Category Archives: Small Business

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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Filed under Business, crowd investing, Crowd sourcing, Crowdfunding, Finance, Marketing, Small Business, SMEs, startups

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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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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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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A useful book on corporate communications through digital media

This authoritative book features a broad spectrum of theoretical and empirical contributions on topics relating to corporate communications in the digital age. It is a premier reference source and a valuable teaching resource for course instructors of advanced, undergraduate and post graduate courses in marketing and communications. It comprises fourteen engaging and timely chapters that appeal to today’s academic researchers including doctoral candidates, postdoctoral researchers, early career academics, as well as seasoned researchers. All chapters include an abstract, an introduction, the main body with headings and subheadings, conclusions and research implications. They were written in a critical and discursive manner to entice the curiosity of their readers.

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Chapter 1 provides a descriptive overview of different online technologies and presents the findings from a systematic review on corporate communication and digital media. Camilleri (2020) implies that institutions and organizations ought to be credible and trustworthy in their interactive, dialogic communications during day-to-day operations as well as in crisis situations, if they want to reinforce their legitimacy in society. Chapter 2 clarifies the importance of trust and belonging in individual and organizational relationships. Allen, Sven, Marwan and Arslan (2020) suggest that trust nurtures social interactions that can ultimately lead to significant improvements in corporate communication and other benefits for organizations. Chapter 3 identifies key dimensions for dialogic communication through social media. Capriotti, Zeler and Camilleri (2020) put forward a conceptual framework that clarifies how organizations can enhance their dialogic communications through interactive technologies. Chapter 4 explores the marketing communications managers’ interactive engagement with the digital media. Camilleri and Isaias (2020) suggest that the pace of technological innovation, perceived usefulness, ease of use of online technologies as well as social influences are significant antecedents for the businesses’ engagement with the digital media. Chapter 5 explains that the Balanced Scorecard’s (BSC) performance management tools can be used to support corporate communications practitioners in their stakeholder engagement. Oliveira, Martins, Camilleri and Jayantilal (2020) imply that practitioners can use BSC’s metrics to align their communication technologies, including big data analytics, with organizational strategy and performance management, in the digital era. Chapter 6 focuses on UK universities’ corporate communications through Twitter. Mogaji, Watat, Olaleye and Ukpabi (2020) find that British universities are increasingly using this medium to attract new students, to retain academic employees and to promote their activities and events. Chapter 7 investigates the use of mobile learning (m-learning) technologies for corporate training. Butler, Camilleri, Creed and Zutshi (2020) shed light on key contextual factors that can have an effect on the successful delivery of continuous professional development of employees through mobile technologies.

Chapter 8 evaluates the effects of influencer marketing on consumer-brand engagement on Instagram. Rios Marques, Casais and Camilleri (2020) identify two types of social media influencers. Chapter 9 explores in-store communications of large-scale retailers. Riboldazzi and Capriello (2020) use an omni-channel approach as they integrate traditional and digital media in their theoretical model for informative, in-store communications. Chapter 10 indicates that various corporations are utilizing different social media channels for different purposes. Troise and Camilleri (2020) contend that they are using them to promote their products or services and/or to convey commercial information to their stakeholders. Chapter 11 appraises the materiality of the corporations’ integrated disclosures of financial and non-financial performance. Rodríguez-Gutiérrez (2020) identifies the key determinants for the materiality of integrated reports.Chapter 12 describes various electronic marketing (emarketing) practices of micro, small and medium sized enterprises in India. Singh, Kumar and Kalia (2020) conclude that Indian owner-managers are not always engaging with their social media followers in a professional manner. Chapter 13 suggests that there is scope for small enterprises to use Web 2.0 technologies and associated social media applications for branding, advertising and corporate communication. Oni (2020) maintains that social media may be used as a marketing communications tool to attract customers and for internal communications with employees. Chapter 14 shed light on the online marketing tactics that are being used for corporate communication purposes. Hajarian, Camilleri, Diaz and Aedo (2020) outline different online channels including one-way and two-way communication technologies.

Endorsements

“Digital communications are increasingly central to the process of building trust, reputation and support.  It’s as true for companies selling products as it is for politicians canvasing for votes.  This book provides a framework for understanding and using online media and will be required reading for serious students of communication”.

