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Subject: AEJ 98 OMalleyM PR Public relations and the Web
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 25 Nov 1998 12:24:47 EST

TEXT/PLAIN (620 lines)

PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
     Public Relations and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity,
Information, and Access to Information in Web Sites
     Michelle O'Malley and Tracy Irani
Doctoral Students
Submitted March 30, 1998
University of Florida
 College of Journalism and Communications
2000 Weimer Hall, P.O. Box 118400
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611
[log in to unmask]
[log in to unmask]
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
     This study's purpose is to develop research that examines targeted publics'
attitudes and behaviors concerning interactivity, information, and access to
information in Web sites.
     Using TORA, this study examined whether interactivity, information, access
to information or any combination thereof, would be the best predictor of
intention. Results showed that a combination of information and interactivity
would be the best predictor of intending to revisit a Web site.
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
In the Internet age, public relations is a completely new ball game complete
with new rules and tools. Even the demographics and geographics have changed.
No wonder why many public relation agencies are behind marketing and advertising
agencies in their use of the Web (Rapaport, 1997).
     In considering the relationship between pubic relations and the Web,
Gustafson (1996) inferred that public relations personnel faced with changes
that will provide both new challenges and opportunities.  However, just like all
other new media, this mass medium provides both as many opportunities for
success as for failure. Only this time markers for success are not as easy to
read and the price for failing is forfeiting 40 million users (Ross, 1995).
     The rest of this paper will discuss interactivity and the Web in public
relations setting.  Next will be the purpose and goals of this study. Following
this part, the discussion of the Web and the consumer will ensue.  The next
section will provide a theoretical model intertwined with the theory of reasoned
action. In the following order, the next segments will be the methodology,
results, limitations, and discussion.
      Web as an Interactive Medium
     One of the things that makes the Web unique is its status as an
"interactive" medium.  Although the benefits of Web-based interactivity have
been well publicized, very little work has been conducted to explore how the
interactive nature of a company's Web site actually influences consumers'
attitudes and opinions.  Even researchers disagree about the definition and
effects of interactivity. For example, in a 1995 article, Major provided short
narratives of how the more "technologically astute" companies practiced
electronic public relations, and concluding that the overriding characteristic
for success was "interactivity."
     Harvey (1997), expands an evaluation model to include interactive media,
defines interactivity in a process-oriented way, focusing on "clickthrough" and
"page views" downloaded from the advertiser.  Neuman (1991) defined
interactivity as the "quality of electronically mediated communication
characterized by increased control over the communication process by both sender
and the receiver; either can be a microprocessor" (p.104). Anderson (1995)
described five dimensions of interactivity, which all dealt with the quality,
structure and relationship of information as perceived by the user.
     Following along these lines, then, how is interactivity perceived within
the context of Web sites by target publics? Do these targeted publics perceive
interactive sites as being useful? Finally, do interactive Web sites have the
potential to influence important consumer behavior variables such as attitude
towards a corporation?  If a site is perceived as interactive, then will these
targeted publics come to the site when the corporation is in trouble?
     In evaluating Web sites for public relations, there has been little
empirical research.  In fact, even within the Web advertising arena, the few
recent studies that have been conducted have only included Web banners.  This
research seems to indicate that Web banners, in general, can be effective and
may have some potential to influence brand attitudes and purchase intentions.  A
June 1997, survey of 3,600 American Online users found that about 40 percent of
the test group could recall seeing 3 different banner ads for consumer brands,
and that exposure increased intent to purchase (Wang, 1997). The Internet
Advertising Bureau released the results of a study conducted by Millward Brown
Interactive that also indicated that exposure to banner ads on the Web increased
recall and intent to purchase after exposure (Briggs and Hollis, 1997). As an
explanation for why few studies have been done on the effectiveness of Web media
use, Hoffman and Novak (1997) argue that banners are seen as being easier to
study and categorize, since they represent the closest parallel on the Web to
traditional media forms, but that other forms of Web communication may be just
as effective.  If banners can be effective, with their limited capabilities,
lack of size, and inherent difficulties in taking advantage of the Web's
interactive features, then what can full-blown Web sites achieve, which is what
the public relations sites are?
