Category Archives: Business

The functionality and usability features of mobile apps

This is an excerpt from one of my latest publications.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A., Troise, C. & Kozak, M. (2023). Functionality and usability features of ubiquitous mobile technologies: The acceptance of interactive travel apps. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology, https://doi.org/10.1108/JHTT-12-2021-0345 Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/366633583_Functionality_and_usability_features_of_ubiquitous_mobile_technologies_The_acceptance_of_interactive_travel_apps.

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Prior studies relied on specific theoretical frameworks like the Interactive Technology Adoption Model – ITAM (Camilleri and Kozak, 2022), elaboration likelihood model (ELM), information adoption model (IAM) and/or technology acceptance model (TAM), among others, to better understand which factors are having an impact on the individuals’ engagement with digital media or information technologies.

In this case, this research identifies the factors that are influencing the adoption of travel apps, in the aftermath of COVID-19. It examines the effects of information quality and source credibility (these measures are drawn from IAM framework), as well as of technical functionality, relating to electronic service quality (eSERVQUAL), on the individuals’ perceptions about the usefulness of these mobile technologies and on their intentions to continue using them on a habitual basis (the latter two factors are used in TAM models), to shed light on the consumers’ beliefs about their usability and functionality features.

This study suggests that consumers are valuing the quality of the digital content that is presented to them through these mobile technologies. Apparently, they are perceiving that the sources (who are curating the content) were knowledgeable and proficient in the upkeep and maintenance of their apps. Moreover, they are appreciating their functional attributes including their instrumental utility and appealing designs. Evidently, these factors are influencing their intentions to use the travel apps in the future. They may even lead them to purchase travel and hospitality services. Furthermore, they can have an impact on their social facilitation behaviors like positive publicity (via electronic word of mouth like online reviews, as well as in-person/offline), among other outcomes.

This contribution implies that there is scope for future researchers to incorporate a functionality factor in addition to ITAM, IAM and/or TAM ‘usability’ constructs to investigate the individuals’ dispositions to utilize technological innovations and to adopt their information. It confirms that the functionality features including their ease of use, responsiveness, organized layout and technical capabilities can trigger users to increase their app engagement on a habitual basis.

Practical recommendations

The results from this study reveal that the respondents hold positive perceptions toward interactive travel apps. In the main, they indicate that these mobile technologies feature high quality content, are organized, work well, offer a good selection of products and are easy to use.

This research posits that mobile users appreciate the quality of information that is presented to them through the travel apps, in terms of their completed-ness, accuracy and timeliness of information. Yet, the findings show that there is room for improvement. There is scope for service providers (and for the curators of their travel apps) to increase their credentials on source trustworthiness and expertise among consumers.

The results suggest that information quality had a more significant effect on the respondents’ perceived usefulness of travel apps than source credibility. Moreover, they also suggest that consumers are willing to engage with travel apps as they believe that they offer seamless functionality features, including customization capabilities and fast loading screens. Most probably, the respondents are cognizant that they offer differentiated pricing options on flights, hotels and cars, from various service providers. They may be aware that many travel apps also enable their users to access their itineraries even when they are offline and allow them to keep a track record of their reward points (e.g. of frequent flyer programs) on every booking.

In this day and age, consumers can utilize mobile devices to access asynchronous content in webpages, including detailed information on tourism service providers, transportation services, tours to attractions, the provision of amenities in tourist destinations, frequently answered questions, efficient booking engines with high resolution images and videos, quick loading and navigation, detailed maps, as well as with qualitative reviews and quantitative ratings. Very often they can even be accessed through different languages.

A number of travel apps allow their users to log in with a secure, random password authentication method, to keep a track record of their credit card details and past transactions. Most of them are also sending price alerts as well as push notifications that remind consumers about their past searches. These services are adding value to the electronic service quality as opposed to unsolicited promotional messages, that are not always related to the consumers’ interests.

Generally, customers expect travel and tourism service providers to respond to their online queries in an instantaneous manner. They are increasingly demanding web chat services to resolve queries, as soon as possible, preferably in real time.

Tourism and hospitality service providers are already using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) software, to improve their consumers’ online experiences and to emphasize their brand positioning as high-quality service providers. In the foreseeable future, it is very likely that practitioners could avail themselves of Metaverse technologies that could teleport consumers in the cyberspace, to lure them to book their flight, stays, car rentals or tours. Online (and mobile) users may be using electronic personas, called avatars to move them around virtual spaces and to engage with other users, when they are in the Metaverse.

This interactive technology is poised to enhance its users’ immersive experiences, in terms of their sensory inputs, definitions of space and points of access to information, particularly those that work with VR headsets. Hence, travel and hospitality businesses could avail themselves of such interactive technologies to gain a competitive advantage.

You can access this paper in its entirety, via: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/366633583_Functionality_and_usability_features_of_ubiquitous_mobile_technologies_The_acceptance_of_interactive_travel_apps

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Factors affecting intentions to use interactive technologies

This is an excerpt from one of our latest academic articles (that was accepted by the Journal of Services Marketing).

Theoretical implications

Previous studies reported that interactive websites ought to be accessible, appealing, convenient, functional, secure and responsive to their users (Crolic et al., 2021; Hoyer et al., 2020; Kabadayi et al., 2020; Klaus and Zaichkowsky, 2020; Rosenmayer et al., 2018; Sheehan et al., 2020; Valtakoski, 2019). Online service providers are expected to deliver a personalized customer service experience and to exceed their consumers’ expectations at all times, to encourage repeat business and loyal behaviors (Li et al., 2017; Tong et al., 2020; Zeithaml et al. 2002).

Many service marketing researchers have investigated the individuals’ perceptions about price comparison sites, interactive websites, ecommerce / online marketplaces, electronic banking, and social media, among other virtual domains (Donthu et al., 2021; Kabadayi et al., 2020; Klaus and Zaichkowsky, 2020; Rosenbaum and Russell-Bennett, 2020; Rosenmayer et al., 2018; Valtakoski, 2019; Zaki, 2019). Very often, they relied on measures drawn from electronic service quality (e-SQ or e-SERVQUAL), electronic retail quality (eTailQ), transaction process-based approaches for capturing service quality (eTransQual), net quality (NETQual), perceived electronic service quality (PeSQ), site quality (SITEQUAL) and website quality (webQual), among others.

Technology adoption researchers often adapted TAM measures, including perceived usefulness and behavioral intentions constructs, among others, or relied on psychological theories like the Theory of Reasoned Action (Fishbein and Ajzen, 195) and the Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991), among others, to explore the individuals’ acceptance and use of different service technologies, in various contexts (Park et al., 2007; Chen and Chang, 2018). Alternatively, they utilized IAM’s theoretical framework to investigate the online users’ perceptions about the usefulness of information or online content. Very often they examined the effects of information usefulness on information adoption (Erkan and Evans, 2016; Liu et al., 2017).

A review of the relevant literature suggests that good quality content (in terms of its understandability, completeness, timeliness and accuracy) as well as the sources’ credibility (with regard to their trustworthiness and expertise) can increase the individuals’ expectations regarding a business and its products or services (Cheung et al., 2008; Li et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2017). ELM researchers suggest that a high level of message elaboration (i.e., argument quality) as well as the peripheral cues like the credibility of the sources and their appealing content, can have a positive impact on the individuals’ attitudes toward the conveyors of information (Allison et al., 2017; Chen and Chang, 2018; Petty et al., 1983), could affect their intentions to (re)visit the businesses’ websites (Salehi-Esfahani et al., 2016), and may even influence their purchase intentions (Chen and Chang, 2018; Erkan and Evans, 2016).

This contribution differentiates itself from previous research as the researchers adapted key measures from ELM/IAM namely ‘information quality’ (Filieri and McLeay, 2014; Salehi-Esfahani et al., 2016; Shu and Scott, 2013; Tseng and Wang, 2016) and ‘source credibility’ (Ayeh, 2015; Leong et al., 2019; Wang and Scheinbaum, 2018) and integrated them with an ‘interactive engagement’ construct (McMillan and Hwang, 2002), to better understand the individuals’ utilitarian motivations to use the service businesses’ interactive websites. The researchers hypothesized that these three constructs were plausible antecedents of TAM’s ‘perceived usefulness’ and ‘intentions to use the technology’. Specifically, this research examines the direct effects of information quality, source credibility and interactive engagement on the individuals’ perceived usefulness of interactive website, as well as their indirect effects on their intentions to continue using these service technologies.

To the best of the researchers’ knowledge, there is no other research in academia that included an interactive engagement construct in addition to ELM/IAM and TAM measures. This contribution addresses this gap in the literature. The engagement construct was used to better understand the respondents’ perceptions about the ease-of-use of interactive websites, to ascertain whether they are captivating their users’ attention by offering a variety of content, and more importantly, to determine whether they consider them as responsive technologies.

Managerial implications

This study sheds light on the travel websites’ interactive capabilities during an unprecedented crisis situation, when businesses received higher volumes of inquiries through different channels (to change bookings, cancel itineraries and/or submit refund requests). At the same time, it identified the most significant factors that were affecting the respondents’ perceptions and motivations to continue using interactive service technologies in the future.

In sum, this research confirmed that the respondents were evaluating the quality of information that is featured in interactive websites. The findings reported they were well acquainted with the websites’ content (e.g. news feeds, product information, differentiated pricing options, images, video clips, and/or web chat facilities). The researchers presumed that the respondents were well aware of the latest developments. During COVID-19, a number of travel websites have eased their terms and conditions relating to cancellations and refund policies (EU, 2020), to accommodate their customers. Online businesses were expected to communicate with their customers and to clarify any changes in their service delivery, in a timely manner.

The contribution clarified that online users were somehow influenced by the asynchronous content that is featured in webpages. Therefore, service businesses ought to publish quality information to satisfy their customers’ expectations.  They may invest in service technologies like a frequently answered questions widget in their websites to enhance their online customer services, and to support online users during and after the sales transactions. Service businesses could integrate events’ calendars, maps, multi-lingual accessibility options, online reviews and ratings, high resolution images and/or videos in their interactive websites, to entertain their visitors (Cao and Yang, 2016; Bastida and Huan, 2014).  

This research underlines the importance for service providers to consistently engage in concurrent, online conversations with customers and prospects, in real-time (Buhalis and Sinarta 2019; Chattaraman et al., 2019; Rihova et al., 2018; Harrigan et al., 2017). Recently, more researchers are raising awareness on the provision of live chat facilities through interactive websites or via SNSs like WhatsApp or Messenger (Camilleri & Troise, 2022). Services businesses are expected to respond to consumer queries, and to address their concerns, as quickly as possible (McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2019), in order to minimize complaints.

AI chatbot technologies are increasingly enabling service businesses to handle numerous interactions with online users, when compared to telephone conversations with human customer services representatives (Adam et al., 2021; Hoyer et al., 2020; Luo et al., 2019; McLean and Osei-Frimpong, 2019; Van Pinxteren et al., 2019). The most advanced dialogue systems are equipped with features like omnichannel messaging support, no code deployment, fallback options, as well as sentiment analysis. These service technologies are designed to improve the consumers’ experiences by delivering automated smart responses, in an efficient manner. Hence, online businesses will be in a better position to meet and exceed their customers’ service expectations. Indeed, service businesses can leverage themselves with a responsive website. These interactive technologies enable them to improve their positioning among customers, and to generate positive word-of-mouth publicity.