Dr. Charles J. Fombrun, Former Professor at New York University, NYU-Stern School, Founder & Chairman Emeritus, Reputation Institute/The RepTrak Company.

“This book has addressed a current and relevant topic relating to an important aspect of digital transformation. Various chapters of this book provide valuable insights about a variety of issues relating to “Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age”. The book will be a useful resource for both academics and practitioners engaged in marketing- and communications-related activities. I am delighted to endorse this valuable resource”.

Dr. Yogesh K. Dwivedi, Professor at the School of Management at Swansea University, UK and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Information Management.

“This title covers a range of relevant issues and trends related to strategic corporate communication in an increasingly digital era. For example, not only does it address communication from a social media, balanced scorecard, and stakeholder engagement perspective, but it also integrates relevant contemporary insights related to SMEs and COVID-19. This is a must-read for any corporate communications professional or researcher”.

Dr. Linda Hollebeek, Associate Professor at Montpellier Business School, France and Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia.

“Corporate communication is changing rapidly, and digital media represent a tremendous opportunity for companies of all sizes to better achieve their communication goals. This book provides important insights into relevant trends and charts critical ways in which digital media can be used to their full potential” 

Dr. Ulrike Gretzel, Director of Research at Netnografica and Senior Fellow at the Center for Public Relations, University of Southern California, USA.

“This new book by Professor Mark Camilleri promises again valuable insights in corporate communication in the digital era with a special focus on Corporate Social Responsibility. The book sets a new standard in our thinking of responsibilities in our digital connected world”. 

Dr. Wim Elving, Professor at Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, The Netherlands. 

References

Allen, K.A. Sven, G.T., Marwan, S. & Arslan, G. (2020). Trust and belonging in individual and organizational relationships. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Butler, A. Camilleri, M.A., Creed, A. & Zutshi, A. (2020). The use of mobile learning technologies for corporate training and development: A contextual framework. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Camilleri, M.A. (2020). Strategic dialogic communication through digital media during COVID-19. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Camilleri, M.A. & Isaias, P. (2020). The businesses’ interactive engagement through digital media. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Capriotti, P., Zeler, I. & Camilleri, M.A. (2020). Corporate communication through social networks: The identification of key dimensions for dialogic communication. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Hajarian, M., Camilleri, M.A.. Diaz, P & Aedo, I. (2020). A taxonomy of online marketing methods for corporate communication. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Mogaji, E., Watat, J.K., Olaleye, S.A. & Ukpabi, D. (2020). Recruit, retain and report: UK universities’ strategic communication with stakeholders on Twitter. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Oliveira, C., Martins, A., Camilleri, M.A. & Jayantilal, S. (2020). Using the balanced scorecard for strategic communication and performance management. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Oni, O. (2020). Small and medium sized enterprises’ engagement with social media for corporate communication. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Riboldazzi, S. & Capriello, A. (2020). Large-scale retailers, digital media and in-store communications. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Rios Marques, I., Casais, B. & Camilleri, M.A. (2020). The effect of macro celebrity and micro influencer endorsements on consumer-brand engagement on Instagram. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Rodríguez-Gutiérrez, P. (2020). Corporate communication and integrated reporting: the materiality determination process and stakeholder engagement in Spain. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Singh, T., Kumar, R. & Kalia, P. (2020). E-marketing practices of micro, small and medium sized enterprises. Evidence from India. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

Troise, C. & Camilleri, M.A. (2020). The use of the digital media for marketing, CSR communication and stakeholder engagement. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.), Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, UK.

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Filed under Analytics, Big Data, Business, corporate communication, Corporate Social Responsibility, COVID19, CSR, digital media, Integrated Reporting, internet technologies, internet technologies and society, Marketing, Mobile, mobile learning, online, performance management, Small Business, SMEs, social media, Stakeholder Engagement, Sustainability, Web

Promoting strategic corporate social responsibility among practitioners

What is Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility?

Organisations engage in Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (Strategic CSR) when they integrate responsible behaviours in their corporate practices (Camilleri, 2018; Porter & Kramer, 2011). Therefore, Strategic CSR is often evidenced by the businesses’ engagement with key stakeholders, including customers, employees, shareholders, regulatory authorities and communities as their non-financial activities can have an effect on society and the natural environment (Camilleri, 2017a). The ultimate goal of strategic CSR is to create both economic and social value (Carroll & Shabana, 2010; Falck & Heblich, 2007).


