Thursday, September 13, 2012

Recent paper with Shu-Chuan Chu of DePaul Univ.



Northwestern University, USA

Shu-Chuan Chu, Ph.D.
DePaul University, USA




What distinctions do journalists make between Asian, European and U.S. media relations programs in the automotive industry? What do journalists really think of public relations efforts on behalf of their readers, listeners, viewers, employers or clients? How would automotive journalists use social media? Would the data be more revealing if there were corporate and global regional differences? This report and analysis is based on six years of survey research data collected from 367 journalists in 2010 and from 2005-2009. The research is based on nine Asian, seven European and three U.S. automotive corporations. Using in-depth annual surveys from 2005-2010 the authors structure the findings with a uses and gratifications framework. The preliminary findings in 2010 suggest that the specialized media including freelancers covering the automotive industry have a great deal to contribute to our general understanding of the global relationships between PR and the press. Since the data is based on nine Asian, seven European and three U.S. automotive corporations the responses permit a geographic corporate cross-cultural comparison on some dimensions. The authors will structure the findings using a post hoc uses and gratifications approach.




The exponential growth of social media outlets such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn has dramatically changed today’s media landscape. Social media are essentially self-promoting in that journalists can promote their articles and gain story ideas therein. At the same time, the interactive and social nature of social media makes it an attractive way for advertisers to market products and services. Thus, increasing global marketers have tapped the potential of social media and develop advertising strategy to target consumers around the world. Different from traditional media channels such as newspapers and magazines, social media provide a communal place for consumers to communicate with one another and share brand experience, which greatly increases brand exposure [19]. With social media’s capacity to facilitate immediate and two-way communication, brand-related conversations are generated and exchanged among consumers easily and quickly in the era of consumer control. In this regard, it is also imperative for global automotive companies to gain an in-depth understanding of the psychographic and social needs of their consumers and underlying reasons for consumer use of social media. Accordingly, understanding how automotive journalists use social media and compare their social media habits to traditional media usage will provide valuable implications to international advertising and public relations research and practice, and advance our knowledge of cyber behavior in a global context.




Recently, social media has gained much interest among communication, marketing, and advertising scholars and practitioners [2], [6], [7], [10], [12]. As defined, social media are “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” [7, p. 61]. Social media encompasses varied applications and platforms including blogs, social networking sites, company sponsored discussion forums, product or service review websites, to name a few [12]. In their recent article, Mangold and Faulds [12] argue that social media have become a hybrid element of integrated marketing communications (IMC) and present a promising tool for communicating with customers. Drawing from the six years of data from the global automotive industry, findings suggest that social media have played a significant role in influencing various aspects of public relations practices such as how and why traditional and online journalists use social media as a source of information. Unfortunately, current academic literature offers very little insight into the uses and gratifications of social media among journalists. Even though social media, in particular blogs, have become one of the most commonly used tools for work by journalists, motivation and usage patterns of these emerging media among journalists have not yet been articulated.


Therefore, this study examines the usage behaviors and motivation for using social media among journalists in the global automotive industry through uses and gratifications theory [8]. The core idea of uses and gratifications theory centers on the underlying social and psychological needs that motivate individuals to use certain types of media for gratifications. These needs trigger the media use because the media users’ behaviors are assumed to be goal-directed [4], [8], and [17]. Gratifications, on the other hand, attract and hold individuals to the certain kinds of media and the types of content that best satisfy their social and psychological needs [18]. Ko, Cho, and Roberts [9] applied uses and gratifications theory to explain psychological and behavioral dimensions regarding online context and found that different individuals can use same mediated communication for different purposes. With the exponential rise in popularity of social media, a few recent studies have employed uses and gratifications to frame theoretical background [5], [13], [15], and [16]. For example, Quan-Haase and Young [15] compared the gratifications obtained from Facebook with those from instant messaging. Ancu and Cozma [1] examined the uses and gratifications of accessing political candidate profiles on MySpace. Overall, findings of these studies suggest that social interaction, information seeking, and entertainment are common gratifications of social media motives and usage. However, prior research mainly focuses on consumers or “audiences.” No research to date has examined the perspective of the journalist, particularly in the global automotive industry where the relationship between the corporate and the press is increasingly interactive and dynamic due to the emergence of social media.

Previous studies on uses and gratifications have stressed that the intrinsic needs interact with social environments and personal characteristics to produce the perceived problems and solutions, which lead to the different motives to use media [18]. From a longitudinal standpoint, the development and advance of social media from 2005 to 2010 could create a different technologically situated social environment for automotive journalists, and thus result in their distinctive social media usage motivations and patterns.




The current paper focuses on the survey study conducted in 2010. The number of respondents to this sixth iteration of the survey continues to grow slightly, with 367 responses in 2010 compared to 363 respondents in 2009. The respondents completed the Web-based survey during July and August of 2010. Among the 367 responses, 33% were from California, 8% from Illinois and 7% from Michigan, with a total of 37 states represented in the survey. In terms of the respondents’ job function, 72% were print journalist, followed by online journalist (71%), blogger (27%), photo journalist (24%), book author (15%), radio journalist (12%) and so on. Additionally, the respondents' areas of expertise were virtually unchanged from last year, with a large majority (82%) doing vehicle reviews, followed by general interest stories (57%). Figure 1 presents respondents’ area of expertise.