     Purpose and Goals
     This study is designed to be an initial step in constructing an interactive
and an information model of public relations on the Web based on current
attitude research. The purpose is to begin to develop a stream of research that
seeks to examine targeted publics (student consumers in this case) attitudes and
behavior concerning the level of interactivity and its relationship to the level
of information in Web sites. This study's goal is to initiate this process by
specifically attempting to measure the effect of exposure to Web-based
interactive message stimuli on respondents' willingness to revisit the site.
     When it comes to conducting public relations activities, companies in
high-tech fields are expected to be on the forefront and they cannot be seen as
lagging behind (Major, 1995).   These corporations value the role the Web plays
in enhancing brand image and conveying a sense of "innovativeness" (Reynolds and
Gutman, 1984).
     Dobni & Zinkham (1990) recognized the traditional conceptualization of
brand image as providing an orientation that is amenable to measurement and
evaluation, but often limited to a set of product characteristics.   In
contrast, the Web's delivery mechanism itself may influence perceptions, since
it is a new and technologically sophisticated medium.  Further, interactive
message attributes unique to the medium may also effect brand image, thus
effecting corporate image and attitude.
     In traditional media, King (1989) suggested that the use of a "well -
chosen visual metaphor" might provide a symbolic association that conveys
desirable values that become associated with a brand in the consumer's mind.
Along these lines, elements particular to corporation building through the Web,
such as amount and usefulness of "hot links" to other related sites, download
ability and ease of use of the interface --- access to information --- might
have some effect on brand attitude in terms of their ability to convey desirable
attributes and/or add value for the consumer.
The Web and the Public
     In a study of brand communication styles on the Internet vs. established
media, Philport and Arbittier concluded that each medium effects its content.
The print medium's superiority in displaying text and relatively unlimited
message duration makes it a good information carrier, while broadcast's fixed
exposure duration, contrasted with immediacy and intensity of exposure, make it
effective at conveying messages geared toward emotional and psychological
appeals (Philport & Arbittier, 1997).   Each medium's characteristics add
meaning and shape to the content they deliver.  The associations conveyed by the
medium and its message elements, when used effectively, convey desirable value
to consumers.
     In an early Web study, Hawkins (1994) identified a number of unique
elements that create associations and add value for Web sites to consumers.
These elements included superior access to information; increased relevance of
information via user driven exposure (users make the choice to be exposed via
clicking on a banner or URL); flexibility in and ease of updating ads in
response to changing market conditions and consumer needs; and direct
transaction capability to make purchases online.  He cited limited production
quality and lack of familiarity with the Web as value detractors, a finding that
corresponds to Brigish's 1993 study that showed that users felt Web sites should
be "highly visual, easy and fun to use."
     Ducoffe, applying a previous study that assessed advertising value in
traditional media (1995) to the Web (1996), found that the Web potentially
offers consumers a number of benefits that may enhance the value of the
corporation. Ducoffe concluded that consumers could discern differences in both
message character and value in Web sites.  In his view, one way to optimize this
value is through the Web's interactive capabilities, which afford the consumer
access to timely and convenient information presented in a relevant (organized,
navigable, searchable) and entertaining (engrossing, fun) manner.
     One item to note, in all the above definitions of information, access to
information, and interactivity, it is the perceived amount of information,
access to information, and interactivity by the user.  Therefore it stands to
reason that:
 (H1)   The higher the amount of information, amount of interactivity,
     and access to information  (through hot links, quickness of loading,
     and ease of use) within a Web site should have a positive effect on the
     attitude of revisiting the Web site.
     (H1a) The higher the amount of information and the interactivity
     within a Web site should have a positive effect on the attitude of
     revisiting the Web site.
     (H1b) The higher the amount of access to information and
     interactivity within a Web site should have a positive effect on the
     attitude of revisiting the Web site, and
     (H1c) The higher the amount of access to information and
     information within a Web site should have a positive effect on the
     attitude of revisiting the Web site.
     These hypotheses would be a first step in enhancing the corporate value
through the Web.  The differences in the variables should also start to
delineate what types of interactions exist between the variables and how to tap
into them.  Most important, the testing of these hypotheses should be a starting
point to enable public relations practitioners focus on what combinations of
variables are important to entice the consumer back to revisiting a Web site.