Introduction

The businesses’ CSR practices may result in a sustained competitive advantage if they are willing to forge strong relationships with their stakeholders (Camilleri, 2015a; Freeman,  & McVea, 2001). Therefore, businesses ought to communicate with employees, customers, suppliers, regulatory stakeholders as well as with their surrounding community (EU, 2016; Bhattacharya, Korschun & Sen, 2009). Positive stakeholder relationships can lead to an improved organizational performance, in the long run (Camilleri, 2015a).

The most successful businesses are increasingly promoting the right conditions of employment for their employees, within their supply chains (Camilleri, 2017b). They are also instrumental in improving the lives of their suppliers (Camilleri, 2017c; Porter & Kramer, 2011). They do so as they would like to enhance the quality and attributes of their products or services; which are ultimately delivered to customers and consumers. Hence, their long-term investments on strategic CSR activities are likely to yield financial returns for them. At the same time they will add value to society (McWilliams et al., 2006; Falck & Heblich, 2007). Therefore, the strategic CSR involves the promotion of socially and environmentally responsible practices they are re-aligned with the businesses’ profit motives (Camilleri, 2017b,c).


Key Theoretical Underpinnings

The Strategic CSR perspective resonates well with the agency theory. In the past, scholars argued that the companies’ only responsibility was to maximise their owners’ and shareholders’ wealth (Levitt, 1958; Friedman, 1970). Hence, companies were often encouraged to undertake CSR strategies which can bring value to their businesses and to disregard those activities which are fruitless. However, at times, the fulfilment of philanthropic responsibilities can also  benefit the bottom line (Lantos, 2001).

Although, it could be difficult to quantify the returns of responsible behaviours, relevant research has shown that those companies that practiced social and environmental responsibility did well by doing good (Falck & Heblich, 2007, Porter & Kramer, 2011).Some of the contributions on this topic suggest that corporate philanthropy should be deeply rooted in the firms’ competences and linked to their business environment (Camilleri, 2015; Porter & Kramer, 2002; Godfrey, 2005). Many authors often referred to the CSR’s core domains (economic, legal and ethical responsibilities) that were compatible and consistent with the relentless call for the business case of CSR (Camilleri, 2015b; Carroll & Shabana, 2010, Vogel, 2005).

Many commentators argued that the strategic CSR practices may result in a new wave of social benefits as well as gains for the businesses themselves (Fombrun et al., 2000; Porter & Kramer, 2011) rather than merely acting on well-intentioned impulses or by reacting to outside pressures (Van Marrewijk, 2003). Lozano (2015) indicated that the business case is the most important driver for CSR engagement. Thus, proper incentives may encourage managers ‘to do well by doing good’ (Falck & Heblich, 2007). If it is a company’s goal to survive and prosper, it can do nothing better than to take a long-term view and understand that if it treats society well, society will return the favour. Companies could direct their discretionary investments to areas (and cost centres) that are relevant to them (Gupta & Sharma, 2009). The reconciliation of shareholder and other stakeholders addresses the perpetual relationship between business and society, as companies are expected to balance the conflicting stakeholder interests for long term sustainability (Orlitzky et al., 2011; Camilleri, 2017c; Camilleri 2019).

 

Conclusion
Many companies are increasingly recognising the business case for CSR as they allocate adequate and sufficient resources to financial and non-financial activities that will ultimately benefit their stakeholders. Their motivation behind their engagement in strategic CSR practices is to increase their profits and to create shareholder value. At the same time, they strengthen their competitive advantage through stakeholder management.

References

Bhattacharya CB, Korschun D, Sen S (2009). Strengthening stakeholder–company relationships through mutually beneficial corporate social responsibility initiatives. J Bus Ethics 85(2):257–272.

Camilleri, M.A. (2015a). Valuing Stakeholder Engagement and Sustainability Reporting. Corporate Reputation Review, 18 (3), 210-222.

Camilleri, M.A. (2015b) The Business Case for Corporate Social Responsibility. In Menzel Baker, S. & Mason, M.(Eds.) Marketing & Public Policy as a Force for Social Change Conference. (Washington D.C., 4th June). Proceedings, pp. 8-14, American Marketing Association.