Figure 1. Respondents’2010 area(s) of expertise


The initial e-mail invitation to participate went out to 1,800 journalists. It included a cover letter from an industry media leader who gave a brief background and provided a link to the survey. The survey was conducted by the Motor Press Guild, MPR, and designed by the Gronstedt Group, a U.S. based consulting firm, with input from media industry experts as well as several car manufacturer professionals. The survey includes both quantitative rating questions and a qualitative, open-ended question. To gauge respondents’ use of social media, two quantitative questions were asked: (1) which of these social networking tools do you use for work? and (2) what role(s) do these social media play in your reporting? In addition, a qualitative, open-ended question was used to gain an understanding of how automotive companies could better support journalists’ use of social media (“Please tell us how automotive companies could better support your use of social media?”). All comments for the open-ended question from respondents in this survey are "true verbatim" complete with misspellings and grammatical errors (See Appendix).


Questions concerning the overall media relations were also included. “Successful media relations” are defined by the seven criteria. The seven criteria are: (1) Has knowledgeable PR people, (2) Provides useful press releases, product information and materials, (3) PR department responds speedily, (4) Provides access to top executives, designers and engineers, (5) Does a good job of providing test vehicles, (6) Has an effective online press room, and (7) Organizes effective media events. Respondents were asked to rate carmakers on these criteria on seven 7-point Likert type scales, ranging from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree).




Media Relations

Before examining the use of social media among automotive journalists, overall media relations in each geographical group (Asia, Europe and the U.S.) was discussed to provide a bigger picture of the global automotive industry media. The preliminary findings that beg for more comparative analysis provide more questions than answers on the distinctions between companies and global manufacturing regions. The three geographical groups and automotive manufactures in each region are presented as below (See Table 1).


Table 1. Automotive manufactures in the U.S., Asian, and European

Suzuki Auto
Jaguar/ Land Rover


Granted, these distinctions are harder to make as Volvo and Jaguar/Land/Rover now have Asian ownership, Chrysler has a European minority owner, etc. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting analysis. Findings reported and requiring analysis simply describe Asian automakers falling behind. The average scores for the last five years on the category of Overall Media Relations were combined in three geographical groups as per below (see Figure 2). The U.S. brands continued their positive trend from last year and still enjoy a lead over the Asian name plates, which turned around their negative trajectory from last year. The European automakers decreased slightly from last year and are still trailing Asian and U.S. companies by a huge margin.


Figure 2. Asia, Europe, U.S. Geographical comparison



Other findings point out that all seven criteria of what define “successful media relations” are in decline. Journalism satisfaction with the automotive industry as a whole dropped on six of the seven criteria of successful media relations. Online Press Room saw the biggest drop; the average car company saw a decline of almost 10% on this criterion from last year. Two Asian companies and one U.S. company enjoy the number-one position on three of the seven criteria of successful media relations among the total journalist population. An Asian firm tops the Online Press Room, Best Product Information and Fastest Response Time categories. A U.S. company is ranked first on Provides Access to Top Executives, Designers & Engineers, Online Press Room, and Organizes Effective Media Events. Another Asian company (different country) leads the industry on, Test Vehicles, Media Events and Product Info, while a European company is top-ranked in Knowledgeable PR People, and Hyundai is top-ranked in Test Vehicles.


Six of the seven criteria of successful media relations had a negative net-improvement score for the second straight year (i.e., the number of companies that improved average scores minus the number of companies with declining scores). A net improvement score of two means that 11 companies improved their scores on that criterion and nine companies had declining scores. “Useful press releases” was the only criterion with a positive net improvement score. “Online press room” saw a staggering drop; all 20 companies lost ground on this important criterion.


The Role of Social Media in the Global Automotive Industry

Based on the six years of data regarding the role of social media in the global automotive industry, the descriptive findings highlight possible over time comparisons with more analytical methods. For example, findings of the 2006 report suggest that almost half of the journalists read blogs regularly, with many of them using blogs (both personal and corporate blogs such as GM’s public Fastlane blog and Chrysler’s as a useful source of information (e.g., buzz and rumors). The results also suggest that only a fraction of respondents write their own blog and use blogs as outlets for reporting. In the 2010 report, interestingly, the results showed that blogging has experienced the largest rise, with 27% of respondents were bloggers, compared to 3.7% bloggers in 2006. Moreover, the average journalist published for 3.4 different media channels in 2010, including blogs, podcasts, print, and online publications, rising from 1.3 channels in 2006. Facebook has emerged as the most commonly used social media platform for work by automotive journalists. Taken together, these results emphasize the changing media landscape of convergence and highlight changes and trends in social media usage among journalists from 2005-2010. This comparison between years would allow researchers to draw conclusions about how different social media fulfill journalists’ needs over time.


