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Public relations communication through corporate websites: Towards an understanding of the role of interactivity.

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Author(s): Petter Alexander Gustavsen | Elspeth Tilley

Journal: PRism Online PR Journal
ISSN 1448-4404

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Date: 2003;
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Keywords: online communication | online public relations | website interactivity | corporate website design

ABSTRACT
This paper examines the use of interactivity in corporate web sites. It has frequently been argued that today’s designers and developers are not taking full advantage of the Internet unless they emphasise interactivity. In public relations communication in particular, “interactive” has become a “buzzword” (Whitaker, Ramsey, & Smith, 2000, p. 350; Wilcox, 2001, p. 388). Public relations writing textbook chapters on online communication emphasise “making the site interactive” because this is “a unique characteristic…which traditional mass media does not offer” (Wilcox, 2001, p. 387). Rarely, however, is the concept defined, which makes determining strategies and establishing measurements for interactive online public relations difficult. This article overviews different theories of interactivity before selecting a definition that offers six practical components - user control, responsiveness, real time interaction, connectedness, personalisation, and playfulness – that might provide clear pathways for and measures of interactivity in online public relations. These six components are then used to analyse 16 corporate web sites for interactive features. The low levels of interactivity identified in the sites may suggest that online public relations is not as interactive as it could be or, alternatively, that it’'s already as interactive as it needs to be. Either way, the ‘buzz’ of the terminology is not translating into the reality of today’s corporate sites. The finding points to the need for further investigation and clarification of how public relations effectiveness and interactivity are identified and measured on the web.
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