Camilleri M.A. (2017a) Corporate sustainability, social responsibility and environmental management: an introduction to theory and practice with case studies. Springer, Cham, Switzerland.

Camilleri, M.A. (2017b). Corporate Citizenship and Social Responsibility Policies in the United States of America. Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal. 8 (1), 77-93.

Camilleri, M.A. (2017c). The Rationale for Responsible Supply Chain Management and Stakeholder Engagement. Journal of Global Responsibility. 8 (1), 111-126.

Camilleri, M.A. (2018). The SMEs’ Technology Acceptance of Digital Media for Stakeholder Engagement. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development.  26(4), 504-521.

Camilleri, M.A. (2019). Measuring the corporate managers’ attitudes toward ISO’s social responsibility standard. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence. 30(14), 1549-1561.

Carroll AB, Shabana KM (2010). The business case for corporate social responsibility: a review of concepts, research and practice. Int J Manag Rev 12(1):85–105.

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RESEARCH: The Small Business Owner-Managers’ Attitudes toward Digital Media

An Excerpt from my latest paper: Camilleri, M.A. (2018). The SMEs’ Technology Acceptance of Digital Media for Stakeholder Engagement. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development (Forthcoming).


small-businesses-social-media

This contribution sheds light on the SME owner-managers’ attitudes toward the pace of technological innovation, perceived use and ease of use of digital media; as they communicate and interact with interested stakeholders online. It also explored their stance on responsible entrepreneurship, specifically on commercial, ethical and social responsibilities, as well as on their willingness to support other responsible stakeholders.

This empirical study and its theoretical underpinnings contribute to an improved understanding as to why today’s SMEs are expected to communicate with stakeholders through digital media. At the same time, it raises awareness of responsible entrepreneurial initiatives that could be promoted through digital media, including; corporate websites, social media and blogs, among others.

Generally, the results reported that there were high mean scores and low standard deviations, particularly when the participants were expected to indicate their attitudes on their commercial and ethical responsibilities. The nature of the SMEs’ CSR activities is usually integrated into their company culture, often implicitly in habits and routines that are inspired by highly motivated owner-managers; rather than explicitly in job descriptions or formalized procedures (Jenkins, 2006). The factor analysis indicated that the SME owner-managers were increasingly perceiving the usefulness of digital media to engage with marketplace stakeholders, including; consumers, suppliers and other businesses, as they promoted their responsible entrepreneurship behaviors.

The communications on their businesses’ social responsibility and environmentally-sound practices also served them well to engage with other interested groups; including; human resources, shareholders and investors, among others. This finding mirrors Baumann Pauly et al.’s (2013) argumentation as these authors remarked that each business decision on economic, social, and environmental aspects must take into account all stakeholders. Notwithstanding, the businesses and their marketers need to possess relevant knowledge on their stakeholders, as this will impact on the effectiveness of their CSR communication (Morsing and Schultz, 2006; Vorvoreanu, 2009).

The value of their communications lies in their ability to open-up lines of dialogue through stories and ideas that reflect their stakeholders’ interests (Fieseler and Fleck, 2013; Moreno and Capriotti, 2009). For these reasons, companies cannot afford to overstate or misrepresent their CSR communications. Their online communication with stakeholders could foster positive behaviors or compel remedial actions, and will pay off in terms of corporate reputation, customer loyalty and market standing (Tantalo and Priem, 2016; Du et al, 2010).

This study suggests that the SME owner-managers were recognizing that they had to keep up with the pace of technological innovation. Yet there were a few participants, particularly the older ones, who were still apprehensive toward the use of digital media. Eventually, these respondents should realize that it is in their interest to forge relationships with key stakeholders (Lamberton and Stephen, 2016; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Rauniar et al., 2014; Uhlaner et al., 2004). This research posits that the owner-managers or their members of staff should possess relevant digital skills and competences to communicate online with interested parties.

Likewise, Baumann Pauly et al., (2013) also recommended that the managers must be trained, and that their CSR activities must be evaluated. These findings are in line with other contributions (Spence and Perrini, 2011; Perrini et al., 2007) that have theoretically or anecdotally challenged the business case perspective for societal engagement (Penwar et al., 2017; Baden and Harwood 2013; Brammer et al. 2012).