Specifically, a number of questions relating to the growing impact of social media were included in the 2010 survey. The first question asked what social media the respondents use in their daily work. As seen in the graph below, Facebook almost doubled and is now the most popular social media, overtaking LinkedIn by a wide margin (although LinkedIn is growing rapidly as well). Overall, every social medium is growing dramatically and the share of journalist curmudgeons who are not using any social media is down from 40% last year to just 21% (See Figure 3 below).

Figure 3. Social networking tools used for work 2010

Next was the question, "What role(s) do these social media play in your reporting?" Clearly, many respondents still use social media to catch up with the latest buzz and rumors and to promote their articles, but the number of journalists who use social media to generate story ideas have increased significantly from last year (See Figure 4 below).

Figure 4. The different roles of blogs 2010

When asked respondents how automotive companies could better support their use of social media, there is a clear division between reporters who are embracing social media (“The automakers are doing a bang-up job. The world runs on Twitter”) and detractors (“Quit being faddish. Are you really getting anything out of them?”). These results suggest that the traditional roles of journalists and PR organizations are being challenged as new social media are emerging. The Appendix listed the unedited responses to the question, “Please tell us how automotive companies could better support your use of social media?” Content analysis will be used to mine the responses to this open-ended question.




This research summary has reported some of the descriptive statistical findings. Some of the findings beg for a managerial interpretation for the agencies, industry and journalists who contribute and read the anticipated annual reports.  


For example from the 2010 report , Facebook has now replaced LinkedIn as the most commonly used social media tool for work by automotive reporters. It has almost doubled in use in just one year, and is now used by an overwhelming majority of reporters for their professional work. This finding raises a question of how many automotive or other industry PR departments have a well-developed Facebook strategy. The surveys contain lines of verbatim quotes on how the media use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other channels that deserve further content analysis.  An overwhelming majority (71%) of the reporters want to attend more webinars in the future, but they have some serious reservations about the way automotive companies run their webinars. The research contains comments by the media to be mined for cross global differences.




The main objective of the proposed research is to conduct a post-hoc analysis of six years of highly rich industry data and decipher the imperative role that social media plays among journalists in the global automotive industry. Drawing from the theory of uses and gratifications, this study attempts to understand the relationship between public relations and the press in terms of information flow and examine social media motives and usage behaviors among journalists. As mentioned earlier, in 2010, Facebook has ranked as the most popular social media outlet used by automotive journalists for their professional work. This finding raises an important question as to how global automotive or other industry could develop effective and efficient Facebook or overall social media strategy that better serves journalists and consumers. The global growth of marketing communications activities in social media presents both significant challenges and opportunities for international advertising and public relation scholars and professionals to understand consumer as well as journalist motivations for using social media and the effectiveness of social media as a useful information source. This study will offer implications for both theory and practice, as well as suggestions for further research.


Theoretically, uses and gratifications theory allows researchers to examine mediated communication situations via needs, motives, and gratifications within a cross-cultural context [18]. That is, “culturally situated social experience reinforces basic biological and psychological needs while simultaneously giving direction to their sources of gratification” [11, p. 99]. Accordingly, it is speculated that uses and gratifications of social media among automotive journalists may differ from cultures to cultures. Recent cross-cultural studies suggest that different cultures produce distinctly different media usage and communication styles. For instance, Pfeil, Zaphiris, and Ang [14] investigated the relationship between national cultures and communication styles in Wikipedia, and found that cultural differences exist in cyberspace. That is, the patterns of contributions to Wikipedia are related to the users’ dominant cultural orientations, such as individualism and collectivism. Chau et al. [3] found that consumers from different cultures use the Web for different purposes and perceive the same Web sites differently. These findings from prior studies highlight the potential cultural influence on automotive journalists’ use of social media and cross-cultural differences in overall cyber behavior. Thus, it is reasonable to suspect that journalists from different cultures might display different patterns of uses and gratifications in the culturally-embedded social media including blogs. For example, journalists from a collectivistic culture such as China may emphasize more on social interaction and relationship building gratifications than those in a more individualistic culture (e.g., U.S.). Thus, a careful examination of social media uses and gratifications among journalists in different cultural contexts is deemed as necessary in increasing our understanding of cyber behavior on a globe scale. Similarly, investigating social media uses and gratifications from the perspective of consumer could contribute to the literature on cross-cultural consumer behavior. 


From a managerial perspective, findings of the proposed research will provide initial insight into social media strategy in an international context. Global automotive or other industries should adopt a balanced standardized and localized strategy when developing their social media tactics in other cultures. For example, Japan based car companies such as Toyota and Suzuki should maintain consistent global brand images, while tailor their marketing activities to meet the specific and varying needs of American consumers and journalists when conducting business in the U.S. Along this line, future research could investigate social media usage among journalists in other countries and employ a framework based on uses and gratifications theory as to why automotive journalists integrate numerous social media into their media habits. Likewise, it is crucial to examine global automotive company’s social media marketing strategy and decide whether journalists’ and consumers’ reliance on social media is related to that company’s overall social media marketing performance.

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