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Ten PR research tips, from Bournemouth University’s Professor Tom Watson

14th March 2013


Paul Simon sang that there are “50 ways to leave your lover”. At the annual International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC), there were 101 papers to hear and debate. Social media, not surprisingly, was a major feature of the event. Here I present ten trends, or papers, on the latest PR research that you simply must know about: 1. CSR and purchase intentions A pilot study by Melissa Dodd and Dustin Supa has shown a positive link between corporate social activism campaigns and customer purchase intentions. This form of CSR, which supports policy changes, is being investigated in a wider demographic and range of organisations. 2. ‘Spinning the green web’ This was the title of Denise Bortree’s paper that found beneficial links between the amount and prominence of online information about corporate sustainability and the subsequent impact on the organisations’ reputational performance on three indices. She also noted that companies get improved reputational effects by posting material online, rather than presenting it to traditional media. 3. What CEOs want to know about PR performance This is being investigated by Fraser Likely using five-factor model, based on management theorist Peter Drucker’s studies about the information needs of senior managers. The outcome could be a validated framework that helps PR and corpcomms advisers meet management’s needs better. 4. Social media uptake 96 per cent of the US’s ‘Most Admired Companies’ have a Facebook page, 82 per cent have a Twitter account and 72 per cent are on YouTube. Overall, the consumer packaged goods industry was the best adopter and use of social media. The research was by Marcia DiStaso, Tina McCorkindale and Alexa Agugliaro. 5. A standardised method for measuring traditional media? An academic-industry team has developed a standardised method for analysing traditional media. The study by Marianne Eisenmann, Julie O’Neil and David Geddes has tested a standard method for measuring traditional media which includes (i) defining the item or unit of media content analysis; (ii) counting company or brand mentions; (iii) calculating impressions; and (iv) scoring stories for tone or sentiment. Supported by training of coders and use of a coding guidebook, they believe it will eliminate the wide variations of results often evident in media analysis from different suppliers. 6. Pro Bono work for charities pays off Pro bono work for charities delivers results for agencies in terms of “bringing in paying clients”, retaining staff, supporting reputation and good business practice. The study, based on interviews with top managers in major PR agency groups, was conducted by Justin Pettigrew, Abigail Jensen and their supervisor Bryan Reber. 7. Social Media Measurement An eight-point step-by-step approach to measuring social media, which uses the AMEC Valid Metrics Framework, has been developed by Angela Jeffrey, a leading US measurement adviser. It will be published shortly. 8. Evaluation of social media is “archaic The latest report in an eight-year study of the measurement of social media by Donald Wright and Michelle Drifka Hinson has found organizations and companies are still using “archaic output measures” when measuring blogs, social and other emerging media. “In spite of concerted efforts encouraging organisations and companies to incorporate modern outcome measures ... our 2013 report results unfortunately show virtually no progress from what we found in previous years.” Discussion considered that the term, “engagement”, was just a new variation of long-standing problem of confusing media output with campaign outcomes. 9. What happened to Social Media Newsrooms? In study of over 2000 corporate websites in the US, UK and Germany, Zerfass and Schramm found only 100 social media newsrooms (SMRs). Dissemination of material on services and products was the most common use but there was little dialogue with customers and stakeholders. The authors say SMRs are a “lost opportunity” despite being available for five years. Interviews found that companies could it difficult to decide who would manage SMRs and where would operate from (that is, the barriers were internal silos). 10. Should Delphi studies make a comeback? Rob Wakefield and I made a case for revived interest in Delphi studies for research on contemporary PR issues. The method uses ‘experts’ to investigate issues, policies and trends and gives “greater richness and insight” than surveys or focus group. Tom Watson is professor of public relations at Bournemouth University

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