The regression analysis has identified and analyzed the determinants which explain the rationale behind the SME owner-managers’ utilization of digital media for stakeholder engagement and for the promotion of responsible entrepreneurship. It reported that the respondents’ technology acceptance depended on their perceived “use” and “ease of use” of digital media; and on their willingness to communicate online on their commercial, ethical and social responsibilities.

The results from the regression analysis reported positive and significant relationships between the SMEs’ online stakeholder engagement and the pace of technological innovation; and between the SMEs’ online engagement and the owner-managers’ perceived usefulness of digital media. This study indicated that the pace of technological innovation, the owner-managers’ perceived ease of use of the digital media, as well as their commercial responsibility were significant antecedents for their businesses’ online communication of their responsible behaviors. Arguably, the use of technology is facilitated when individuals will perceive its usefulness and its ease of use (Davis, 1989).

In fact, the findings from this research have specified that the owner-managers’ intention was to use digital media to communicate about their responsible entrepreneurship. They also indicated their desire to use this innovation to engage with stakeholders on other topics, including commercial and ethical issues. This is in stark contrast with Penwar et al.’s (2017) findings, as the authors contended that the SME owner-managers’ perceptions on social engagement did not hold the same virility when compared to the context of their larger counterparts. These authors argued that the tangible benefits of CSR engagement had no effect on SMEs. In a similar vein, Baumann Pauly et al.’s (2013) study reported that the larger businesses were more effective than SMEs in their CSR communications.

However, the findings from this study’s second, third and fourth regression
equations indicated that the small and micro businesses were using digital media to improve their stakeholder engagement and to communicate about their responsible entrepreneurship issues.

Implications and Conclusions

SME managers and executives are in a position to enhance the effectiveness of their businesses’ communication efforts. This study has identified and analyzed the SME owner-managers’ attitudes toward the utilization of digital media for the communication of commercial, ethical and social responsibility issues.

Previous academic research has paid limited attention to the technology acceptance of digital media among small businesses, albeit a few exceptions (Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Baumann Pauly, Wickert, Spence and Scherer, 2013; Durkin et al., 2013; Taylor and Murphy, 2004). In this case, the research findings indicated that digital technologies and applications were perceived as useful by the SME owner-managers. This implies that the utilization of digital media can be viewed as a critical success factor that may lead to an improved engagement with stakeholders.

Several SMEs are already communicating about their responsible entrepreneurship through conventional and interactive media, including; social media, review sites, blogs, et cetera. These savvy businesses are leveraging their communications as they utilize digital media outlets (e.g., The Guardian Sustainability Blog, CSRwire, Triple Pundit and The CSR Blog in Forbes among others) to improve their reach, frequency and impact of their message.

In addition, there are instances where consumers themselves, out of their own volition are becoming ambassadors of trustworthy businesses on digital media (Du et al., 2010). Whilst other stakeholders may perceive these businesses’ posturing behaviors and greenwashing (Camilleri, 2017; Vorvoreanu, 2009).

A thorough literature review suggested that the positive word-of-mouth publicity through digital media may lead to strategic and financial benefits (Camilleri, 2017; Taiminen and Karjaluoto, 2015; Durkin et al., 2013). Therefore, businesses, including SMEs, are increasingly joining conversations in social media networks and online review sites. These sites are being used by millions of users every day. Indeed, there is potential for SMEs to engage with their prospects and web visitors in real-time.

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The political environment of marketing

 

This is excerpt from: Camilleri, M.A. (2018). Travel Marketing, Tourism Economics and the Airline Product, Springer, Milan, Italy. ISBN 978-3-319-49849-2


To be successful, companies must adapt to ongoing trends and developments in their macro and micro environments. Therefore, it is in the interest of organisations to scan their marketing environment to deal with any possible threats from the market and to capitalise on any available opportunities. This chapter explains the external environmental factors, including; political, economic, social and technological influences. It also considers the internal environmental factors, including; capital structures, resources, capabilities and marketing intermediaries; as it identifies competitive forces from differentiated or low-cost service providers.

A sound knowledge of the customer requirements is an essential ingredient for a successful business. For this reason, companies should consistently monitor their marketing environment. The marketing environment is continuously changing, as it consists of a number of unpredictable forces which surround the company.