Theory of Reasoned Action as a Theoretical Framework
     Briggs & Hollis (1997) have suggested that because most advertising does
not evoke an immediate behavioral response, studies designed to measure the
effectiveness of Web advertising, in particular, should measure both the
attitudinal and behavioral responses to exposure.  Their 1997 study argued that
the more exposures and more time allotted to that exposure will result in better
brand recognition and brand loyalty.
     Following along these lines, the present study includes measures based on
assessing attitudes toward revisiting the Web site.  This approach is in keeping
with a model that has been well accepted as a framework for the study of
consumer behavior - Theory of Reasoned Action (TORA) (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).
     The TORA has been employed in a wide variety of social psychological
studies that deal with attempting to predict changes in attitude and behavior.
The basic proposition of this model is that in order to predict a behavior (such
as a online purchase), one must try to measure a consumer's intention to behave,
(such as an intent to revisit the Web site) itself a function of attitude
towards the behavior (attitude toward revisiting the Web site) and subjective
norms (what important referents believe) for that specific target behavior (See
Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975).  The present study adapted TORA to include
interactivity, information, and access to information as variables to Web site
attitude (See Figure I).
Information                     Attitude                                Behavioral Intention
                                        (Revisiting the Web Site)
Access to Information            Subjective Norms
Figure 1.
 Interactivity, Information, and Access to Information combined with TORA
     Given this model, the following hypotheses additional were developed.
(H2)  Interactivity will have a stronger relationship to attitude than
     information and access to information, and
(H3)  Attitude will have a stronger relationship to behavioral
     intention than subjective norms.
     This study was conducted to assess the importance interactivity and
information in predicting attitudes and behavioral intentions toward revisiting
the brands or corporation's Web site.
Experimental Design
     Approximately 100 college student subjects were randomly assigned to one of
four experimental conditions using existing full Web sites as the exposure
stimulus.  This study focused on a comparison of competitive brands in two
demographically targeted product categories, beer and watches, which were chosen
because they have been used in similar studies (Lassar, Mittal and Sharma,
1995).  These sites were chosen because they featured corporate information.
        The experiment took place in a reserved university computer lab.  The selected
Web sites were bookmarked on all the computers used in the experiment.  After a
brief introduction and tutorial, the participants were randomly assigned a
questionnaire booklet that had the experimental condition on its cover.  The
participants were requested to go to the bookmark and pull-up the site referred
to in the questionnaire booklet.  They were then allowed to examine the message
stimulus for 10 minutes. Once this time was completed, subjects were instructed
to open the booklet and answer the questions.
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
Questionnaire variables
     All the variables were measured on a nine-point Likert-type scales (1 is
the low or negative endpoint and 9 is the high or positive endpoint). The
variables of information, interactivity, and ease of use were adapted from
Intelliquest (1997); the other factors were adapted from Fishbein and Ajzen's
TORA model (1975).
      Information was a four-item scale measured with the following item
anchors: This Web site: was extremely useful, had up-to-date information,
information was tailored to my needs, and was thought provoking.
      Interactivity was a ten-item scale.  The following were the items for this
scale: This web site was: not highly interactive-highly interactive, not
imaginative-imaginative, dull-not dull, irritating-not irritating, not
entertaining-entertaining, not sales orientated-sales oriented, not
innovative-innovative, not visually-visually appealing, and pointless-not
      Access to information was a three-item scale.  The following items were
measured on a nine-point Likert-type scale: The Web site did (not
contain-contained) a useful set of hot links, The Web site was (was not) easy to
use, and The Web site (did not) loaded quickly.
     Attitude was measured on a four-item scale, with the following: What is
your attitude toward the _____ brand?  The end-points were good bad, negative,
positive, favorable-unfavorable, and pleasant-unpleasant.
     Subjective Norms was a three-item, nine-point scale.  The items were my
family, my friends, and my neighbors would-would not expect me to try it.
     Behavioral Intention was a three-item scale. These items were: overall
liking of the Web site, likelihood to visit the site again, and interest in
purchasing products.  These items, like all the above items, were measured
nine-point, Likert-type scale, whose endpoints were 1=low, and 9=high.
      Participants (N=98) in this study were students in an introductory public
relation's course at a large southeastern university, with 52 percent were
female and 48% were male; 84.7 percent reported either being a junior or a
     A confirmatory-factor analysis conducted with all the scales in the
questionnaire, all scales revealed a one-factor solution.  The Chronbach's
reliability alpha's for this study's scales are as follows: information a=. 75,
interactivity a =. 87 access to information a =. 57, attitude a =. 97,
subjective norms a =. 92, and behavioral intentions a =. 75.