Limitations and future research avenues

This study has included a perceived interactivity dimension, namely an ‘interactive engagement’ construct within an information adoption model. The findings revealed that the respondents believed that the websites’ engaging content was a significant antecedent of their perceptions about the usefulness of interactive websites. This study also reported that the interactive engagement construct indirectly affected the individuals’ intentions to revisit them again.

In conclusion, the authors recommend that future researchers validate this study’s measures in other contexts, to determine the effects of interactive engagement on information adoption and/or on the acceptance and usage of online technologies. Further research is required to better understand which attributes and features of interactive websites are appreciated by online users. Recent contributions suggest that there are many benefits for service businesses to use conversational chatbots to respond to online customer services. These interactive technologies can offer increased convenience to consumers and prospects (Thomaz et al., 2020), improved operational efficiencies (Pantano and Pizzi, 2020), reduced labor costs (Belanche et al., 2020), as well as time-saving opportunities for customers and service providers (Adam et al., 2021).

Prospective empirical research may consider different constructs from other theoretical frameworks to examine the individuals’ perceptions and/or attitudes toward interactive websites and their service technologies. Academic researchers are increasingly relying on the expectancy theory/expectancy violation theory (Crolic et al., 2021), the human computer interaction theory/human machine communication theory (Wilkinson et al., 2021), the social presence theory (Tsai et al., 2021), and/or the social response theory (Adam et al., 2021), among others, to investigate the customers’ engagement with service technologies.

Notwithstanding, different methodologies and sampling frames could be used to capture and analyze primary data. For instance, inductive studies may investigate the consumers’ in-depth opinions and beliefs on this topic. Interpretative studies may reveal important insights on how to improve the efficacy and/or the perceived usefulness of interactive service technologies.

The full paper is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/366055918_Utilitarian_motivations_to_engage_with_travel_websites_An_interactive_technology_adoption_model

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Live support by chatbots with artificial intelligence: A future research agenda

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions on the use of responsive chatbots by service businesses. The content was adapted for this blogpost.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Troise, C. (2022). Live support by chatbots with artificial intelligence: A future research agenda. Service Business, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11628-022-00513-9

(Credit: Chatbots Magazine)

The benefits of using chatbots for online customer services

Frequently, consumers are engaging with chatbot systems without even knowing, as machines (rather than human agents) are responding to online queries (Li et al. 2021; Pantano and Pizzi 2020; Seering et al. 2018; Stoeckli et al. 2020). Whilst 13% of online consumer queries require human intervention (as they may involve complex queries and complaints), more than 87 % of online consumer queries are handled by chatbots (Ngai et al., 2021).

Several studies reported that there are many advantages of using conversational chatbots for customer services. Their functional benefits include increased convenience to customers, enhanced operational efficiencies, reduced labor costs, and time-saving opportunities.

Consumers are increasingly availing themselves of these interactive technologies to retrieve detailed information from their product recommendation systems and/or to request their assistance to help them resolve technical issues. Alternatively, they use them to scrutinize their personal data. Hence, in many cases, customers are willing to share their sensitive information in exchange for a better service.

Although, these interactive technologies are less engaging than human agents, they can possibly elicit more disclosures from consumers. They are in a position to process the consumers’ personal data and to compare it with prior knowledge, without any human instruction. Chatbots can learn in a proactive manner from new sources of information to enrich their database.

Whilst human customer service agents may usually handle complex queries including complaints, service chatbots can improve the handling of routine consumer queries. They are capable of interacting with online users in two-way communications (to a certain extent). Their interactions may result in significant effects on consumer trust, satisfaction, and repurchase intentions, as well as on positive word-of-mouth publicity.

Many researchers reported that consumers are intrigued to communicate with anthropomorphized technologies as they invoke social responses and norms of reciprocity. Such conversational agents are programed with certain cues, features and attributes that are normally associated with humans.

The findings from this review clearly indicate that individuals feel comfortable using chatbots that simulate human interactions, particularly with those that have enhanced anthropomorphic designs. Many authors noted that the more chatbots respond to users in a natural, humanlike way, the easier it is for the business to convert visitors into customers, particularly if they improve their online experiences. This research indicates that there is scope for businesses to use conversational technologies to personalize interactions with online users, to build better relationships with them, to enhance consumer satisfaction levels, to generate leads as well as sales conversions.

The costs of using chatbots for online customer services

Despite the latest advances in the delivery of electronic services, there are still individuals who hold negative perceptions and attitudes towards the use of interactive technologies. Although AI technologies have been specifically created to foster co-creation between the service provider and the customer,

There are a number of challenges (like authenticity issues, cognition challenges, affective issues, functionality issues and integration conflicts) that may result in a failed service interaction and in dissatisfied customers. There are consumers, particularly the older ones, who do not feel comfortable interacting with artificially intelligent technologies like chatbots, or who may not want to comply with their requests, for different reasons. For example, they could be wary about cyber-security issues and/or may simply refuse to engage in conversations with a robot.

A few commentators contended that consumers should be informed when they are interacting with a machine. In many cases, online users may not be aware that they are engaging with elaborate AI systems that use cues such as names, avatars, and typing indicators that are intended to mimic human traits. Many researchers pointed out that consumers may or may not want to be serviced by chatbots.

A number of researchers argued that some chatbots are still not capable of communicative behaviors that are intended to enhance relational outcomes. For the time being, there are chatbot technologies that are not programed to answer to all of their customers’ queries (if they do not recognize the keywords that are used by the customers), or may not be quick enough to deal with multiple questions at the same time. Therefore, the quality of their conversations may be limited. Such automated technologies may not always be in a position to engage in non-linear conversations, especially when they have to go back and forth on a topic with online users.

Theoretical and practical implications

This contribution confirms that recently there is a growing interest among academia as well as by practitioners on research that is focused on the use of chatbots that can improve the businesses’ customer-centric services. It clarifies that various academic researchers have often relied on different theories including on the expectancy theory, or on the expectancy violation theory, the human computer interaction theory/human machine communication theory, the social presence theory, and/or on the social response theory, among others.

Currently, there are limited publications that integrated well-established conceptual bases (like those featured in the literature review), or that presented discursive contributions on this topic. Moreover, there are just a few review articles that capture, scrutinize and interpret the findings from previous theoretical underpinnings, about the use of responsive chatbots in service business settings. Therefore, this systematic review paper addresses this knowledge gap in the academic literature.

It clearly differentiates itself from mainstream research as it scrutinizes and synthesizes the findings from recent, high impact articles on this topic. It clearly identifies the most popular articles from Scopus and Web of Science, and advances a definition about anthropomorphic chatbots, artificial intelligence chatbots (or AI chatbots), conversational chatbot agents (or conversational entities, conversational interfaces, conversational recommender systems or dialogue systems), customer experience with chatbots, chatbot customer service, customer satisfaction with chatbots, customer value (or the customers’ perceived value) of chatbots, and on service robots (robot advisors). It discusses about the different attributes of conversational chatbots and sheds light on the benefits and costs of using interactive technologies to respond to online users’ queries.

In sum, the findings from this research reveal that there is a business case for online service providers to utilize AI chatbots. These conversational technologies could offer technical support to consumers and prospects, on various aspects, in real time, round the clock. Hence, service businesses could be in a position to reduce their labor costs as they would require fewer human agents to respond to their customers. Moreover, the use of interactive chatbot technologies could improve the efficiency and responsiveness of service delivery. Businesses could utilize AI dialogue systems to enhance their customer-centric services and to improve online experiences.  These service technologies can reduce the workload of human agents. The latter ones can dedicate their energies to resolve serious matters, including the handling of complaints and time-consuming cases.

On the other hand, this paper also discusses potential pitfalls. Currently, there are consumers who for some reason or another, are not comfortable interacting with automated chatbots. They may be reluctant to engage with advanced anthropomorphic systems that use avatars, even though, at times, they can mimic human communications relatively well.  Such individuals may still appreciate a human presence to resolve their service issues. They may perceive that interactive service technologies are emotionless and lack a sense of empathy.

Presently, chatbots can only respond to questions, keywords and phrases that they were programed to answer. Although they are useful in solving basic queries, their interactions with consumers are still limited. Their dialogue systems require periodic maintenance. Unlike human agents they cannot engage in in-depth conversations or deal with multiple queries, particularly if they are expected to go back and forth on a topic.

Most probably, these technical issues will be dealt with over time, as more advanced chatbots will be entering the market in the foreseeable future. It is likely that these AI technologies would possess improved capabilities and will be programmed with up-to-date information, to better serve future customers, to exceed their expectations.

Limitations and future research avenues

This research suggests that this area of study is gaining traction in academic circles, particularly in the last few years. In fact, it clarifies that there were four hundred twenty-one 421 publications on chatbots in business-related journals, up to December 2021. Four hundred fifteen (415) of them were published in the last 5 years. 

The systematic analysis that was presented in this research was focused on “chatbot(s)” or “chatterbot(s)”. Other academics may refer to them by using different synonyms like “artificial conversational entity (entities)”, “bot(s)”, “conversational avatar(s)”, “conversational interface agent”, “interactive agent(s)”, “talkbot(s)”, “virtual agent(s)”, and/or “virtual assistant(s)”, among others. Therefore, future researchers may also consider using these keywords when they are other exploring the academic and nonacademic literature on conversational chatbots that are being used for customer-centric services.

Nevertheless, this bibliographic study has identified some of the most popular research areas relating to the use of responsive chatbots in online customer service settings. The findings confirmed that many authors are focusing on the chatbots’ anthropomorphic designs, AI capabilities and on their dialogue systems. This research suggests that there are still knowledge gaps in the academic literature. The following table clearly specifies that there are untapped opportunities for further empirical research in this promising field of study.

The full article is forthcoming. A prepublication version will be available through Researchgate.

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Crowdfunding small businesses and startups: An appraisal of theoretical insights and future research directions

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions on crowdfunding (and crowd investing). Its content was adapted for this blogpost.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Bresciani, S. (2022). Crowdfunding small businesses and startups: A systematic review, an appraisal of theoretical insights and future research directions, European Journal of Innovation Management, https://doi.org/10.1108/EJIM-02-2022-0060

Crowdfunding is an alternative method of raising funds that is independent from financial institutions. Individual entrepreneurs, startups and established businesses can utilize online crowdfunding platforms like Indigogo, SeedInvest and GoFundMe, among others, to access finance for new ventures or existing projects, from a large number of investors, in return for products or equity stakes.

Project initiators would usually specify their financing goals and set time frames with deadlines, for their crowdfunding campaigns. If the pre-set funding goal is not met, they will not be in a position to garner any funds for their project.

The fund-raising campaigns have to appeal to as many investors as possible. Hence, initiators ought to feature engaging content, including texts, images, photos, videos, and the like, to lure investors to support their innovative ideas, startups or business ventures. They launch fundraising campaigns through various crowdfunding platforms, in different markets, to connect with online users, thereby circumventing traditional financial institutions like banks, venture capitalists and business angels.

Therefore, the crowdfunding websites curate the offerings they receive and disintermediate traditional distribution channels by connecting online users directly with project initiators.

More individuals and organizations are turning to crowdfunding sources to raise funds for business ventures, artistic or creative projects and for medical expenses, among other purposes. Alternatively, they use them to donate financial resources to cause-related, socially and environmentally responsible projects.

