Online Public Relations: The adoption process and innovation challenge, a Greek example

By Philip J Kitchen, Dean, Faculty of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

In the past two decades PR practitioners have become more involved with electronic activities that have allowed them to engage at different levels with clients, media and various online communities. Monitoring online interaction and presence has also become an important practice in addition to more mainstream functions including website development and communication through e-mail. Social media has helped shift the focus of PR practitioners toward two-way communication through online voting, gaining feedback through article comments and many other functions.

In the 21st century, widespread adoption of E-PR activities are seen even in relatively conservative sectors such as Greece’s financial services and stock markets. There is evidence of a clear relationship between the factors derived from diffusion theory, led by trialability, and followed by other factors. The sample frame of this study consisted of PR managers working for companies participating in the Athens Stock Exchange. The research instrument was an on-line questionnaire.

During the research it was interesting to discover that the PR departments we examined are now staffed mainly by young, well-informed, technologically sophisticated professionals. As we observed in the demographics, the relatively short period of time in PR employment among these professionals may reveal a need to bring in more new blood, rather than developing such skills in those that may be resistant to change.

In general the acceptance and widespread use of the internet in Greek society has made the adoption of E-PR a rather simple procedure. Our study also found that complexity of E-PR had no direct effect on the rate of adoption. The internet, in the PR context, no longer holds much complexity for professional communicators.

The study also found that salary, total years of experience and education had different influences on the rate of adoption for E-PR. We believe that total years of experience and education did not factor in because those two variables were used to describe general characteristics of the sample. The outcome for salary can be interpreted quite simply as there not being a true financial motivation for adopting E-PR as there is no measureable monetary benefit to using E-PR. Thus, demographic characteristics and their effect on the adoption process depend on how well they were specialized for the selected sample.

The years of working experience in PR factor is associated with the rate of adoption because practitioners with many years in the field may not be as willing to change from traditional activities toward electronic ones. This was expected because of the natural tendency of people to resist changes in their working environment, and moreover because E-PR usage does not spell an end to traditional PR thus forcing practitioners in a do or die scenario.

The reality is, as far as the Greek environment is concerned, traditional activities still dominate electronic ones. It should be noted as well that younger practitioners with no or little experience seem to be more reluctant to adopt the internet for PR purposes when compared to more fully tried and tested methods, echoing the older counter parts who may see the older modalities work and not want to risk taking a chance on adopting the new.

A possible reason for the younger practitioners not adopting E-PR as quickly could perhaps be that they are more pressured to use the internet for PR purposes because they are more computer literate and comfortable. However knowing how to use the internet for personal purposes does not lead to familiarity practicing E-PR — for example creating a website or running an online forum. Simply being familiar with computers and the internet does not necessarily make them masters of E-PR.

Conceptual implications

One of the most telling results of the study was the importance placed upon compatibility; showing that connections between digital and physical PR activities must be realized in future studies. However, trialability is the attribute most positively correlated with E-PR adoption. As a result more time and opportunities should be extended to practitioners in order to trial these activities in a digital environment, or opportunities should be taken as they arise. In order to foster adoption it is important for practitioners to test and try out new technological advances to build comfort.

As previously discussed the electronic public relations process is influenced by age and working experience. As far as PR working experience is concerned, a negative correlation with the adoption of E-PR was found. Perhaps via this outcome resistance to change and discontent to the need of use and learning new technologies is depicted. When someone is used to business in a certain way then it is difficult to trial, adopt, or use new technologies and applications. This elevates the importance of compatibility in the adoption of E-PR where more compatibility to traditional, tried and tested methods could aid in adoption.

Managerial implications

Based on Darwin’s evolution theory, that either one adapts or faces extinction, PR managers should understand the need for adjustment in the accelerated digital arena. In order to do so they could create internal protected digital environments, use simulation methods, or even buy electronic learning applications that will allow exploration of the capabilities the electronic environment offers.

An ideal adoption process will allow trial of E-PR activities, observation of outcomes, and then understanding connections with the physical environment and accompanying traditional PR activities.

The process of adoption can provide organizations and PR managers with a coherent framework to be utilized when new internet applications such as Web 2.0 technologies, variants, or future applications are used. In this way practitioners can adopt in less time, overcome knowledge-based or technological gaps, and subsequently face fewer problems with greater effectiveness in the new digital arena of the 21st century.

This post is a brief overview of the findings from the research study Online Public Relations: The adoption process and innovation challenge, a Greek example by Philip J Kitchen and Anastasios Panopoulos published in the September 2010 issue of Public Relations Review.

