This is an excerpt from one of my latest contributions that will be published in Emerald’s “Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age”.
Suggested Citation: Capriotti, P., Zeler, I., & Camilleri, M. A. (2021). Corporate communication through social networks: The identification of key dimensions for dialogic communication. In M. A. Camilleri (Ed.), Strategic corporate communication in the digital age. Bingley: Emerald, pp. 33-52. DOI 10.1108/978-1-80071-264-520211003
The relevant literature suggests that there is dialogic communication between organizations and their followers on social media, when both parties are willing to establish a communicational exchange (Kent & Taylor, 2002; Taylor & Kent, 2014). This may result in a dialogue when organizations respond and engage with other social media subscribers. There are two main dimensions that can determine the effectiveness of dialogic communications through social networks: The organizations’ “Predisposition to Interaction” and their “Effective Interaction” with the publics. The first one includes three determinants: “Active Presence”, “Interactive Attitude” and “Interactive Resources”. The second has two determinants: “Responsiveness” and “Conversation” as reported in Figure 1. These are five key dimensions that are influencing the effectiveness of dialogic communications through social networks:
- Predisposition to interact in social networks
The basis for dialogic communication lies in the subjects’ readiness and willingness to interact with one another. A consistent digital presence and an ongoing dialogue with online users via social networks can help organizations to reinforce their stakeholder relationships. The organizations’ active presence and their interactive content can facilitate the online users’ engagement and may foster two-way conversations (Eberle, Berens & Li, 2013). Their predisposition towards online interactions through social media networks involves three core dimensions: the active presence (that necessitates a continuous online activity that facilitates interaction), the interactive attitude (that manifests the willingness to interact) and the interactive resources (this includes the resources that are used to disseminate content that is intended to promote interaction). Hence, a higher predisposition of organizations towards interaction on social networks is based on a greater level of these three dimensions (active presence, interactive attitude, and interactive resources).
- Active presence
The active presence suggests that maintaining a consistent presence and activity in social networks increases the possibility of generating conversations with users (Bezawada, Rishika, Kumar & Janakiraman, 2013). The companies can use the social networks as a vehicle to promote their online content including live broadcasts, podcasts, recorded videos, images and stories. It also allows them to create events, conduct surveys and to engage with online users in real-time. Their active presence on social networks enables them to respond and interact with the different publics. The more active their online presence, the higher the likelihood of generating interactive conversations with individuals and organizations. Therefore, a first key dimension is measuring the organizations’ active presence, by identifying whether they have an interactive presence in social networks and to determine what is their level of activity.
The ‘active presence’ analyses the active and consistent use of social networks that enable, facilitate and encourage online users to share the organizations’ information with others. Therefore, the organizations’ ‘active presence’ comprises two variables: (a) the level of presence: to determine whether companies have official corporate profiles on social networks; (b) the level of activity: to analyse the weekly and daily average of publications of organizations on the social networks (e.g. posts and updated statuses). A greater active presence would involve a higher predisposition towards interaction.
Several authors agree that social networks are increasingly being incorporated in corporate communication plans as organizations can use these channels to spread content, practice active listening, take part in online conversations, thereby engaging with online users’ and building a relationship with them (Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Castillo-Esparcia & Smolak Lozano, 2013; Chu, 2011; Neill & Moody, 2015; Rodríguez Fernández, 2012; Waters, Burnett, Lamm & Lucas, 2009). Other authors contend that the organizations’ presence on social networks ought to be part of their communication strategy (Losada-Díaz & Capriotti, 2015; Viñarás Abad & Cabezuelo Lorenzo, 2012). The practitioners themselves are well aware that there is scope in using social networks in order to enhance their organizations’ communications with stakeholders (Wigley & Zhang, 2011).
Cohen (2015) maintained that it is difficult to quantify the most effective frequency of social media posts. If the organizations post too frequently, they risk annoying their followers, whilst if they post infrequently, their audience may forget that they exist. Various experts, including Capriotti & Ruesja, 2018; Jordan, 2017; Myers, 2019; Patel, 2016; Shane, 2018; Social Report, 2018; Zeler & Capriotti, 2017; Zeler, Oliveira & Malaver, 2019, among others, have put forward their recommendations about the most appropriate publication frequency in different social networks. For example, Kemp (2019) suggested that the posting frequency in Facebook should be between 1 and 2 posts per day, in Twitter between 3 and 5 tweets per day, in YouTube between 1 and 2 videos per week and in Instagram between 1 and 2 posts per day.