The crowd-investors would usually put their money in those projects in which they believe will hold lucrative potential. They may be considered as shareholders if they provide capital finance, and contribute to the development and growth of crowdfunded projects.

There are various motivations that could attract individual or group investors to pledge their support to equity crowdfunding campaigns, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending/lending crowdfunding, and to debt-securities crowdfunding, among other crowdfunding products.

Prospective investors might be willing to be involved in the development and success of entrepreneurial projects including startups. They may be seeking a return on investment for their monetary contributions, particularly if they believe that project initiators could deliver exceptional service quality and/or are in a position to develop new technological innovations and cutting-edge products. Hence, they will usually trust and have faith in the investees’ knowledge and capabilities to foster positive change in business and society.

The following sections critically appraise two sides of the same coin. The researchers elaborate on (i) the demand for crowdfunding products, and on (ii) the supply of crowdfunding finance.

The use of crowdfunding platforms to raise capital requirements

Small businesses and startups experience difficulties in raising modest amounts of capital. External threats from the marketing environment including the state of the economy, government regulations, tax laws, labor legislation and fluctuations in interest rates, among other issues, could have devastating effects on such entities.

As a result, they may find themselves in an equity gap, if they cannot raise finance to foster innovation for their business. Their access to equity or debt financing through traditional institutions like banks and/or other financial service providers is usually very limited. Typically, they are required to provide a collateral to obtain finance, even though, young enterprises and startups with promising opportunities for potential investment may usually prefer having a lower debt/equity ratio.

In the past decade, a number of individuals, groups, organizations as well as entrepreneurs and startups resorted to crowdfunding, to finance their ideas, ventures or projects. The most popular crowdfunding products include donation-based crowdfunding, rewards-based crowdfunding, equity crowdfunding, peer-to-peer (P2P) lending/lending crowdfunding, and debt-securities crowdfunding, among others.

⚫The peer-to-peer lending is very similar to traditional borrowing from a bank as crowd investors lend money to a company with the understanding that they will be repaid with interest.  

⚫Equity crowdfunding projects may usually involve the sale of a stake of a business to a number of investors. This type of crowdfunding is very similar to venture capital finance.

⚫Investors may be drawn to rewards-based crowdfunding to receive non-financial rewards, such as goods or services, in exchange of their contributions.

⚫Alternatively, individuals may be willing to donate their funds for charitable, humanitarian or philanthropic purposes, without expecting any financial returns

Project initiators of successful crowdfunding campaigns are capable of communicating their business propositions and solutions, as they raise awareness on disruptive innovations among large audiences through digital media.

The diffusion of innovations theory suggests that there are five key elements that could influence the diffusion of a new idea (through crowdfunding platforms), including the innovation itself, adopters/users, communication/media channels, time, as well as social systems. Crowdfunding platforms allow creators to promote their projects to generate interest and to ultimately lure investors. Notwithstanding, project initiators as well as the crowdfunding investors are affected by various communication channels, including by competing organizations and regulatory institutions.

The subjective norms in society can influence the individuals’ intentions to use innovations like crowdfunding platforms. The crowdfunding projects could attract the attention of competitors, who may be quicker to develop technological innovations or substitute products, as they could have access to financial capital, economies of scale and scope, to mimic small businesses and start-ups’ ideas.

Debatably, this argumentation is synonymous with the resource-based view theory (RBV). New businesses like startups, as well as small businesses may usually possess fewer resources including liquidity, than established businesses. They may also have access to limited competences and capabilities. Notwithstanding, they may not be considered as legitimate as their larger counterparts by their stakeholders, including by the government, creditors, venture capitalists and other investors.

However, in the past decade, a number of regulatory institutions have introduced legislation in various contexts (like the U.S.’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups – JOBS Act). These laws and the revisions that followed, were intended to support early-stage companies and startups to raise their financial requirements through crowdfunding avenues.

Crowdfunding allows for the democratization of funding, as it is essentially borderless and not geographically constrained. Businesses, enterprises and startups can use crowdfunding platforms to raise funds for on their projects. They can appeal to larger audiences through the digital media.

Project initiators are encouraged to engage with online investors through crowdfunding platforms, to provide feedback relating to products or services, in order to increase their chances of reaching their financial goals. Ultimately, it is in their interest to disseminate relevant content to project backers for transparency purposes, and to improve their credentials with stakeholders.

Investments in crowd funding products

Generally, crowdfunding links the creators/proponents of projects with potential investors. The latter ones could avail of crowdfunding digital platforms to reduce their search and transaction costs. These online users hope to identify lucrative investment opportunities that could yield them attractive returns. Such investors may be drawn by high-quality, market-oriented (commercial) projects and by their rewards, as opposed to community-oriented, not-for-profit projects with social or environmental purposes, that may be promoted via low minimum prices, to appeal to sponsors.

Project initiators of commercial entities may be wary of providing details of their intellectual properties (particularly during the early stages of their crowdfunding campaigns), as they may be concerned that someone could steal their ideas, innovations and projects. They could (willingly or unwillingly) decide not to disclose material information like historic defaults or hidden costs, even after the investor becomes a member of the crowdfunding platform.

As a result, investors of crowdfunded projects may not always have adequate and sufficient information on the borrowers of finance, as crowdfunding platforms may not exercise thorough due diligence on their users. This argument is related to the reasoning behind the signaling theory. In fact, many researchers relied on this theory to explore the signals that are communicated by project creators to lure investments from crowd funders.

Notwithstanding, the most popular crowdfunding platforms may or may not operate from the same jurisdiction of the crowd-investors. Hence, they are not always offering complete protection according to local legislation and regulations. Thus, they could not guarantee the same level of comprehensive appraisals that are provided by local financial service providers. This contentious issue could lead to problems related to information asymmetry. In some circumstances, the failure to disclose material information to crowd-investors may result in near-fraudulent consequences.

Investors may usually try to find a tradeoff between potential rewards and risks from crowdfunding opportunities. They could be attracted by (higher than normal) potential returns that certain crowd-funding activities claim to offer. Therefore, they ought to be cautious and vigilant on their possible risks of default.

If equity crowdfunded projects fail, investors could not be in a position to pay back capitals and to provide any returns to their investors. Similarly, the investors of P2P crowdfunding/lending may also risk losing their funds through unsecured loans, especially if the borrowers did not require any collateral. The investors of equity financing may encounter certain difficulties, other than default. They can find out that there is no lucrative secondary market for their shares. As a result, they might find themselves liquidating them at a significant loss, or of diluting their stock value.

Conclusions

This contribution discusses about the benefits and costs of using crowdfunding platforms to raise finance, or as plausible investment options. The authors elaborate about various challenges and identify opportunities for project initiators (like small business and startups), as well as for crowd-investors.

Currently, there are just a few articles that are linking this timely topic with key theoretical underpinnings relating to technology adoption and/or innovation management (e.g. Diffusion of Innovations Theory, Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), Theory of Reasoned Action (TRA) or the Unified Theory of Acceptance and Use of Technology (UTAUT), strategic management (e.g. Decision-making Theory; Goal Attainment Theory or RBV), accounting and financial reporting (E.g. Signaling Theory or Venture Quality Theory), and normative/business ethics research (e.g. Social Capital Theory, Social Responsibility Theory and Stakeholder Theory), among others.

For the time being, there are limited discursive contributions on crowdfunding of small businesses and startups. This research sought to address this gap in the academic literature. It clearly outlines the facilitators and barriers of using crowdfunding platforms for crowd sourcing and/or for crowd investing purposes, to better understand the demand / supply for crowdfunding.

In future, other researchers may explore the crowd sourcing possibilities of different types of businesses including sole proprietorships, partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies (LLCs), nonprofits, and cooperatives (co-ops), among other entities. They may categorize enterprises, according to their staff count. Prospective authors could investigate the financing of micro enterprises, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), intermediate-sized enterprises and/or large-sized enterprises. Moreover, they could even distinguish among various start-ups like small business startups, scalable startups, buyable startups and/or off-shoot startups, et cetera.

A pre-publication version of this this research is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/362223573_Crowdfunding_small_businesses_and_startups_A_systematic_review_an_appraisal_of_theoretical_insights_and_future_research_directions

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How can we combat climate change?

This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions.

Suggested citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2022). The rationale for ISO 14001 certification: A systematic review and a cost-benefit analysis, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, https://doi.org/10.1002/csr.2254

Source: UNFCCC.int

During the Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), one hundred ninety-six (196) countries pledged their commitment to implement environmental performance measures to reduce the effects of climate change. This conference has led to the development of the ‘Paris Agreement’ where signatories became legally bound to limit global warming to below 2°C, and possibly 1.5°C (Palea & Drogo, 2020; Secinaro, Brescia, Calandra & Saiti, 2020). They recognized the importance of averting and minimizing the environmental impact that is caused by climate change, by scaling up their efforts and support initiatives to reduce emissions, by building resilience among parties, and by promoting cooperation (Birindelli & Chiappini, 2021; Gatto, 2020).

In the aftermath of COP 21, many countries submitted their plans for climate action (these plans are also known as nationally determined contributions – NDCs), where they communicated about their tangible actions that were aimed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of rising temperatures (Fatica & Panzica, 2021; Gerged, Matthews & Elheddad, 2021).  Consequentially, intergovernmental organizations including the European Union (EU), among others, are increasingly establishing ambitious carbon neutrality goals and zero-carbon solutions to tackle climate change issues (Benz, Paulus, Scherer, Syryca & Trück, 2021).

Many countries are incentivizing businesses across different economic sectors, to reduce their emissions. For example, the EU member states are expected to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2030, and by 60% prior to 2050 (EU, 2019). These targets would require the commitment of stakeholders from various sectors including those operating within the energy and transportation industries, among others.

The latest climate change conference (COP26) suggested that progress has been made on the signatories’ mitigation measures that were aimed to reduce emissions, on their adaptation efforts to deal with climate change impacts, on the mobilization of finance, and on the increased collaboration among countries to reach 2030 emissions targets. However, more concerted efforts are required to deliver on these four pledges (UNFCC, 2021).

This contribution raises awareness on the use of environmental management standards that are intended to support organizations of different types and sizes, including private entities, not-for-profits as well as governmental agencies, to improve their environmental performance credentials. A thorough review of the relevant literature suggests that, over the years many practitioners have utilized the International Standards Organization’s ISO 14001 environment management systems standard to assist them in their environmental management issues (Baek, 2018; Delmas & Toffel, 2008; Erauskin‐Tolosa, Zubeltzu‐Jaka, Heras‐Saizarbitoria & Boiral, 2020; Melnyk, Sroufe & Calantone, 2003).

Many academic commentators noted that several practitioners operating in different industry sectors, in various contexts, are implementing ISO 14001 requirements to obtain this standard’s certification (Boiral, Guillaumie, Heras‐Saizarbitoria & Tayo Tene, 2018; Para‐González & Mascaraque‐Ramírez, 2019; Riaz, & Saeed, 2020). Whilst several researchers contended about the benefits of abiding by voluntary principles and guidelines (Camilleri, 2018), others discussed about the main obstacles to obtaining impartial audits, assurances and certifications from independent standard setters (Hillary, 2004; Ma, Liu, Appolloni & Liu, 2021; Robèrt, Schmidt-Bleek, Aloisi De Larderel … & Wackernagel, 2002; Teng & Wu, 2018).