The regulatory and competitive conditions as well as other market forces, including; political, economic, social and technological forces, could affect the organisational performance of the tourism businesses. Hence, this chapter will look into some of these issues. The tourism industry is highly influenced by economic factors, including; strong exchange rate fluctuations, the price of oil and other commodities, among other matters. Moreover, social factors including global concerns about safety and security could influence tourist behaviours. Notwithstanding, the regulatory environments will also have an impact on tourism and airline businesses. For instance, the airline industry’s deregulation and liberalisation has created numerous opportunities for many airlines, including low-cost carriers. At the same time, it has threatened inefficient airlines who have been protected by regulation.

Competition is a vitally important element in the marketing environment and it should not be under-estimated. The businesses competitors comprise suppliers of substitute products. They may be new entrants in the marketplace. Alternatively, they may include customers and suppliers who were stakeholders of the business. In this light, tourism marketers should be knowledgeable of different business models as competition can take different forms, like for example, differentiated, full-service companies or low-cost service providers. For these reasons, organisations should have effective mechanisms to monitor the latest developments in the marketing environment.

Environmental Scanning

Environmental scanning entails the collection of information relating to the various forces within the marketing environment. This involves the observation and examination of primary and secondary sources of information, including online content from business, trade, media and the government, among others. The environmental analysis is the process of assessing and interpreting the information gathered. An ongoing analysis of the gathered data may be carried out by marketing managers or by researchers who have been commissioned to conduct market research (as explained in the previous chapter). Through analysis, marketing managers can attempt to identify extant environmental patterns and could even predict future trends. By evaluating trends and tendencies, the marketing managers should be able to determine possible threats and opportunities that are associated with environmental fluctuations. When discussing the ‘marketing environment’ we must consider both the external environment (i.e. the macro-environment) as well as the internal environment (i.e. the micro-environment) (Kotler, Armstrong, Frank & Bunn, 1990).

The Macro Environment

The tourism businesses must constantly assess the marketing environment. It is crucial for their survival and achievement of their long-term economic goals. Therefore, marketing managers must engage in environmental scanning and analysis. Most firms are comfortable assessing the political climates in their home countries. However, the evaluation of political climates in foreign territories is far more problematic for them. Experienced international businesses engage in political risk assessment, as they need to carry out ongoing systematic analyses of the political risks they face in foreign countries. Political risks are any changes in the political environment that may adversely affect the value of any firm’s business activities. Most political risks may result from governmental actions, such as; the passage of laws that expropriate private property, an increase in operating costs, the devaluation of the currency or constraints in the repatriation of funds, among others. Political risks may also arise from non-governmental actions when there is criminality (for example: kidnappings, extortion and acts of terrorism, et cetera). Political risks may equally affect all firms or may have an impact on particular sectors, as featured hereunder. Non-governmental political risks should also be considered. For example, Disneyland Paris and McDonalds have been the target of numerous symbolic protests  who view them as a convenient target for venting their unhappiness with US international agricultural policies. In some instances, protests could turn violent, and may even force firms to shut down their operations, in particular contexts.

Typical Examples of Political Risks

Type                                                   Impact on Firms
Expropriation Loss of future profits.
Confiscation Loss of assets, loss of profits.
Campaigns against businesses Loss of sales; increased costs of public relation; efforts to improve public image.
Mandatory labour benefits legislation Increased operating costs.
Kidnappings, terrorist threats and other forms of violence Increased security costs; increased managerial costs; lower productivity.
Civil wars Destruction of property; lost sales; increased security costs.
Inflation Higher operating costs.
Repatriation Inability to transfer funds freely.
Currency devaluations Reduced value of repatriated earnings.
Increased taxation Lower after-tax profits.

 

References:

Camilleri, M. A. (2018). The Marketing Environment. In Travel Marketing, Tourism Economics and the Airline Product (pp. 51-68). Springer, Cham, Switzerland.

Kotler, P., Armstrong, G., Franke, G., & Bunn, M.D. (1990). Marketing: An Introduction, Vol. 1. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

 

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Key Elements of Travel Websites

website

The travel and tourism businesses are increasingly using corporate websites as they help them improve consumer leads and sales conversions. In addition, their clear, differentiated pricing information on service-tiers provide product options to online prospects. The tourism products ought to focus on the benefits they provide, by highlighting their value propositions; rather than simply illustrating their features. Despite the fact that so many transactions are carried out online, the travel websites could lack in their provision of personal interaction. This means that even the smallest thing that’s out of place on the ecommerce pages could possibly rapidly erode the customers’ trust in products and services. Therefore, tourism businesses could build consumer confidence and trust by using an SSL certificate to make transactions secure, particularly if they are processing credit cards.