     The means and standard deviations were run on all the variables and are
reported in the table below (See Table 1.).
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
Table I
Means, Standard Deviations and Numbers for Interactivity, Information, Access to
Information, Attitude, Subjective Norms, and Behavioral Intentions.
 Access to Information
Subjective Norms
Behavioral Intentions
     Interactivity and information scales were divided into groups of low and
high interactivity, information and access to information, using a mean score as
the criterion for dichotomization.  Because interactivity, information, and
access to information are perceived, it is possible that people would attribute
these variables from the known brand, not from the Web site, therefore, the
variable brand was held constant in all the following tests.  An alpha level of
.05 was used for all statistical tests.
(H1)   The higher the amount of information, amount of interactivity,
     and access to information  (through hot links, quickness of loading,
     and ease of use) within a Web site should have a positive effect on the
     attitude of revisiting the Web site.
     This was tested by a 2x2x2 General Linear Model analysis with brand as a
covariate.  The test suggested that this hypothesis was not supported F (8,
1.89) p=1.68, h2=. 131.
(H1a) The higher amounts of information and the interactivity within a
     Web site should have a positive effect on the attitude of revisiting
     the Web site.
     This hypothesis was tested with an ANCOVA with brand as a covariate.  This
test suggested that the hypothesis was supported (F 4, 3.314, p=. 014, h2=.
125).  The means are reported as follows: for low information/low interactivity
5.35, for low information/high interactivity 5.63; for high information/low
interactivity 5.25; and for high information/high interactivity 6.50. For a
visual representation, see Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Attitudes toward Revisiting a Web Site with High and Low Information and High
and Low Interactivity.
(H1b) The higher the amount of access to information and interactivity
     within a Web site should have a positive effect on the attitude of
     revisiting the Web site.
     This hypothesis was tested with an ANCOVA with brand as a covariate.  This
test suggested that the hypothesis was not supported F (4, 2.20), p=. 073, h 2=.
087).  The means are reported below in Table II.
Table II.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Number for Attitudes with High and Low Access to
Information and High and Low Interactivity.
Low Access to Information/Low Interactivity
Low Access to Information/High Interactivity
High Access to Information/Low Interactivity
High Access to Information/High Interactivity
(H1c) The higher amounts of access to information and information within a Web
site should have a positive effect on the attitude of revisiting the Web site.
     This hypothesis was tested with an ANCOVA with brand as a covariate.  This
test suggested that the hypothesis was supported F (4, 2.14) p=. 050, h2=. 094.
The means are reported below in Table III.
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
Table III.
Means, Standard Deviations, and Number of Respondents for Attitudes
Low Access to Information/Low Interactivity
Low Access to Information/High Interactivity
High Access to Information/Low Interactivity
High Access to Information/High Interactivity
(H2)    Interactivity will have a stronger relationship to attitude
     than information and access to information.
     To test this hypothesis, a Pearson's correlation was conducted.
Interactivity with attitude, showed r=. 404, p= .000, information with attitude
r=. 285, p=. 004, and access to information r=. 222, p=. 028.  A regression
analysis was also conducted; this test showed that for interactivity b=. 401,
p=. 005, information b =. 065, p=. 568, and access to information b = -. 059,
p=. 630 R2=. 168.  Thus, this hypothesis was supported.
Prediction of Behavioral Intentions
     For H3: Attitude will have a stronger relationship to behavioral intention
than subjective norms, a pathway analysis using regression on SPSS was conducted
on the variables of attitude and subjective norms to behavioral intentions.  In
this case, behavioral intention was the target behavior of revisiting the Web
site (See Table V).  Therefore, this hypothesis was supported.
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
Table V
Prediction of Behavioral Intentions from Attitude and Subjective Norms
r partial
     Subjective Norms
     A survey of these results would indicate result section is that
interactivity combined with information seems to evoke the most positive
attitudes toward revisiting a Web site.   Interactivity seems to be the
strongest indicator of attitudes when compared to information and access to
information.  In addition, attitudes seem to be the strongest predictor of
revisiting a Web site (behavioral intention).