Hence, this research examines identifies the rationale for ISO 14001 certification (Carvalho, Santos & Gonçalves, 2020; Eltayeb, Zailani & Ramayah, 2011; Lee, Noh, Choi & Rha, 2017; Potoski & Prakash, 2005) that is supposedly intended to improve the organizations’ environmental performance and to enhance their credentials. Specifically, this contribution’s objectives are threefold. Firstly, it provides a generic background on voluntary instruments, policies and guidelines that are intended to promote corporate environmentally responsible behaviors. Secondly, it presents the results from a systematic review of academic articles that were focused on ISO 14001 – environment management systems. Thirdly, it synthesizes the findings from high impact papers and discusses about the benefits and costs of using this standard. In conclusion, it elaborates on the implications of this research, it identifies its limitations and points out future research avenues.

In sum, this contribution differentiates itself from previous articles, particularly those that sought to investigate the introduction and implementation of environment management systems in specific entities. This research involves a two-stage systematic analysis. It appraises a number of empirical investigations, theoretical articles, reviews, case studies, discursive/opinion papers, from 1995-2021. Afterwards, it scrutinizes their content to shed more light on the pros and cons of using ISO 14001 as a vehicle to improve corporate environmental performance.

This paper can be downloaded, in its entirety, through ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/358557458_The_rationale_for_ISO_14001_certification_A_systematic_review_and_a_cost-benefit_analysis

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Family businesses in tourism and hospitality

This is an excerpt from one of my latest papers that was published in the Journal of Family Business Management. A free downloadable version is available here. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356603434_Thriving_family_businesses_in_tourism_and_hospitality_A_systematic_review_and_a_synthesis_of_the_relevant_literature


Small and medium sized businesses including family enterprises prevail in their contribution to economic growth and competitiveness of tourist destinations (Getz and Carlsen, 2005; Kallmuenzer and Peters, 2018). Very often, they are resilient entities and proactive forces in terms of innovation, employment and productivity. The family business is the oldest and the most common model of a for-profit organization. Essentially, it is a commercial entity that is usually owned, managed and led by multiple generations of a family members who are related by blood, marriage or adoption. The owners of family firms have the ability to influence the vision of their business and to formulate long term goals. They are usually involved in the organization, leadership and management of their company. However, family firms may also be co-owned by individuals who are not part of the family.

The Global Family Business Index defines a family firm as an entity that is controlled by family as its members hold more than 50% of the voting rights. For a publicly listed firm, a firm is classified as a family business if family members own at least 32% of the voting rights (OECD, 2021). Thus, the vast majority of businesses throughout the world, ranging from small shops to multinational publicly listed organizations who have hundreds of thousands of employees — can be considered family businesses.

In hospitality and tourism, a large number of small enterprises are run by family members (Peters and Kallmuenzer, 2018; Getz and Carlsen, 2005; Getz and Carlsen, 2000) that are operating in various sectors, ranging from hospitality, leisure, recreation and entertainment, among others. Such enterprises are often described as “economic engines” of tourist destinations (Getz, Carlsen and Morrison, 2004; Veloso et al., 2021) and play a critical role in the interface between communities and tourists (Shaw and Williams, 2013).

While there is a wide plethora of literature that explores different businesses including family firms and enterprises, we argue that there is still a gap in the extant academic knowledge about family businesses in tourism and hospitality settings (Arcese et al., 2021; Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Esparza Aguilar, 2019; Kallmuenzer, Tajeddini, Gamage, T.C., (…), Rojas, A. and Schallner, 2021; Rachmawati and Suroso, 2020). Globally, the vast majority of tourism and hospitality businesses comprise small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) (Baggio and Valeri, 2020). These entities are the ‘life blood’ of tourist destinations as many hotels, bed and breakfasts, AirBnBs, restaurants, and small transportation service providers, etc., are usually run by family members in various contexts.

The family business legacy

Several researchers classified different types of family businesses. Very often, they strived in their endeavors to clarify what constitutes a family business. Yet, currently, there is no agreed-upon definition of what a family business is. Experts in the field tend to describe the characteristics of family businesses and discuss about their organizational culture, ownership, leadership, management involvement, strategic control, governance, et cetera (Valeri, 2021; Valeri and Katsoni, 2021). All of these criteria can be considered as very important elements of family firms, depending on where they are, in terms of their lifecycle. Astrachan and Shanker (2003) provided a broad definition on this concept. They argued that family businesses are controlled by members of the family, who have to make decisions regarding their strategic direction.

They were aware that this definition covered a “gamut of possibilities”, ranging from large public companies that are run by descendants of founding family members, to shareholders, board members and low-level employees. In many cases, previous authors contended that firms with the same extent of family involvement were or were not always considering themselves as family businesses, and that their views may change over time. Therefore, there are different definitions for family firms in the academic literature.

Family businesses are business entities that are administered by owner-managers and their relatives. They are different from other companies. Their form of ownership may facilitate their ability to take critical actions quickly and to respond to a changing marketing environment (Mtapuri, Camilleri and Dłużewska, 2021; Peña‐Miranda, Guevara‐Plaza, Fraiz‐Brea & Camilleri, 2021). Family members may usually have closer ties that enable them to come together and do whatever it takes towards a common purpose, to safeguard their family’s health and prosperity. While nonfamily businesses may typically focus on maximizing their financial performance and shareholder value (Camilleri, 2020), family owners are more likely to focus on values like family legacy and reputation.

Many authors argued that a family business involves family members who are exerting their influence or control over the strategic direction of a company. Others discussed about family firm behaviors and shed light on their unique, inseparable, synergistic resources and capabilities arising from family involvement and interactions (Chrisman, Chua and Sharma, 2005; Habbershon, Williams and MacMillan, 2003). For example, Seaman et al. (2017) consider the interactions between family, business and friendship networks. Other authors also advance relevant knowledge on this topic (Valeri, 2016; Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Valeri and Baggio, 2020a; 2020b; 2020c; 2021).

Unlike the corporations’ executives, family members are usually personally as well as professionally involved in their entrepreneurial activities. In this case, there are no boundaries for them. Their relationships with employees are usually characterized by their values of trust, commitment, empathy and transparency as opposed to those held by larger companies. Hence, family firms may not always necessitate formal structures and bureaucratic systems that are prevalent in non-family entities. Family businesses tend to utilize looser control systems, may not rely on procedural hurdles, formal documentation or transactions. Thus, the informal style of family businesses can offer motivating working environments.

Previous research reported that family owner-managers would typically engage in two-way communications with their employees and may usually forge closer relationships with them. This type of enterprise is conspicuous in small organizations where employees are non-unionized, even though they may be expected to engage in varied roles and could be assigned different duties and responsibilities. Such workplaces will usually have low turn-over rates, and still experience fewer industrial disputes and strikes than other businesses.

Conversely, family firms can be dictatorially run by a coercive owner-manager. As a result, employees and family members may have little or no involvement in the running of their business. A typical tension field that may occur in family businesses happens when there is a conflict of interest between the personal needs of the owner–managers and their business. Hence, the business owners’ personal characteristics and attributes may play a key role in the performance of their family firm. Relevant studies on this topic often reported mixed findings on the working environment and organizational culture of family businesses. Some authors noted that while employees of nonfamily businesses seem to enjoy superior employment packages, rewards, employment terms and physical working conditions, the quality of the job environment in small businesses is poorer than what you find in their larger counterparts (Russo and Tencati, 2009).

Chrisman et al. (2005) maintained that two firms with the same extent of family involvement may not necessarily be considered as family businesses; if they lack the intention, vision, familiness, and/or behaviors that truly represent the essence of a family business. They went on to suggest that family firms exist because of the reciprocal economic and non-economic value that is cocreated through the combination of family and business systems. On the other hand, there may be problems arising from close kinship, ownership and management transfers, that may ultimately result in inefficiencies, conflicting intentions and behaviors that could limit the ability of family businesses to create or maintain distinctive familiness (Miller, Steier and Le Breton-Miller, 2003; Steier, 2001, 2003; Stewart, 2003).

For instance, certain family members may want to exert control over their firm in ways that would nullify the value of existing competences and capabilities. Their behaviors could slow down or prevent the development of their organization. The extent to which a firm may be considered as a family business could be determined by the family members’ involvement in influencing the leadership decision in their business (Chrisman et al., 2005; Astrachan, Klein and Smyrnios, 2002). It is important to clearly distinguish the differences between family and nonfamily businesses and to subdivide them into various categories. For example, family businesses can be categorized by their size.

Like other SMEs, small family firms may have limited access to resources including financial capital and human capabilities.  The very size of their businesses may create a special condition, which is often referred to as `resource poverty’ (O’Cass and Weerawardena, 2009). SMEs and family businesses tend to find themselves in an equity gap, where it is very difficult to acquire finance to operate efficiently (Camilleri, 2018). Although banks are key providers of finance through the provision of loans, the availability of unsecured bank finance to these businesses is usually very limited.

The growth of small family enterprises remains severely restricted, particularly if they cannot provide additional securities or collaterals for their investments. Even small businesses with high growth potential may experience difficulties in raising relatively modest amounts of risk capital. Moreover, external forces and potential threats from the marketing environment could have more devastating effects on family businesses than on other companies. For instance, changes in government regulations, tax laws, labor legislation and interest rates may usually affect a greater percentage of expenses in smaller family businesses than they do for other organizations (Brune, Thomsen and Watrin, 2019).

Family-owned businesses may evolve over time as their ownership may be transferred from founder-members to their relatives (Peters, Raich, Märk and Pichler, 2012). Various forms of succession may result in different ownership structures, revised duties and responsibilities of employees of family businesses. The descendants of unrelated founders can find themselves owning and managing their company and may even sit in the same board. In this case, there will be two or more families who have a stake in the business. However, just one of them will be in control (i.e. the largest shareholder) (Astrachan et al., 2002).

For instance, Hoshi Ryokan, Komatsu is one of the oldest hotels in the world. This property has been owned and managed by the Hoshi family in the past centuries. Other popular family businesses in the hospitality sector include Gmachl in Salzburg and Hotel Sacher in Vienna (Austria); Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong (China); Bristol Hotel in Paris (France); Villa D’Este in Como, Italy; Baur-au-Lac in Zurich, Switzerland; Goring Hotel in London, West Lodge Park in Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire (UK) and Seaside hotel Kennebunk in Maine (USA), among others.

The development of family firms in tourism and hospitality

Tourism and hospitality family businesses are characterized by their specific ownership, leadership and organization as well as by their stakeholder relationships, that differentiate them from nonfamily companies (Engeset, 2020; Martínez, Stöhr and Quiroga, 2007; Rosalin et al., 2016; Kumar et al., 2021). Notwithstanding, there are various variables that could enable or disable family firms of different types and sizes, to generate and sustain new business development in the long term (Peters and Kallmuenzer, 2018).

The owners of tourism family firms may try to balance their business objectives with those of their family’s interests (Getz and Carlsen, 2005). Other research indicated that the objectives of such family businesses are different than nonfamily-run companies. The former businesses are usually influenced by family issues and lifestyle objectives. While Getz and Carlsen (2000) found that the majority of businesses considered family goals as more important than their business goals; Andersson, Carlsen and Getz (2002) argued that tourism family businesses ought to operate in a profitable manner, if they want to support their family members, and to maintain a decent quality of life. Their thriving businesses could enable them to create a family legacy and to pass on their company to the next generation (Andersson et al., 2002). Again, this cannot be achieved unless it is financially successful (Erdogan, Rondi, De Massis, 2020; Williams, Pieper, Kellermanns & Astrachan, 2018).