The travel businesses’ corporate websites are expected to articulate their terms and conditions, including any relevant cancellation and refund policies. They should also feature their contact details (including an address, telephone and emails) to customers and prospects. Many sites could offer live chat facilities on their site, to help online customers in their queries, or to address their concerns.

If the businesses do not offer such interactions in real time, they still need acknowledge their online prospects’ message(s), and inform them that they will be responding to them in reasonable time. Moreover, the use of testimonials from consumers, including; reviews and ratings will serve as proof that the tourism business is providing an adequate level of service to customers. The positive experiences from customers themselves, will help to improve conversions and sales.

The tourism web sites should underline the true benefits of their product. Hence, they should present relevant written content which will make the product stand out from the rest. In this day and age, attractive web sites should be well-designed to entertain visitors. The travel sites have to feature a good selection of images and videos. This allows prospective visitors to become familiar with the tourism product. Destination management organisations are increasingly allowing online visitors to zoom in high-res images and video clips in their websites. The interactive images and videos should load as quickly as possible. Any delays of even a couple of seconds would turn off dissatisfied visitors. The speed with which a page loads can be a critical determining factor as to whether visitors may (or may not) commit themselves to lay down their credit card. When designing product pages, it is important to consider load speeds, particularly if there are large images, rich interactivity or other media in web pages.

Very often, different product pages may clutter up web pages with excessive calls to action. These pages may contain customer photos, complicated pricing options, unnecessary details on customer support, too many reviews, et cetera. Without good web designs, these calls to action could easily blend into a confusing mess.  While it may be tempting to utilise web pages with many actionable steps, the online sites should be as clear and focused as possible. A good call to action could include high-contrast buttons, call-outs and actionable elements which leave plenty of breathing room, to make them stand out.

Online users might not be willing to commit themselves in buying products straight away. Therefore, businesses could entice visitors to fill in their subscriber list to receive exclusive offers, via email.  This way, the businesses will be in a position to send newsletters and promotional material to their online prospects, at a later date.

Businesses ought to facilitate their online purchase and transaction confirmation. A complicated funnel could deter the conversion of prospects. The customers who are in the businesses’ checkout page(s) should be allowed to finalise their purchase as quickly and efficiently as possible. If their customer experience of their online purchase involves an unnecessary effort to check out from the website; they may have second thoughts on the businesses’ quality of service. Therefore, users should not be distracted with anything that will take them away from the businesses’ purchasing funnel. It is important to let customers finish their transaction before taking them anywhere else on the website.

This article was drawn from Springer’s ‘Travel Marketing, Tourism Economics and the Airline Product: An Introduction to Theory and Practice‘ by Mark Anthony Camilleri

 

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Unleashing Corporate Social Responsibility Communication in the Digital Era

Part of this article has appeared in Camilleri, M.A. (2017) Corporate Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Environmental Management: An Introduction to Theory and Practice with Case Studies. Springer International. http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319468488

The corporate communication is dynamic on digital media as the global diffusion of social software like blogs, RSS feeds, wikis, electronic fora, webinars and social media networks have facilitated organisations, including businesses to attract prospects and consumer groups. The digital media could potentially speed up content marketing and increase direct interactions, dialogues and engagements with various audiences. Such interactive communications are often referred to as “viral” because ideas and opinions spread through the network via word‐of‐mouth and are usually perceived as highly trustworthy sources.

When organisations share information about their stakeholder relationships with online communities, they may find out that their followers (or friends) could also share their passion for laudable causes. Very often, there is a business case for corporate social responsibility as socially-driven enterprises and sustainable businesses could charge higher prices for their products or services, they may influence more people, and get more credibility, attention, customers; you name it. Therefore, they are encouraged to use digital media to stand out from the rest, reach out (to prospects, clients, followers, and experts), and engage (in networking and public relations events).

Online communication has potential to create a ripple effect that grows as it reaches wider audiences. Notwithstanding, social media has potential to empower users to engage with organisations on a myriad of issues. They also enable individual professionals or groups to promote themselves and their CSR, sustainability, responsible management, responsible corporate governance, responsible procurement, philanthropic and stewardship credentials et cetera, in different markets and segments.