Different studies have reported a huge disparity in terms of the outcomes about the presence and activity of organizations on social networks. Some researchers indicated that the activity of organizations on social networks reaches a frequency of less than 1 post per day (Devaney, 2015; Losada-Díaz & Capriotti, 2015; Quintly, 2016; Statista, 2017). Conversely, others found that companies are publishing at least one post per day (Estudio de Comunicación, 2017; Kim, Kim & Hoon Sung, 2014). This disparity in the results is because the researchers may have explored different contexts. Alternatively, they could have used different methodologies and sampling frames to investigate the organizations’ activity on social media networks.
- Interactive attitude
The interactive attitude is focused on the need to promote actions and content that can enhance online conversations with online users (Safko & Brake, 2009). The organizations may encourage their online followers to cocreate content or simply to share their positive experiences with others and to engage in positive word-of-publicity. They are in a position to foster dialogic, two-way communications on social networks in order to build their reputation and trust from their publics (Camilleri, 2015; Camilleri, 2018b). At the same time, they can demonstrate that they care to respond to their stakeholders’ queries or concerns.
Therefore, a second key dimension involves measuring the interactive attitude, by examining the organizations’ communication approaches on social networks. The organizations’ ‘interactive attitude’ is based on two approaches: (a) informative approach: This refers to the creation and presentation of informative content. Such content is descriptive/expository and encourages unidirectional communications; (b) interactive approach: This refers to the creation and dissemination of content that is intended to trigger conversations and the exchange of information. Hence, interactive approaches facilitate two-way communications (as online users are motivated to participate in online discussions, to disseminate viral content, subscribe to particular activities, share their reviews, opinions and/or recommendations, answer questions, etc.). The interactive approaches necessitate that the organizations’ demonstrate a higher predisposition towards interacting with the publics.
Several authors (Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Diga & Kelleher, 2009; Eyrich, Padman & Sweetser, 2008; Muckensturm, 2013; Wang, 2015) emphasise that social networks promote dialogic communications, which in turn could improve the relationships with stakeholders. Various studies have reported that many organizations are already using the Internet for corporate communication purposes, as they disseminate information about their business with their publics through corporate websites (Kent & Taylor, 1998; Moreno & Capriotti, 2006), blogs (Seltzer & Mitrook, 2007) and social networks (Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Ji, Li, North & Liu, 2016; Pace, Buzzanca & Fratocchi, 2014; Waters et al., 2009). Their bidirectional communication is possible as long as there are ongoing conversations and a regular dialogue with stakeholders (Valentini, 2015). For this to happen, it is necessary to share relevant content that appeals to the targeted audiences. This way, the corporate communication messages will result in increased stakeholder engagement and may inspire further interactions with the publics (Abitbol & Lee, 2017).
- Interactive Resources
The interactive resources include those resources that are required to produce relevant, interactive content (Zeler & Capriotti, 2018, 2019). Theunissen & Wan Noordin (2012) maintain that successful organizations design appropriate dialogic environments that are intended to facilitate stakeholder engagement. Their corporate communications can be presented through different media including written content and graphics through printed materials, hypertexts and/or audiovisual formats that can be accessed through digital and mobile technologies, etc. Anderson et al. (2016) noted that the communication experts were using writing skills to build relationships with their publics. The author argued that the corporate communications content ought to be relevant, concise and easily understood by online users. The organizations’ creative messages may include certain keywords that appeal to their followers, to foster their interaction (Abitbol & Lee, 2017). Hence, online users may be intrigued to engage in conversations through their comments and replies.
Therefore, a third key dimension is to measure the interactive resources, by studying the information resources used by organizations to spread their content on social networks. The ‘interactive resources’ are a key dimension for corporate communication, as organizations use them to convey information to their publics. Organizations rely on the usage of interactive resources to spread their content to their audiences. The interactive resources, including the social networks can be used to facilitate the interaction and dialogue with online users. The social media enable the exchange of information as they can feature different formats. These formats may usually be combined within the same message. For example, the communication formats include (1) graphic resources: These are composed of fixed images, texts, and emojis. Such resources may be used to foster the dissemination of information in a mono-logic manner; (2) audiovisual resources: These include videos, podcasts and/or animated images (GIFs). Such resources have potential to reach greater audiences because they have a greater capacity to appeal to the individuals’ emotions (as they can increase their attention span); (3) hypertextual resources: These comprise links, hashtags and user tags. They include resources that can trigger the exchange of information. Online users may be enticed to participate, interact and engage in online conversations. The greater access, ease of use and availability of hypertextual and audiovisual resources have led many organizations as well as individuals to use these formats and to present them in social networks.
A few studies indicated that there is a significant increase in individuals who are watching videos online and/or via social networks. According to the Global Web Index (2017), more than 90% of Internet users watch online videos every month (Smith, 2017), and more than 50% watch videos on the main social networks. These findings represent an increase of almost 20% when compared to the previous year. Valentine (2017) posited that the social media networks have been augmented with the audiovisual resources. The authors argued that the videos add value to the social network strategies as they provide greater levels of engagement. Hence, organizations are encouraged to use the videos to enhance their corporate communication messages (Pletikosa Cvijikj & Michahelles, 2013).