Small family-run businesses may be expected to provide employment opportunities to family members. Hence, they are not always recruiting the most qualified employees for the job. This may result in conflicts among employees (Miller et al., 2003; Peters and Buhalis, 2004). Conversely, multinational corporations are capable of attracting the best candidates for the job. They are usually in a better position to lure investors as well as venture capitalists’ funds. On the other hand, family business owners may be reluctant to accept financial injections from external investors, for fear of losing control over their business. The personal qualities, traits and attributes of the business owners can have significant effects on the long-term prospects of the companies they lead and manage (Hallak, Assaker and Connor, 2014).

Family firms are not always in a position to raise their margins and to allocate financial resources for research and development and toward market research, product development, skills or creativity enhancement (Pikkemaat and Zehrer 2016). Very often, they are not benefiting from economies of scale that are afforded by bigger businesses. Moreover, they may be reluctant to cooperate and forge alliances with other businesses, including with competitors to gain economies of scope, that could enable them to improve their services. Many academic researchers argued that family firms ought to value long-term cooperation and social networking within the communities where they operate their business (Pikkemaat and Zehrer 2016; Camisón et al., 2016). Their networking (Baggio and Valeri, 2020) and innovation management processes (Kallmuenzer, 2018; Vrontis et al., 2016) are often driven by local community needs and by their orientations towards sustainable tourism development (Baggio and Valeri, 2020; Camilleri, 2014; Ismail et al., 2019; Kallmuenzer et al., 2018).

Family members may not possess the networking skills to develop fruitful relationships with corporate stakeholders (Arcese et al., 2020; Camilleri, 2016; Troise & Camilleri, 2021) and/or may lack adequate knowledge to formulate appropriate business strategies for their company (Pikkemaat and Zehrer, 2016).  Their businesses are expected to continuously innovate to guarantee their survival and to improve their performance in the long term (Elmo et al., 2020). In a similar vein, Rachmawati et al., (2020) pointed out that family entrepreneurs need to be more innovative and take risks so that they can compete in the global scenario. They suggested that their internationalization prospects may help their business to improve their reputation in order to enhance their bottom lines, whilst satisfying their families’ interests. Other authors contended that they have to identify innovation opportunities (Arcese et al., 2020; Giacosa et al., 2017; López-Chávez et al., 2021; Valeri et al., 2020) whilst defending their values and traditions in order to guarantee that their family business legacy transcends from one generation to the next (Obermayer et al., 2021; Santos et al., 2021c).

Succession issues may affect the form of ownership structures of tourism family enterprises as well as their governance, leadership, management and strategies. Elmo et al. (2020) maintained that the innovation process is likely to occur after succession periods when there are changes in the ownership of family businesses. They went on to suggest that successors (i.e. incoming owner-managers) of family firms may represent new opportunities, resources, and sources of knowledge and information for them. Other authors delved into family succession matters (Kallmuenzer et al., 2021; Ollenburg and Buckley, 2011; Prevolsek et al., 2017; Steier, 2001). In the main, these commentators recognized that succession remains a contentious issue that may either result in positive outcomes or in negative repercussions that can ultimately hinder the growth and development of family businesses (Miller, 2003; Peters et al., 2012).

Conclusions

There are a number of internal and external factors that can affect tourism and hospitality family businesses long-term prospects (Camilleri, 2017; Camilleri, 2021a; Giousmpasoglou, 2019; Zapalska and Brozik, 2013; Santos et al., 2021a; 2021b), their business development, sustainable development and innovation capabilities (Mtapuri et al., 2021, Peña‐Miranda et al., 2021). This contribution suggests that family firms differentiate themselves from nonfamily businesses as they consider other important values in addition to profit, including family legacy, trust, commitment and reputation. It explained that it is in their interest to engage with different stakeholders (including competitors) (Camilleri, 2019) to benefit from synergistic resources and capabilities, to increase their economies of scale and scope, to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment.

Currently, many businesses are still feeling the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (Albattat et al., 2020; Camilleri, 2021b; Chemli et al., 2020; Toanoglou et al., 2021).  During this crisis, family enterprises and other companies, faced serious liquidity shortages and became cash strapped after they experienced a considerable decline in their business activities. In many cases, they were resilient as they reinforced their purpose and values to ensure that their business remains intact. Generally, they strived in their endeavors to safeguard their financial and emotional investments, to preserve their legacy. Those family owner managers that have better adapted to the pandemic and who are still operating their tourism or hospitality business are better prepared for economic growth and development in the post-pandemic context.

Limitations

Although this systematic review has carefully considered rigorous articles and reviews that are focused on the development of family businesses in tourism and hospitality, there is scope to investigate different forms of family hotels and family restaurants in more depth and breadth, in terms of their sizes, types of ownership, succession issues, organizational cultures, access to financial resources, et cetera. Future studies can explore the differences between family enterprises and SMEs within the tourism and hospitality industries, in various contexts.

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. & Valeri, M. (2021). Thriving family businesses in tourism and hospitality: A systematic review and a synthesis of the relevant literature. Journal of Family Business Management,  https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JFBM-10-2021-0133

A full paper can be downloaded here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/356603434_Thriving_family_businesses_in_tourism_and_hospitality_A_systematic_review_and_a_synthesis_of_the_relevant_literature

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Why should hospitality businesses care about their stakeholders?

Image by Rob Monkman (React Mobile)

The following text was adapted from one of my latest articles that was published in Wiley’s Sustainable Development (Journal).

Suggested Citation: Camilleri, M.A. (2021). Strategic attributions of corporate social responsibility and environmental management: The business case for doing well by doing.  good! Sustainable Development. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/sd.2256

Introduction

The corporate social responsibility (CSR) notion became popularized during the latter part of 20th the century (Carroll, 2021; 1999; Moon, 2007). At the time, businesses were becoming more concerned on how their activities affected legitimate stakeholders and the development of society at large (Phillips, 2003; Freeman & Reed, 1983). Hence, various authors posited that CSR is a fertile ground for theory development and empirical analysis (McWilliams, Siegel & Wright, 2006).

Without doubt, the clarification of the meaning of CSR is a significant strand in the research agenda (Owen, 2005). CSR has developed as a rather vague concept of moral good or normative behaviors (Frederick, 1986). This construct was described as a relativistic measure of ‘the economic, legal, ethical and discretionary expectations that society had of organizations at a given point of time’ (Carroll, 1979). CSR tackled ‘social problem(s)’ to engender positive ‘economic benefit(s)’ to ensure ‘well paid jobs, and … wealth’ (Drucker, 1984).

CSR has continuously been challenged by those who expected businesses to engage in socially responsible behaviors with stakeholders, to adhere to ethical norms in society, and to protect the natural environment (Camilleri, 2015; Lindgreen & Swaen, 2010; Burke & Logsdon, 1996). Previous research reported that CSR practices can result in improved relationships with different stakeholders (Camilleri, 2017a; Moon, 2007; Sen, Bhattacharya & Korschun, 2006).

Various commentators contended that it is in the businesses’ interest to engage in responsible behaviors to forge closer ties with internal and external stakeholders (Ewan & Freeman, 1993; Freeman, 1984). In addition, many researchers reported that there is a causal relationship between the firms’ stakeholder engagement and their financial performance (Henisz, Dorobantu & Nartey, 2014 Pava & Krausz, 1996). This relationship also holds in the tourism and hospitality industry context (Rhou, Singal & Koh, 2016; Camilleri, 2012; Inoue, & Lee, 2011).

Various hotels and restaurants are increasingly communicating about their responsible activities that are having an effect on their stakeholders, including their employees, patrons, guests, suppliers, local communities, the environment, regulatory authorities and the community at large (Camilleri, 2020a). Like other businesses, tourism and hospitality enterprises are always expected to provide decent employment to locals and migrant workers, health and safety in their workplace environments, adequate compensation and recognition of all employees, ongoing training and development opportunities, work-life balance, and the like.

Various studies suggest that, in normal circumstances, when businesses engage in responsible human resources management (HRM), they will boost their employees’ morale, enhance their job satisfaction and reduce the staff turnover (Asimah, 2018). However, an unprecedented COVID-19 and its preventative measures have surely led to a significant reduction in their business activities.

The pandemic has had a devastating effect on the companies’ social metrics, including on their employees’ conditions of employment, financial remuneration and job security, among other issues (Kramer & Kramer, 2020). It has inevitably led to mass redundancies or resulted in the workers’ reduced wages and salaries. On the other hand, this situation has led to a decrease in the companies’ environmental impacts, such as their greenhouse gas emissions and other unwanted externalities.

Several businesses, including hospitality enterprises are becoming more concerned about their impact on the environment (Kim, Lee & Fairhurst, 2017; Elkington, 1998). In many cases, hotels and restaurants strive to reduce their environmental footprint by offering local, fresh, and sustainable food to their patrons. Very often, they are implementing sustainable models including circular economy systems to use and reuse resources, and to minimize their waste, where possible (Camilleri, 2020b). Alternatively, they are decreasing their electricity and water consumption in their properties, by investing in green technologies and renewable energy sources.

These sustainability initiatives could result in operational efficiencies and cost savings, higher quality, innovation and competitiveness, in the long term. As a matter of fact, many studies confirmed that there is a business case for CSR, as corporations engage in socially responsible and environmentally sound behaviors, to pursue profit-making activities (Porter & Kramer, 2011; 2019; Camilleri, 2012; Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Weber, 2008). Notwithstanding, CSR and sustainable practices can help businesses to improve their reputation, to enhance their image among external stakeholders and could lead to a favorable climate of trust and cooperation with internal stakeholders (Camilleri, 2019a).

In this light, this research builds on previous theoretical underpinnings that are focused on the CSR agenda and on its related stakeholder theory. However, it differentiates itself from other contributions as it clarifies that stakeholder attributions, as well as the corporations’ ethical responsibility, responsible human resources management and environmental responsibility will add value to society and to the businesses themselves.

This contribution addresses a knowledge gap in academia. For the time being, there is no other study that effects of stakeholders’ attributions on the companies’ strategic attributions, as depicted in Figure 1. In sum, this study clarifies that there is scope for businesses to forge strong relationships with different stakeholders. It clearly indicated that their engagement with stakeholders and their responsible behaviors were leading to strategic outcomes for their business and to society at large.

Figure 1. A research model that sheds light on the factors leading to strategic outcomes of corporate responsible behaviors

(Source: Camilleri, 2021)

Implications to academia

This research model suggests that the businesses’ socially and environmentally responsible behaviors are triggered by different stakeholders. The findings evidenced that stakeholder-driven attributions were encouraging tourism and hospitality companies to engage in responsible behaviors, particularly toward their employees. The results confirmed that stakeholders were expecting these businesses to implement environmentally friendly initiatives, like recycling practices, water and energy conservation, et cetera. The findings revealed that there was a significant relationship between stakeholder attributions and the businesses’ strategic attributions to undertake responsible and sustainable initiatives.

This contribution proves that there is scope for tourism and hospitality firms to forge relationships with various stakeholders. By doing so, they will add value to their businesses, to society and the environment. The respondents clearly indicated that CSR initiatives were having an effect on marketplace stakeholders, by retaining customers and attracting new ones, thereby increasing their companies’ bottom lines.