Due to their apparent lack of gatekeeping and their symmetric two-way communication, the digital media are suitable for undertaking a corporate-public dialogue. However, open platforms like social media can also increase the complexities of the debates as they decrease the level of institutionalisation of the interactions between organisations and their stakeholders.

The social media has transformed the communicative dynamics within and between corporations and their external environment. These online networks are effective monitoring tools as they could feature early warning signals of trending topics. Therefore, digital media are helping business communicators and marketers to identify and follow the latest sustainability issues. Notwithstanding, CSR influencers are easily identified on particular subject matters or expertise. For example, businesses and customers alike have learned how to use the hashtag (#) to enhance the visibility of their shareable content (Some of the most popular hashtags in this regard, comprise: #CSR #StrategicCSR, #sustainability, #susty, #CSRTalk, #Davos2016, #KyotoProtocol, #SharedValue et cetera). Hashtags could be used to raise awareness on charities, philanthropic institutions as well as green non-governmental organisations. They may also promote fund raising events. Hence, there are numerous opportunities for organisations and businesses to leverage themselves through blogs and social networks as they engage with influencers and media. Modern tools like Scrivener make it easy to write and compile for formats including .mobi (Kindles) and .epub (iBooks). Guest blogging on respected industry websites is a great way to build reputation and authority, but also backlinks  are crucial for strong search engine optimisation. Moreover, regular contributions on blogs allow users to connect with others; by sharing ideas and opinions, they spread awareness on their promoted content. Businesses can make use of project management systems like Asana or Trello, or intranet tools like Interact or Podio to track the  effectiveness of their outreach campaigns. Their analytics tools could possibly reveal  which content had the biggest impact on the audiences.

Hence, social media is an unprecedented channel for connecting and sharing with millions around the planet (with an estimated 2.51 billion social media users worldwide in 2017). The ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Google Plus over the past years has made them familiar channels for many individuals around the globe. These networks have become very popular communication outlets for brands, companies and activists alike. For instance, these networks have become popular tools that are used by millions of people to publish messages and to interact through conversations from their personal computers and mobile phones.

LinkedIn is yet another effective tool, particularly for personal branding. However, this social network helps users identify and engage with influencers. Companies can use this site to create or join their favourite groups.They may also use this channel for CSR communication as they promote key socially responsible initiatives and share sustainability ideas. Therefore, LinkedIn connects individuals and groups as they engage in conversations with academia and CSR practitioners.

In addition, Pinterest and Instagram enable their users to share images, ideas with their networks. These platforms could so be relevant in the context of the sustainability agenda. For instance, businesses could illustrate their CSR communication to stakeholders through visual and graphic content. These networks provide sharable imagery, infographics or videos to groups who may be passionate on certain CSR issues.

Moreover, digital marketers are increasingly uploading short, fun videos which often turn viral on internet. YouTube and Vimeo seem to have positioned themselves as important social media channels for many consumers, particularly among millennials. These sites offer an excellent way to humanise or animate CSR communication through video content. These digital media allow their users to share their video content across multiple networks. For instance,  webinars and videos featuring university resources may also comprise lectures, documentaries and case studies that could be created, distributed and shared online through Skillshare or Udemy.

The Internet and social media open platforms are shifting the power dynamics as they are putting forward the debates between business and society. Open platforms provide access to multiple stakeholders and facilitate two-way communication between participants. They increase the speed in communications as there are no gatekeeping mechanisms. Open platforms are therefore unique spaces in the emerging diversity and plurality of the sustainability agenda. Participants in social media can no longer be classified as formal, functional or institutionalised stakeholders (e.g., as customers or NGOs), Yet, they may be categorised in relation to their changing affinities with the specific issues under discussion.

In conclusion, despite the promise that digital media improves the efficiency and effectiveness of corporate communication between organisations and their publics,  the businesses’ implementation of online engagement is neither automatic nor easy. The dialogic features that are enabled by web pages, blogs, and other social media may not necessarily result in improved stakeholder relationships. The businesses may inevitably have to deal with legitimacy constraints as they manage online engagements in different contexts. At the same time, there are stakeholders, particularly customers who are  increasingly becoming more discerned about content marketing through digital media.

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