Currently, we are witnessing an exponential growth in the use of audiovisual resources that are posted on social networks (this may be due to the increase in connection speeds coupled with the technological improvements of the mobile devices). However, a review of the relevant literature reported that the fixed image is still the most used resource among organizations (Twenge, Martin & Spitzberg, 2019; Luarn, Lin & Chiu, 2015; Waters et al., 2009). A few studies found that institutional websites were posting more images in social media posts rather than videos and links (Capriotti, Carretón & Castillo, 2016; McCorkindale, 2010). These findings suggest that organizations are using their available resources to publish visual (graphic) content. Some practitioners were not utilizing other formats including interactive, audiovisual resources, in their corporate communication. These latter resources could improve the organizations’ engagement with online users.
- Effective communicative exchange in social networks
The effective communicative exchange involves continuous interactions between the organizations and the online users, and among the online users themselves, within social networks. The successful dialogic exchanges rely on the parties’ responsiveness as well as on ongoing conversations (Anderson et al., 2016; Kiousis, 2002; Rafaeli, 1988; Walther, Deandrea, Kim & Anthony, 2010). Thus, the communicational exchange between the organizations and their publics is dependent on various forms of interactive engagement (e.g. likes, comments, follows, tagging, mentions with hashtags, group memberships, etc.). The greater implementation of the conversational exchange will represent a higher level of interaction.
The responsiveness is evidenced when the recipients react to the communications that they receive. This is usually demonstrated when there is a response or reply (from the part of the recipient of the information) to an original message. For example, the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ of the social media networks would clearly indicate the online users’ responsiveness to the organizational communications (Anderson et al., 2016; Macnamara, 2014). The likes suggest that the individuals are (somehow) appreciating the posted content (within social media), albeit in a passive manner. Recently, Facebook has introduced other features in addition to its popular like function, including love, care, haha, wow, sad and angry emojis. Similarly, Linkedin has included the like, celebrate, love, insightful and curious emojis. Yet, these forms of communication do not involve any verbal expression from the social media users. On the other hand, when individuals share posts (and links) of organizations, or of third parties in their profile, they become volunteer spokesmen for them as they promote their content (Abitbol & Lee, 2017; Cho, Schweickart & Haase, 2014). Therefore, a fourth key dimension is to measure Responsiveness, by studying the rate of support and viralization generated by organizations on social networks.
Organizations are encouraged to measure their social media users’ responsiveness to their digital content that they share via social networks. For instance, individuals may exhibit different ‘levels of responsiveness’ toward the organizations’ posts through social media platforms. Their degree of responsiveness may be evaluated by the social media users’ engagement, in terms of: 1) Rate of Likes: obtained from the average of total likes by company and post in relation to the number of followers of companies; (2) Rate of Shares: obtained from the total average of shares by company and post in relation to the number of companies’ followers. Hence, organizations can use these quantitative measures to better understand the level of responsiveness to their social media activity.
The conversation dimension involves interactive communicative exchanges between two or more parties. The recipients of the communication interact with the communicator and engage in conversations. For example, online users can dialogue and exchange their insights with organizations through the social networks (Anderson et al., 2016; Kiousis, 2002; Walther et al., 2010). The conversation on social networks is usually manifested through ‘comments’. The comments are the most genuine expression of the online users’ interaction on social networks. They are considered as most relevant element as they provide a rich source of qualitative data to organizations. They require much more commitment than likes and shares, as organizations are expected to respond to the social media users’ comments and to engage in direct conversations with them. Hence, online conversations facilitate the communicative exchange between the organizations and the publics (Abitbol & Lee, 2017; Cho et al., 2014). Therefore, a fifth key dimension analyse the rate of conversation generated by organizations on social networks.
The digital conversations provide qualitative insights to organizations about their followers or other online users. The organizations may capture and analyse the interpretative content of online users through social media posts and comments. The quantitative measures may include: a) Intensity: this refers to the total general number of exchanges between an organization and their publics, based on the rate of comments. (b) Reciprocity: this refers to measuring whether there is equitable communication between an organization and its followers, analysing the level of balance in the exchange between an organization and its publics, obtained from the total percentage of comments made by users and companies. Thus, the more balanced the communicational exchange between an organization and its publics, the greater the quality of the interaction. And the more imbalanced the communicational exchange between an organization and its publics, the poorer the quality of interaction. Thus, it is in the interest of organizations to maintain a balanced communicational exchange with their publics.