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Philip J Kitchen, Dean, Faculty of Business, Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Prior to his appointment in September 2010, Philip Kitchen served as chair of Strategic Marketing at Hull University Business School in the UK. His international resumé includes visiting professorships at universities in France, Malaysia, Italy, Colombia, Greece, Norway and New Zealand. He has written or co-authored 12 books, and has presented papers on marketing management or marketing communications at conferences in more than 25 countries.

He is the founder and editor of the Journal of Marketing Communications, and serves on the advisory board or is a review board member for 10 academic journals ranging from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region.

Before joining Hull University in 2001, Kitchen (BA Hons, Manchester Metropolitan University 1983; MSc, University of Manchester 1984; MBSc, University of Manchester 1987; PhD, Keele University 1993) taught in the UK. at Queen’s University in Belfast, Strathclyde University, Keele University and Manchester Metropolitan University.

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9 Replies to “Online Public Relations: The adoption process and innovation challenge, a Greek example

  1. PR Broadcast – thanks for your local Greek perspective on this post. I agree that there can be differences in experiences for those working in large corporations as opposed to other companies or sectors. Sometimes this is a matter of having access to resources (I know of some big companies in UK who have invested considerably in online monitoring etc for example), but other times, those in smaller organisations can be more innovative and engage with social media without the worries of internal politics etc. As you also indicate, sometimes those newer to the profession can have better technical skills – although that isn’t always the case as we’ve discussed elsewhere on PRC – recent Digital Natives post, for example.

    Not sure that online technology necessarily requires “A much more sophisticated approach on PR has to be followed” as the essential communication and relationship-oriented skills are much the same, just executed in a new medium in my view.

  2. My experience as a professional in Greece is that many things have to be done towards the adoption of E-PR activities. The sample chosen for the referred study consists of PR managers working for big enterprises floated in the Athens Stock Exchange. But what about the rest companies? PR profession is not much developed in Greece. PR in most cases are applied through more traditional methods by professionals that they have experience but they lack technical skills. A much more sophisticated approach on PR has to be followed, with the adoption of new communication practices and the extended use of technology.

  3. E-PR, Web 2.0, online PR, digital PR, social media relations – who cares? Yes, it seems quaint to see “electronic PR” references – much as I always smile when I hear the phrase cellphone in US programmes from the 1990s (as non-US term, mobile phone, seems to have won the terminology battle). But away from this, there are a couple of interesting things here worthy of comment.

    First – the evidence cited here seems to support the argument covered in the recent PRC post that PR needs more than Ditigal Natives – unlike those who champion SM (etc) as a brave new world requiring specialists, this study seems to report Richard’s observations about telephone and electricity – online skills are just part of the job.

    Second – the point about ease of use is not always recognised (or linked to diffusion of innovation). Having been around social media for a while (albeit more as an early adopter than an innovator to use Rogers’ classifications), the tipping point in its use seems very much to have been Twitter, whilst Google Alerts made online montitoring easy. In comparison setting up blogs, utilising RSS feeds/readers, or building websites, (let alone building a presence in SecondLife – if anyone remembers claims of that as a virtual PR environment) seemed like hard work for many PR pracititioners.

    This has had its downside however, as the focus is arguably too much on the tactics rather than strategic purpose of a holistic online presence. But then I’m a grumpy old person who bemoans the inability of many PR pracitioners to use word-processing and other software effectively – because I learned in the olden days when it was hard and so I understand the underpinnings of good layout, dot commands (which makes HTML easy for me to master), etc.

    But then how many of us today understand electricity – I’m probably among the last generation in the UK who can change a plug! Same with cars and much other technology. The easier it becomes the more it is absorbed – but the less we all really understand how it works or need to. We just leave the expert stuff to others who ironically charge us a fortune to explain what the pioneers all used to know.

  4. To boldly go…. This amused me, because I was having a conversation elsewhere about how far the professional bodies lag behind academic thinking. Here’s an example of the opposite, it seems to me.

    PS This is not intended to be personally rude to Professor Kitchen, whose work I admire. But it’s an example of why we shouldn’t rely exclusively on printed sources. Ten year old books on E-PR are now ludicrously out of date, though they still have a place on the library bookshelves.

  5. E-PR? 21st century? Perhaps the professor is referring to the adoption of the telephone in public relations departments in the 1930s and the inclusion of phone numbers on business cards?

    I don’t think we need lessons in how helpful electricity is to communication and we’re surely also beyond the online tipping point (‘if you’re not doing online PR, you’re not doing PR’).

    There are of course major challenges facing us in the 21st century, not least the definitional ones which is where Professor Kitchen’s work has been so useful.

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