function of corporate blogs.
Although the number of companies adopting the use of blogs in corporate practise has been increasing, most of them haven't utilized the potential of a blog to the fullest. This statement is supported by the findings of limited and just on-the-surface use of relationship management. In many instances, communication strategies in corporate blogs did not significantly differ from those of corporate web sites reported in Ki and Hon (2006) since the communication strategies and usage of various features resembled to traditional one-way communication model. Fundamental question have been raised by some scholars regarding open dialogues and two-way symmetrical communication between a company and members of its publics because a lot of corporations claim to be maintaining blogs for open dialogues with their customers and stakeholders, but they are really not interested in mutual relationships with publics (Christensen, 2002; Christensen and Cheney, 2000). As Christensen (2002) argued, companies claiming to initiate open dialogues and having a transparent system is nothing but a corporate strategy than a relational condition.
Particularly significant findings in this research were that application of relationship maintenance strategies to corporate blogs considerably differed between manufacturing and service/retailing industries for social networking. From these results, we can infer a handful of companies in limited industry sectors are experimenting with this new tool, more differences existed in the type of strategies used by different industries; however, with broader adoption of corporate blogging and more professional management of blogs by the communication or PR department, corporate blogs may have become more standardized. This hypothesis needs to be empirically tested by future research.
CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSION
It is important to gain knowledge on how a corporate communication strategy can make use of the latest trends in new media and web technology which have made it easier for organizations to communicate their employees, suppliers, customers and stakeholders. One of the biggest advantages of new media is that its services can be used to work in tandem with traditional communication tools. This medium of communication now allows organizations to communicate with that segment of audience which was earlier in accessible and allows building, maintaining and strengthening relationships.
The research shows that corporate blogs have been in use for such a short time that some of their resources and features are still not utilized completely. The lack of improvement in interactive features is proof of this. For example, the most important feature of writing and adding comments is not enabled in most of the blogs, which is considered most essential characteristic of a blog.
It is unusual that corporate blogs are less accepting of opinions from consumers than personal blogs. Studies earlier have proved that consumer opinion is an important communication tool in maintaining relations that enables two-way communication between organizations and their audiences; and yet, the company blogs in this sector are those that use it least.
Moreover, in the blogs analysed, interactive features are not being used to their full potential. Interactive features are limited in terms of the services they offer, such as: user polls, video downloads, and podcasts. Therefore it would not be wrong to say that not much effort is being put into development of new features and thus interactive potential provided by the blogs to involve, interest and entertain users is being wasted.
Individual nature of the blog posts is one of the foremost qualities of this new medium, which is also observed in the sample analyzed. There key objectives are: to keep PR professionals abreast of current affairs, latest happenings in the sector, job offers, and so forth; and on the other, to create a space for debate and dialogue between these professionals. It is interesting to note that educational topics such as conferences, theories or recent research are rarely mentioned with regard to the most frequently occurring issues. Regardless of growing research into public relations and communicational organization in recent years it is possible to notice a widening gap between the professional world of public relations and academic research.
In the rapid development of blogs there are still two areas that must be boosted. Firstly, interactive resources in general should be further developed on blogs, and particularly their capacity to allow more external comments from users. Secondly, the professional public relations sector, and specifically some firms in that sector, should lead the field in making the most of the communicative resources that blogs encompass and in fully developing their potential as a knowledge management tool in the practice of excellent public relations.
Limitations and recommendations
In terms of key measures, because this study is an attempt to apply the relationship maintenance strategy framework to the blog context, the operationalization of the relationship maintenance dimensions is exploratory and the measurement validity needs to be further tested. Another measurement-related limitation is that, because content analysis focused on analyzing blog features found on the front page, some of the relationship maintenance strategy dimensions could not be properly measured (e.g. the assurance dimension). To further examine relationship maintenance strategies used in corporate blog, future researchers should use different research methods such as a content analysis of blog postings, qualitative analysis of blog content, a survey or in-depth interviews with corporate bloggers.
Lastly, because of the mostly descriptive nature of this study and the limitations of the content analysis method, this study cannot offer empirically tested strategic recommendations for better corporate blogging. Another important question that cannot be addressed by this study is the link between relationship management strategies used in corporate blogs and relational outcome proposed by Grunig and Huang (2000). These questions call for an experimental study. The methodological limitations do not diminish the significant contributions this study makes to the research literature. This study offers several important implications for PR practitioners and scholars. This study is to explore and to provide a longitudinal overview of the state of corporate blogs and strategies, applying the relationship management framework. Although at this point there are only a limited number of companies using corporate blogs, practitioners and scholars can use this study's findings as a starting point for their research. As more and more corporations are incorporating blogs into their communication programs, future research should continue updating the picture of the corporate blogosphere.
For researchers, this study proposes a new approach for examining corporate blogs as a PR tool by applying the relationship maintenance strategy framework. Specifically, although limited, this study suggests new operationalization of the relationship maintenance strategies for the context of corporate blogs. This study's operationalization is exploratory and needs further testing, but this study certainly demonstrates effectiveness of Stafford and Canary's (1991) relationship maintenance strategy framework for studying corporate blogs. For communication practitioners considering or experimenting with corporate blogs, this study has an important message: to harness the unique potential of blogs and maximize the relationship management efforts, practitioners should consider expanding the scope and level of relationship management strategies. In theory, a corporate blog is different from a corporate web site and thought to be better at facilitating and enhancing the interpersonal feel and two-way symmetrical communication. However, this study's findings demonstrate that current corporate blogs look and function more like a traditional web site than a blog. This study cannot conclusively determine whether these findings indicate a corporate failure or unwillingness to engage in true open, two-way communication, or simply present missed opportunities. Regardless, companies should be more proactive about using corporate blogs for building and maintaining relationships with members of their publics, and doing so should involve developing new features facilitating openness, social networking, and sharing tasks by both parties. Some argue that the biggest strength of blogs from the corporate communication perspective is providing companies with the ability to connect and communicate with consumers in a more personal and informal way (Lee et al., 2008). As documented earlier, though there are a number of issues and challenges, if used properly and strategically, blogs can contribute to enhancing a corporation's efforts to build and maintain relationships with its publics. It is our hope that this study stimulates more interests in corporate blogging and other researchers will build upon and extend this study's findings.