A case study into the connection between brands and customers on Facebook: have we truly reached two-way symmetrical communication?
In life we all want to be liked. Corporate brands are no different. The purpose of this study is to explore the connections between brands and customers on Facebook and determine the type of two-way communication practiced. Has Facebook communication between corporate brands and customers reached the status of a two-way symmetrical model or has it simply acclimated to a more traditional two-way asymmetrical model where brands seek to persuade customers? The basis of this research will be founded on James Grunig's Excellence Theory, specifically his key tenet of two-way symmetrical communication (Grunig, 1992).
Online brand communities have seen accelerated growth within the last decade driven by Facebook, where this platform will act as the research channel as it remains the largest online space for two-way social interaction. Using a content analysis binary case study framework, two large Canadian telecommunications brands, Rogers and Telus, will be evaluated to compare and contrast their approaches to two-way communication within their Facebook communities (Yin, 2014, p. 3). The telecommunications industry was selected for study as it facilitates most all communication services in Canada and the sector should represent strong expertise in this area. Rogers and Telus present an intriguing comparison within the industry as their recent corporate performances highlight how each company's communication strategies differ.
A strong indication of organizational effectiveness for publicly traded corporations is improved year over year financial performance leading to shareholder growth and industry competitiveness. The strategic constituencies perspective however "holds that organizational effectiveness means that constituencies who have influence or power over the organization…those constituencies, such as customers or regulatory agencies, have the power to decide whether the organization thrives or fails" (Bowen, Rawlins & Martin, 2012, p. 137). From this perspective positive customer engagement is then an important factor to driving overall financial performance. If customers think poorly of a brand or corporation it will lead to decreased profits and market share loss. Excellence Theory and two-way symmetrical communication can be viewed as a catalyst to facilitate positive customer engagement and prevent such declines. Symmetrical two-way communication is a means to achieve stronger relationships with mutual benefits versus more transactional, one-way messages that are focused on driving an action, such as simply selling goods or services. The case study approach will use the brands' Facebook pages to evaluate the differences and similarities in the type of two-way communication (symmetrical or asymmetrical) used as a means of customer interaction. This evaluation will include the tabulation of the number of branded (corporate) outbound posts or messages, the number of consumer responses, and any brand feedback in response to customers. This empirical analysis will provide a directional understanding of the type of two-way communication used by both brand pages. Once the type of two-way communication is determined we will be able to ascertain which side of the relationship holds the balance of power by measuring feedback ratios. The final component of research is to categorize the type of posts disseminated by the brands to their communities as either one-way communication, such as a persuasive act to sell or market a good, or more of two-way communication goal that aims to develop dialogue and mutual relationships.
The data was collected in February 2015 and the time period for evaluation was from February 2014 to January 2015 inclusive. There is no ethical or privacy concern with data collection as the information is freely available in the public domain from the brands' Facebook pages and no self-identifying information was recorded in the study.
After conducting this research it was concluded that while Facebook brand pages provide the platform for two-way communication, they do not meet the criteria for Excellence theory due to asymmetrical and unbalanced communications between brands and their customers. This conclusion is based on a brand response ratio that was calculated using the number of brand comments and likes compared to the number of customer comments and likes. Research findings also highlight that the balance of power, or share of voice, on the brands' Facebook pages are weighted on the side of customers, where customer responses are higher than a three to one ratio. Lastly, both brands within this study had very different approaches in their communication strategies particularly their ratio of sales messages to more relationship building dialogue.
- Bowen, S., Rawlins, B. & Martin, T. (2012). Mastering Public Relations. New York: Flat World Knowledge Inc.
- Grunig, J., & Grunig, L. (1992). Models of public relations and communication. In J. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 285-325). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Yin, R. (2014). Case Study Research: Design and Methods (5th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
For PDF of the research abstract, click here.