Previous research has yielded mixed findings on the relationships between corporate social performance and their financial performance (Inoue & Lee, 2011; Kang et al., 2010; Orlitzky, Schmidt, & Rynes, 2003; McWilliams and Siegel 2001). Many contributions reported that companies did well by doing good (Camilleri, 2020a; Falck & Heblich, 2007; Porter & Kramer, 2011). The businesses’ laudable activities can help them build a positive brand image and reputation (Rhou et al., 2016). Hence, there is scope for the businesses to communicate about their CSR behaviors to their stakeholders. Their financial performance relies on the stakeholders’ awareness of their social and environmental responsibility (Camilleri, 2019a).

Arguably, the traditional schools of thought relating to CSR, including the stakeholder theory or even the legitimacy theory had primarily focused on the businesses’ stewardship principles and on their ethical or social responsibilities toward stakeholders in society (Carroll, 1999; Evan & Freeman, 1993; Freeman, 1986). In this case, this study is congruent with more recent contributions that are promoting the business case for CSR and environmentally-sound behaviors (e.g. Dmytriyev et al., 2021; Carroll, 2021; Camilleri, 2012; Carroll & Shabana 2010; Falck & Heblich, 2007).

This latter perspective is synonymous with value-based approaches, including ‘The Virtuous Circles’ (Pava & Krausz 1996), ‘The Triple Bottom Line Approach’ (Elkington 1998), ‘The Supply and Demand Theory of the Firm’ (McWilliams & Siegel 2001), ‘the Win-Win Perspective for CSR practices’ (Falck & Heblich, 2007), ‘Creating Shared Value’ (Porter & Kramer 2011), ‘Value in Business’ (Lindgreen et al., 2012), ‘The Stakeholder Approach to Maximizing Business and Social Value’ (Bhattacharya et al., 2012), ‘Value Creation through Social Strategy’ (Husted  et al., 2015) and ‘Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability’ (Camilleri, 2018), among others.

In sum, the proponents of these value-based theories sustain that there is a connection between the businesses’ laudable behaviors and their growth prospects. Currently, there are still a few contributions, albeit a few exceptions, that have focused their attention on the effects of stakeholder attributions on CSR and responsible environmental practices in the tourism and hospitality context.

This research confirmed that the CSR initiatives that are directed at internal stakeholders, like human resources, and/or environmentally friendly behaviors that can affect external stakeholders, including local communities are ultimately creating new markets, improving the companies’ profitability and strengthening their competitive positioning. Therefore, today’s businesses are encouraged to engage with a wide array of stakeholders to identify their demands and expectations. This way, they will be in a position to add value to their business, to society and the environment.

Managerial Implications

The strategic attributions of responsible corporate behaviors focus on exploiting opportunities that reconcile differing stakeholder demands. This study demonstrated that tourism and hospitality employers were connecting with multiple stakeholders. The respondents confirmed that they felt that their employers’ CSR and environmentally responsible practices were resulting in shared value opportunities for society and for the businesses themselves, as they led to an increased financial performance, in the long run.

In the past, CSR was associated with corporate philanthropy, contributions-in-kind toward social and environmental causes, environmental protection, employees’ engagement in community works, volunteerism and pro-bono service among other responsible initiatives. However, in this day and age, many companies are increasingly recognizing that there is a business case for CSR. Although, discretionary spending in CSR is usually driven by different stakeholders, businesses are realizing that there are strategic attributions, in addition to stakeholder attributions, to invest in CSR and environmental management practices (Camilleri, 2017a).

This contribution confirmed that stakeholder pressures were having direct and indirect effects on the businesses’ strategic outcomes. This research clearly indicated that both internal and external stakeholders were encouraging the tourism business to invest in environmentally friendly initiatives. This finding is consistent with other theoretical underpinnings (He, He & Xu, 2018; Graci & Dodds, 2008).

Recently, more hotels and restaurants are stepping in with their commitment for sustainability issues as they comply with non-governmental organizations’ regulatory tools such as process and performance-oriented standards relating to environmental protection, corporate governance, and the like (Camilleri, 2015).

Many governments are reinforcing their rules of law and directing businesses to follow their regulations as well as ethical principles of intergovernmental institutions. Yet, certain hospitality enterprises are still not always offering appropriate conditions of employment to their workers (Camilleri, 2021; Asimah, 2018; Janta et al., 2011; Poultson, 2009). The tourism industry is characterized by its seasonality issues and its low entry, insecure jobs.

Several hotels and restaurants would usually offer short-term employment prospects to newcomers to the labor market, including school leavers, individuals with poor qualifications and immigrants, among others (Harkinson et al., 2011). Typically, they recruit employees on a part-time basis and in temporary positions to economize on their wages. Very often, their low-level workers are not affiliated with trade unions. Therefore, they are not covered by collective agreements. As a result, hotel employees may be vulnerable to modern slavery conditions, as they are expected to work for longer than usual, in unsocial hours, during late evenings, night shifts, and in the weekends.

In this case, this research proved that tourism and hospitality employees appreciated their employers’ responsible HRM initiatives including the provision of training and development opportunities, the promotion of equal opportunities when hiring and promoting employees and suitable arrangements for their health and safety. Their employers’ responsible behaviors was having a significant effect on the strategic attributions to their business.

Hence, there is more to CSR than ‘doing well by doing good’. The respondents believed that businesses could increase their profits by engaging in responsible HRM and in ethical behaviors. They indicated that their employer was successful in attracting and retaining customers. This finding suggests that the company they worked for, had high credentials among their employees. The firms’ engagement with different stakeholders can result in an improved reputation and image. They will be in a better position to create economic value for their business if they meet and exceed their stakeholders’ expectations.  

In sum, the objectives of this research were threefold. Firstly, the literature review has given an insight into mainstream responsible HRM initiatives, ethical principles and environmentally friendly investments. Secondly, its empirical research has contributed to knowledge by adding a tourism industry perspective in the existing theoretical underpinnings that are focused on strategic attributions and outcomes of corporate responsibility behaviors. Thirdly, it has outlined a model which clearly evidences how different stakeholder demands and expectations are having an effect on the businesses’ responsible activities.

On a lighter note, it suggests that Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ is triggering businesses to create value to society whilst pursuing their own interest. Hence, corporate social and environmental practices can generate a virtuous circle of positive multiplier effects.

Therefore, there is scope for the businesses, including tourism and hospitality enterprises to communicate about their CSR and environmental initiatives through different marketing communications channels via traditional and interactive media. Ultimately, it is in their interest to promote their responsible behaviors through relevant messages that are clearly understood by different stakeholders.

Limitations and future research

This contribution raises awareness about the strategic attributions of CSR in the tourism and hospitality industry sectors. It clarified that CSR behaviors including ethical responsibility, responsible human resources management and environmental responsibility resulted in substantial benefits to a wide array of stakeholders and to the firm itself. Therefore, there is scope for other researchers to replicate this study in different contexts.

Future studies can incorporate other measures relating to the stakeholder theory. Alternatively, they can utilize other measures that may be drawn from the resource-based view theory, legitimacy theory or institutional theory, among others. Perhaps, further research may use qualitative research methods to delve into the individuals’ opinions and beliefs on strategic attributions of CSR and on environmentally-sound investments, including circular economy systems and renewable technologies.

A free-prepublication version of this paper is available (in its entirety) through ResearchGate.

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Filed under Business, Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, COVID19, CSR, Hospitality, Human Resources, human resources management, Marketing, Strategic Management, Strategy, Sustainability, sustainable development, tourism

Customers are always right, even after their shopping cart checkout!

Photo by CardMapr.nl on Unsplash

The outbreak of COVID-19 and its preventative measures have led several businesses and consumers to change their shopping behaviors. Many individuals have inevitably reduced their human-to-human interactions in physical service environments and were increasingly relying on the adoption of digital media and mobile devices, including smart phones and tablets for their shopping requirements.

Consumers as well as businesses are benefiting of faster connections as the loading speeds of these devices is one of the critical determining factors as to whether visitors may (or may not) be willing to browse through e-commerce websites or apps, to proceed to check out, and to lay down their credit cards.

Advances in technological capabilities have improved the consumers’ online shopping experiences. As a result, more businesses are benefiting from the expertise of online marketplaces to deliver personalized services to their customers. For instance, Amazon provides product recommendations to its visitors, that are based on their previous searches.

Ecommerce giants utilize machine learning technologies to segment consumers by geographical location, age and gender, buying habits, total expenditure, and more. They capture data from online users, including their browsing and purchase histories. They distinguish between profitable, loyal customers, price-sensitive customers, and identify those who are likely to abandon their shopping carts.

Prospective consumers will usually compare a wide variety of products and their corresponding prices, in different virtual marketplaces, before making their purchase decision. They will probably check out the consumer reviews to confirm the reputation and trustworthiness of online merchants. At times, they will not be in a position to confirm the legitimacy of certain websites and to determine if it is safe to disclose their payment details to anonymous vendors.

A few websites may require consumers to join their mailing list. They may expect them to provide their email addresses, that they may share with third parties. As a result, consumers could receive unwanted ads and scams in their inboxes. Moreover, they may experience phishing and spoofing. Therefore, shopping web pages should use SSL certificates to prove that their transactions are safe and secure.

Furthermore, e-commerce websites ought to feature accurate, timely and reliable content. They have to be as transparent as possible with online users. They should clarify their terms and conditions as well as their refund policies. The smallest thing that’s out of place in their e-commerce pages could rapidly erode the customers’ trust in their products and services.

Online users cannot inspect (or try) their chosen products until they receive them. They may experience delays in the delivery of their shopping items, particularly, if they get lost, detoured or delivered in the wrong address. Once they receive the product they ordered, they may decide to return it, if for some reason they are not satisfied by its quality. In this case, they could (or could not) be reimbursed for incurring shipping and packaging costs. Shopping websites are increasingly offering synchronous communications facilities to enhance their personalized services through web chat facilities that enable instantaneous conversations with online users.

This development has significantly improved the consumers’ perceptions about the service quality of e-commerce websites and their satisfaction levels. They also increased the chances of their repeat purchases. In sum, this contribution suggests that online businesses and marketplaces should identify the critical success factors that are differentiating e-commerce websites from one another. The most popular online marketplaces are capable of attracting repeat consumers through a consistent delivery of personalized customer service, thereby increasing their sales potential and growth prospects

This research confirmed that the consumers’ satisfaction with e-commerce websites has a significant effect on their loyalty as well as on their electronic word-of-mouth publicity. This is an important finding, considering that there are several shopping websites and online marketplaces where consumers can find identical or alternative products. In this case, the respondents suggested that e-commerce websites delivered good value to them and that they triggered their loyal behaviors. The research participants indicated that they were satisfied with the quality of the shopping websites and with their electronic services.

This study showed that customers were intrigued to share their positive or negative experiences with products and/or services with other online users. Hence, they were willing to cocreate online content for the benefit of prospective consumers. Many customers are increasingly voicing their opinions and recommendations through qualitative reviews and/or quantitative ratings to support other individuals in their purchase decisions. They may either encourage or discourage others from shopping from a particular vendor and/or website.

This research confirmed that the online users’ satisfaction levels with the service quality of the e-commerce website relied on different factors, including website attractiveness, functionality and security as well as on consumer order fulfillment, during and after a purchase. The websites’ designs and layouts can capture their visitors’ attention and may possibly improve the online consumers’ experiences during their purchase transactions.