Limitations of the Study
     This study was designed to be an initial step in constructing an
interactive and an information model of public relations on the Web based on
current attitude research. To that end, the current study examined the consumer
perception of interactivity to a limited extent. The development of a subscale
that could be analyzed according to their degree of perception by respondents
would help to flesh out the model.  This would begin to identify important
interactivity components and their effect on attitude.
     No questions were asked about attitude toward the medium itself, and/or
technology, a direction that might provide useful in pulling apart the
constructs of interactivity and innovativeness.  This research did not try to
distinguish between interactivity and innovativeness. This may be an important
next step in continuing this research.
     One of the goals of this study was to extend current research efforts
beyond banner advertising to include public relations within full-blown Web
sites.  Within this attempt, this study focused on examining how viewers
perceive interactivity in Web sites. Findings in this study seem to support the
argument that publics perceive interactivity differently, and that perception
will have a positive effect on whether they will revisit the site.
     This gives credence to the idea that the concept of interactivity is
important from a public relations perspective. If the corporation can elicit
return visitors through the "hook" of interactivity, then the corporation can
build positive attitudes with these visitors.  One way would be to internally
controlling what information the site has about the company and its products.
Having targeted publics and latent publics know about the company may also have
an "inoculation effect." If these groups have already visited the site and trust
what information is presented, then when mishaps occur, the public relations
official already has a credible and directly controllable medium in which to
disseminate information.  However, as this research also seemed to indicate, the
downside is that interactivity for its sake is not good enough.  For the
communication to be successful, the site needs to match level of interactivity
with a corresponding level of information that the customer perceives as
     From a research perspective, the findings of H1a) the interaction effect
between interactivity and information with respect to attitudes, are worth
further exploration. Corporations who previously assumed that any degree of
interactivity in their Web site would be enough should probably think about
whether or not their message is being as high in interactivity by the target
audience without the support of useful information.  The data seem to suggest
that if you have a Web site that is low in information in order to have
consumers have the most positive attitudes toward the site, then you need to
"match" the interactivity with low information.  This suggests that corporations
cannot just add interactivity to the Web site in order to create more positive
attitudes toward their company. Given the current study's results, the question
becomes: Is it best to go with the "state of the art" technology and create the
image of innovativeness, or should you be a "step" down from the "state of the
art" and have something that most users can easily recognize?
     Another interesting finding that this study supported was that access to
information, as it was defined, had little bearing on attitude.  A couple of
reasons may exist, and these need to be further explored.  One reason may be the
fact that it is only a three-item scale versus the ten-item interactivity scale,
thus interactivity overpowered or incorporated in the participants' minds that
interactivity and access to information were the same thing.  A very plausible
reason is that even though these scales of interactivity and access to
information factor loaded on different measures, they may have more in common
than meets the eye.  A post hoc Pearson's correlation was conducted to ascertain
this relationship and indeed, the correlation between access to information and
interactivity was high. r=. 633, p=. 000.  This indicates that both of these
scales need to be strengthened.
     This particular study started with the idea that if you can build a highly
interactive and informative Web site, then you can capitalize on building brand
and corporate image through longer and more intense exposures than any other
type of campaign.   This question of to what extent can interactivity helps
builds brand image is still one that needs to be explored.
     From a theoretical perspective H2 and H3 suggest that there is a
relationship between interactivity and information and attitude.  This is an
important finding.  This study had brands that were in the same product
category.  The brands were held for constant for the analysis.  This makes these
results applicable through a range of product categories and Web sites.
     In addition, the strength of the correlation's and the beta's, suggest that
this notion of interactivity is more important than information, even though the
Web is known as the information superhighway.  These results support the idea
that not only does a brand or a corporation need to invest in a Web site, the
money also needs to be there to have it be interactive in order to have value
for the targeted publics.
     The ability to understand the value of interactivity for targeted publics
and determines how interactive messages influence consumer attitude is important
from three perspectives.  First, it adds to the body of research currently being
done that attempts to evaluate and compare online media use and effectiveness
against traditional forms of mass media; and second, it provides a way to extend
existing models of public relations to include interactivity along with
information in evaluating the Web as a viable medium for disseminating important
information and keeping the tide public opinion positive.
 PR and the Web: Measuring the Effect of Interactivity, Information, and Access
to Information in Web Sites
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