The e-commerce websites’ appearance and their functionality may entice online users to continue browsing through their content and to revisit them again, in the future. Online users would be satisfied if the e-commerce websites are informative, useful and easy to use. They utilize shopping websites to access relevant content on the attributes and features of products, including consumer reviews. Therefore, the technical functionality of these websites’ inventory systems should feature accurate and timely information on the availability of items as well as on their prices and costs of delivery.

In this day and age, shopping websites should provide approximate shipping dates, estimated delivery times, et cetera. Online sellers should also establish clear information on their returning policies. They may direct online users and past consumers to frequently answered questions, and/or to chatbots. Alternatively, they may offer webchat facilities to engage with their valued customers, in real time.

Key Takeaway

Although there are many studies that have explored the service quality of e-commerce websites during a purchase transaction, only a few of them have focused on consumer fulfillment (and on their after-sales services). The findings from this research reported that timely deliveries, and the provision of personalized services have a highly significant effect on consumer satisfaction and loyalty.

Service providers ought to meet and exceed their customers’ expectations in different stages of their order fulfilment in online retailing contexts. They ought to deliver the ordered items as expeditiously as possible, to improve their service quality. Online retailers should respond to consumer enquiries, in a timely manner. This way, they can increase consumer satisfaction, minimize complaints and reduce the likelihood of negative criticism (and damaging e-WOM) in review websites and social media.

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This is an excerpt of my latest academic article that was published in the Journal of Strategy and Management. It is available here: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/JSMA-02-2021-0045/full/html

A prepublication version is available through ResearchGate.

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Using mobile learning for corporate training: A contextual framework

This is an excerpt from one my my latest chapters on the use of digital media.

Suggested citation: Butler, A., Camilleri, M. A., Creed, A., & Zutshi, A. (2021). The use of mobile learning technologies for corporate training and development: A contextual framework. In M. A. Camilleri (Ed.), Strategic corporate communication in the digital age. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 115-130. DOI: 10.1108/978-1-80071-264-520211007

Photo by Daniel Korpai on Unsplash

There are a number of factors that can have an effect on the successful implementation of mobile learning (m-learning) for training and development purposes, including their course content, learning outcomes, the users’ perceived ease of use, usefulness and enjoyment, among other issues.

The individuals’ accessibility to these technologies or their spatial environment can also have an effect on their engagement with m-learning. Moreover, there may be certain distractions in the environment that can disrupt m-learning and/or decrease their effectiveness.

Csikszentmihalyi’s (1975) flow theory suggests that individuals can be completely focused on specific tasks (Csikszentmihalyi, Aduhamdeh & Nakamura 2014). They may immerse themselves in their training and development through m-learning. Of course, they have to be in the right environment where there are no distractions. Hence, the contextual setting of m-learning can influence its effectiveness. For example, experiential learning theory suggests that individuals learn through their ongoing interactions with their surrounding environment as they find meanings to problems and develop their understanding (Illeris, 2007). Similarly, Kolb’s (1984) learning theory posits that knowledge may result from a combination of direct experiences and socially acquired understandings (Matthews & Candy 1999). Laouris and Eteokleous (2005) discuss about the critical factors that could influence the outcomes of m-learning.

Hence, this contribution builds on these theoretical insights and on the findings from this study. The authors of this chapter put forward a contextual framework for m-learning. They identify the specific factors, including; accessibility and cost; the usefulness of the learning content; the ease of use of the technology; time; extrinsic and intrinsic motivations (e.g. rewards and perceived enjoyment, among others); integration with other learning approaches; individual learning styles and predispositions; and spatial issues and the surrounding environment, as featured here:

A prepublication version of this contribution is available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344337930_The_Use_of_Mobile_Learning_Technologies_for_Corporate_Training_and_Development_A_Contextual_Framework

The authors argue that these eight contextual factors can have an effect on the successful implementation of m-learning.

  1. Time: This relates to the time that the users dedicate to learn to use and to engage in m-learning.
  2. Spatial issues and the environment: These relate to the physical location of the user when they access m-learning content.
  3. The usefulness of the learning content: The learning content (video, audio, written, or a combination of these) has to be useful to improve the mobile users’ knowledge, skills and competences.
  4. Ease of use of the technology: The m-learning technology has to be easy to use. It may (not) be connected to wireless networks (if it is, there should not be connectivity problems when accessing the content). The m-learning technology may require passive or active learning (for example, reading and/or interacting through games).
  5. Individual learning styles and predispositions: The m-learning technology should consider the individuals’ age, cognitive knowledge (e.g. memory); skills; visual, auditory and/or kinaesthetic abilities, as well as their preferences toward certain technologies. The technology may require interaction with peers or facilitators in synchronous, or asynchronous modes (these issues will depend on the learning outcomes of the mentioned technology).
  6. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivations: Organisations and professionals should also consider extrinsic and intrinsic motivations to entice the mobile users to use the m-learning technology.
  7. Accessibility and cost: These relate to the accessibility and cost of the m-learning technology. It can be available through different mobile platforms. It may be used by wide range of users (who have different learning needs) for different purposes. The software and/or hardware ought to be reasonable priced.
  8. Integration with other learning approaches: The m-learning technology ought to be complemented and blended with offline teaching approaches.

This proposed framework represents different contextual factors that can have an effect on the successful implementation of learner-centred corporate education (see Grant, 2019; Janson, Söllner & Leimeister, 2019). These eight factors are influencing the effectiveness of m-learning during the training and development of human resources. Hence the arrows are pointing inwards. However, the factors in the outer circle are related to each other and they can lead to further considerations. M-leaners may choose a short video over a longer podcast to learning or revise depending on the content or their situation. There are innumerable other examples of contextual learning due to the diversity of people, organizations and learning resources, objects and opportunities. For example, time is related to the spatial issues and the environment. The mobile users will use their downtimes wisely at the office, at home, or whilst commuting to and from work if they engage with m-learning applications. Their down time may provide them with an opportunity to improve their learning journey.

Conclusions and implications

The contextual factors for mobile learning encompass a variety of dimensions including time, spatial issues and the environment, the usefulness of the learning content and the ease of use of the technology, individual learning styles and predispositions, extrinsic and intrinsic motivations, accessibility and cost, as well as integration with other learning approaches.  The authors posit that this comprehensive framework can support businesses in their human resources training and development. It enables them to identify all the contextual factors that can have an effect on the successful roll out of m-learning designs.

This chapter has featured a critical review of the relevant literature and has presented the findings from an empirical research. The data for this study was gathered through quantitative and qualitative methodologies. The researchers have disseminated a survey questionnaire among course participants and have organised semi-structured interview sessions with corporate training participants. In sum, this study reported that the younger course participants were more likely to embrace the m-learning technologies than their older counterparts. They suggested that they were using laptops, hybrids as well as smartphones and tablets to engage with m-learning applications at home and when they are out and about. These recent developments have led many businesses to utilize mobile technologies to engage with their employees or to use them for their training and development purposes.

Therefore, this contribution has identified the contextual factors that should be taken into account by businesses and/or by training organisations. Thus, the authors have presented their proposed framework for mobile learning. This framework is substantiated by their empirical research and by relevant theoretical underpinnings that are focused on m-learning.

The authors are well aware that every study has its inherent limitations. In this case, this sample was small, but it was sufficient for the purposes of this exploratory study. Future studies may include larger sampling frames and/or may use different research designs. The researchers believe that there is still a knowledge gap in academia on this topic. For the time being, just a few studies have explored the use of mobile learning among businesses. The mobile learning technologies can be rolled out for the training and development of corporate employees. The training organisations can encourage their course participants to engage in self-directed learning and development through formal, informal or micro learning contexts. Corporate educators and services providers of continuous professional training and development can use the mobile learning applications to improve the employees’ skills and competences. This may in turn lead to increased organisational productivities and competitiveness.

This chapter was published in Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age.

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Filed under Business, corporate communication, digital media, Marketing, Mobile, mobile learning

A taxonomy of online marketing terms

This is an excerpt from one of my latest chapters on online marketing methods.

Photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

Suggested Citation: Hajarian, M., Camilleri, M. A., Diaz, P., & Aedo, I. (2021). A taxonomy of online marketing methods for corporate communication. In M. A. Camilleri (Ed.), Strategic corporate communication in the digital age. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 235-250. DOI: 10.1108/978-1-80071-264-520211014

One of the well-known online marketing methods is the use of email marketing. It is one of the most popular digital tactics. Despite the current popularity of social media, many individuals still prefer to receive the news about the brands via emails (Camilleri, 2018a). Email marketing is very effective in terms of return on investment (ROI). However, there are many ways that can improve the email marketing performance (Conceição & Gama, 2019). Sahni, Wheeler and Chintagunta (2018) found that by personalizing email marketing (e.g. adding the name of the receiver to the email subject), the probability that the receiver reads the email increases by 20%. Conceição and Gama (2019) have developed a classification algorithm to predict the effectiveness of email campaign. The authors suggested that the open rates were based on the keywords that were featured inside the email. They maintained that the utilization of personalized messages and the inclusion of question marks in the subjects of the email can increase the chance of opening an email. Moreover, they hinted that there are specific times during the day where there are more chances that the marketing emails will be noticed and read by their recipients. These times can be identified by using data mining technologies.

Direct emails could be forwarded to specific users for different reasons. Evans, (2018) described advertising emails in three categories: (i) promotional emails that raise awareness about attractive offers, including discounts and reduced prices of products and services. This type of email is very helpful to increase sales and customer loyalty. Some innovative marketers are using disruptive technologies, including gamification to reward and incentivize online users to click their email links; (ii) electronic newsletters that are aimed at building consumer engagement. Hence, these emails ought to provide high-quality, interactive content to online users. These emails are also known as relational emails that are intended to build a rapport with online users; (iii) confirmation emails that are used to confirm to the customers that their online transactions were carried out successfully. These types of emails are very valuable in terms of branding and corporate image. In sum, the electronic newsletters are intended to redirect online users to the businesses’ websites.

Another major online marketing method is the social network marketing. Brands and corporations can feature their page on social media networks (e.g. Facebook or Instagram) to communicate with their customers and/or promote their products and services to their followers. This can result in an improved brand awareness and a surge in sales. On the other hand, customers can write their reviews about brands or even purchase products online (Smith, Hernández-García, Agudo Peregrina & Hair, 2016). Thus, social network marketing can have a positive impact on electronic positive eWOM advertising in addition to enhancing the customers’ loyalty (Smith et al, 2016).

There are other forms of social network marketing including influencer marketing, video marketing and viral marketing, among others. The social networks are providing various benefits to various marketers as they can use them to publish their content online. Their intention is to influence online users and to entice them to purchase their products or services. Liang, Wang and Zhao (2019) have developed a novel algorithm that can identify the effects of influencer marketing content. Notwithstanding, various social networks such as Facebook and Instagram are increasingly placing the businesses’ video ads for their subscribers. In both cases, the advertisers may use Facebook marketing (Instagram is owned by Facebook) to identify the most appropriate subscribers to serve their ads (Camilleri, 2019). The social networks are a very suitable place for targeted advertising because they have access to a wide range of user information such as their demographical details, and other relevant information (Hajarian, Bastanfard, Mohammadzadeh & Khalilian, 2019a). However, online users may not always be interested in the marketers’ social media messages. As a result, they may decide to block or filter ads (Camilleri, 2020).

One of the most profitable and interesting online marketing methods is the Electronic Word of Mouth (eWOM) (see Hajarian, Bastanfard, Mohammadzadeh & Khalilian, 2017). The internet users are increasingly engaging in eWOM. More individuals are sharing their positive or negative statements about products or services (Ismagilova, Dwivedi, Slade & Williams, 2017). Hence, the individual users’ reviews in online fora, blogs, and social media can be considered as eWOM. Ismagilova et al. (2017) stated that the businesses would benefit through positive eWOM as this would improve their positioning in their consumers’ minds. Moreover, eWOM is also useful to prospective consumers as they rely on the consumers’ independent comments about their experience with the businesses’ products or services. The consumers’ reviews and ratings can reduce the risk and search time of prospective consumers. In addition, individuals can use the review platforms to ask questions and/or interact with other users. These are some of the motivations that lure online users to engage in eWOM.

Influencer marketing is another type of online marketing that is conspicuous with the social media. The influencers may include those online users who are promoting products or brands to their audiences. Hence, influencer marketing is closely related to eWOM advertising. However, in this case, the influencer may be a popular individual including a celebrity, figurehead or an athlete who will usually have a high number of followers on social media. The influencers may be considered as the celebrities of online social networks. They are proficient in personal branding (Jin & Muqaddam, 2019). Hence, the social media influencers will promote their image like a brand. Thus, the influencer marketing, involves the cooperation of two brands, the social media influencer and the brand that s/he are promoting (Jin & Muqaddam, 2019). Social media influencers can charge up to $250,000 for each post (Lieber, 2018), although this depends on the number of their audience and the platform that they are active on. The influencers work on different topics such as lifestyle, fashion, comedy, politics and gaming (Stoldt, 2019). It is projected that influencer marketing will become a $5 to $10 billion market by 2020 (Mediakix, 2019). It is worth to mention that the gaming influencers are also becoming very successful in online marketing.

Viral marketing is another method of online marketing that can be performed by regular social media users (not necessarily influencers). The social media subscribers can disseminate online content, including websites, images and videos among friends, colleagues and acquaintances (Daif & Elsayed, 2019). Their social media posts may become viral (like a virus) if they are appreciated by their audiences. In this case, the posts will be shared and reshared by third parties. The most appealing or creative content can turn viral in different social media. For example, breaking news or emotional content, including humoristic videos have the potential to become viral content as they are usually appreciated and shared by social media users.

The social networks as well as the messengers like Facebook messenger, WhatsApp, et cetera are ideal vehicles of viral marketing as online users and their contacts are active on them. Similarly, other marketing methods such as email marketing can also be used as a tool for viral marketing. In viral marketing the influencers can play a very important role as they can spread the message among their followers. Hence, the most influential people could propagate online content that can turn viral. Nguyen, Thai and Dinh (2016) have developed algorithms that identify the most effective social media influencers that have more clout among their followers. In a similar way, businesses can identify and recruit influential social media users to disseminate their promotional content (Pfeiffer & Zheleva, 2018). Their viral marketing strategies may involve mass-marketing sharing incentives, where users receive rewards for promoting ads among their friends (Pfeiffer & Zheleva, 2018). There are business websites that are incentivizing online users, by offering financial rewards if they invite their friends to use their services. 

Videos are one of the best methods for marketing. Abouyounes (2019) estimated that over 80% of internet traffic was related to videos in 2019. He projected that US businesses will spend $28 billion on video marketing in 2020. The relevant literature suggests that individuals may be intrigued to share emotional videos. Such videos may even go viral (Nikolinakou & King, 2018). The elements of surprise, happiness as well as other factors such as the length of the video can affect whether a video turns viral or not. Abouyounes’s (2019) reported that the individuals would share a video with their friends if they found it to be interesting. Alternatively, they may decide to disseminate such videos on social media to share cognitive (informational) and/or emotional messages among their contacts. Hence, the term social video marketing refers to those videos that can increase the social media users’ engagement with video content. Over 77% of the business that have used social video marketing have reported a positive direct impact on their online metrics (Camilleri, 2017).

With the rise of social media, many online users have started to refine the content of their online messages to appeal to the different digital audiences. The online users’ content marketing involves the creation of relevant messages that are shared via videos, blogs and social media content. These messages are intended to stimulate the recipients’ interest. The content marketers’ aim is to engage with existing and potential customers (Järvinen & Taiminen, 2016). Therefore, their marketing messages ought to be relevant for their target audiences. The online users may not perceive that the marketed content is valuable and informative for them. Thus, the content should be carefully adapted to the targeted audience. The content marketers may use various interactive systems to engage with online users in order to gain their trust (Montero, Zarraonandia, Diaz, & Aedo, 2019; Díaz, Aedo & Zarraonandia, 2019a; Díaz, Zarraonandía, Sánchez-Francisco, Aedo & Onorati, 2019b; Díaz & Ioannou, 2019c; Baltes, 2015). To this end, the advertisers should analyze the interests of their target audience to better understand their preferred content. Successful content marketing relies on the creation of convincing and timely messages that appeal to online users. Zarrella (2013) study suggested that some Facebook and Twitter content is more effective during particular times of the day and in some days of the week.

Native advertising present promotional content including articles, infographics, videos, et cetera that are integrated within the platforms where they are featured (e.g. in search engines or social media). In 2014, various business invested more than $3.2 billion in this type of digital advertising (Wojdynski & Evans, 2016). Native ads may include banners or short articles that are presented in webpages. However, online users would be redirected to other webpages if they click on them. Parsana, Poola, Wang and Wang (2018) has explored the click-through rates (CTR) of native advertisements as they examined the historic data of online users. Other studies investigated how native ads were consistent in different situations and pages (Lin, 2018).

The advertorials are similar to native ads as they are featured as reports or as recommendations within websites. They are presented in such a way that the reader thinks that they are part of the news (Charlesworth, 2018). This type of advertising can be featured as video or infographic content that will redirect the online users to the advertisers’ websites. Besides, these ads may indicate a small “sponsored by” note that is usually ignored by the online users. In some regards, this is similar to the editorial content marketing, where editors write promotional content about a company or a website. However, in the case of editorial marketing, the main purpose is to educate or to inform the readers about a specific subject. Therefore, such a news item is usually presented free of charge as it appears at the discretion of the editor. Nevertheless, both advertorial and editorial marketing can have a positive impact on brand awareness and brand equity.

Various technologies companies including Google and Facebook are providing location-based marketing opportunities to many businesses. However, this innovative marketing approach relies on the individuals’ willingness to share their location data with their chosen mobile applications (apps). For example, foursquare, among other apps, can send messages to its mobile users (if they enable location sharing). It can convey messages about the users favorite spots, including businesses, facilities, et cetera, when they are located in close proximity to them (Guzzo, D’Andrea, Ferri & Grifoni, 2012).

Currently, the messengers are growing at a very fast pace. It may appear that they are becoming more popular than the social networks. Messengers such as WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and QQ, among others, have over 4.6 billion active users in a month (Mehner, 2019). This makes them a very attractive channel for online marketing. Since messengers can provide a private, secure connection between the business and their customers, they are very useful tools for marketing purposes. Moreover, the messengers can be used in conjunction with other advertisement methods like display (or banner) marketing, viral marketing, click-to-message ads, et cetera. Online or mobile users can use the messengers to communicate with a company representative (or bot) on different issues. They may even raise their complaints through such systems. Some messengers like Apple Business Chat and WeChat, among others have also integrated in-app payments. Hence, the messengers have lots of possible features and can be used to improve the business-to-consumer (B2C) relationships. In addition, other messengers like Skype, Google Meet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, et cetera can provide video conferencing platforms for corporations and small businesses. These systems have become very popular communication tools during COVID-19.

Other online marketing approaches can assist corporations in building their brand equity among customers. Various businesses are organizing virtual events and webinars to engage with their target audience. They may raise awareness about their events by sending invitations (via email) to their subscribers (Harvey & An, 2018). The organization of the virtual meetings are remarkably cheaper than face-to-face meetings (Lande, 2011). They can be recorded and/or broadcast to wider audiences through live streaming technologies via social media (Veissi, 2017). Today, online users can also use Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn live streaming facilities to broadcast their videos in real time and share them amongst their followers.

The display (or banner) marketing may usually comprise promotional videos, images and/or textual content. They are usually presented in webpages and applications. Thus, online banners may advertise products or services on internet websites to increase brand awareness (Turban et al, 2018). The display ads may be created by the website owners themselves. Alternatively, they may have been placed by Google Adsense on behalf of their customers (advertisers).

The display advertisements may also be featured in digital and mobile games. Such online advertisements are also known as in-game marketing.  The digital ads can be included within the games’ apps and/or may also be accessed through popular social networks. The in-game marketing may either be static (as the ads cannot be modified after the game was released) or dynamic (where new ads will be displayed via Internet connections) (Terlutter & Capella, 2013). Lewis and Porter (2010) suggested that in-game advertising should be harmonious with the games’ environments. There are different forms of advertisements that can be featured in games. For instance, advergames are serious games that have been developed in close collaboration with a corporate entity for advertising purposes (Terlutter & Capella, 2013), e.g. Pepsi man game for PlayStation.

The latest online marketing technologies are increasingly using interactive systems like augmented reality. These innovations are being utilized to enhance the businesses’ engagement with their consumers (Díaz et al., 2019b). The augmented reality software can help the businesses to promote their products (Turban et al, 2018). For example, IKEA (the furnishing company) has introduced an augmented reality application to help their customers to visualize how their products would appear in their homes. Similarly, online fashion stores can benefit from augmented reality applications as their customers can customize their personal avatars with their appearance, in terms of size, length and body type, to check out products well before they commit to purchase them (Montero et al., 2019).

The banner advertising was one of the earliest forms of digital marketing. However, there were other unsophisticated online marketing tactics that were used in the past. Some of these methods are still being used by some marketers. For instance, online users can list themselves and/or their organization in an online directory. This marketing channel is similar to the traditional yellow pages (Guzzo et al., 2012). The online directory has preceded the search engine marketing (SEM). This form of online advertising involves paid advertisements that appear on search engine results pages (like native ads). Currently, SEM is valued at $70 billion market by 2020 (Aswani, Kar, Ilavarasan & Dwivedi, 2018). The advertisements may be related to specific keywords that are used in search queries. SEM can be presented in a variety of formats, including small, text-based ads or visual, product listing ads. The advertisers bid on the keywords that are used in the search engines. Therefore, they will pay the search engines like Google and Bing to feature their ads alongside the search results.

The search engine optimization (SEO) is different than SEM. The individuals or organizations do not have to pay the search engine for traffic and clicks. SEO involves a set of practices that are intended to improve the websites’ visibility within the search results of search engines. The search engines algorithms can optimize the search results of certain websites, (i) if they have published relevant content, (ii) if they regularly update their content, and (iii) if they include link-worthy sites. Although, SEO is a free tool, Google AdWords and Bing ads are two popular search engine marketing platforms that can promote websites in their search engines (through their SEM packages). Various researchers have relied on different scientific approaches to optimise the search engine results of their queries. For example, Wong, Collins and Venkataraman, (2018) have used machine learning methods to identify which ad placements and biddings were yielding the best return of investment from Google Adwords.

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