Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Evaluation of Web Pages as a Tool in Public Relations

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Evaluation of Web Pages as a Tool in Public Relations

Article excerpt

Introduction

Public relations are becoming an increasingly important topic in today's competitive economy: how to efficiently inform different interest groups that can affect the performance of a company, is certainly a crucial question. Theory and practice have repeatedly shown that efficient communication with public can be vital for the survival and development of a company.

While a company can use different media for communication (television, radio, press, leaflets etc.) we have witnessed a tremendous development and commercialization of the Internet in the recent years. Consequently, nowadays almost every company has its own web page and updates it more or less regularly. However, as shown in this and other papers, only few companies are using their web page effectively as part of their whole strategy.

A suitably developed web page can be an important addition in achieving this goal for a particular company. The obvious problem in designing a web page is the gap between developers and users ("web designers are not users" is a famous quote of the usability guru Jakob Nielsen). Usability studies are increasingly used to test suitability of web design and structure.

In order to attain the desired goal in the usage of web in public relations a company obviously needs good knowledge of both fields: public relations theory and its goals on one hand and usability and web page development concepts on the other. In this paper we connect those two fields of research. The main purpose of the paper is to present a new multi-criteria model for the evaluation of web pages. The model is called CUT, after its three main criteria: Content, Usability and Technology.

In the paper this model is specially tailored to the use of measuring the quality of web pages as a tool in public relations. Important guidelines that should be used in public relations are identified. Those topics include relationships building with different interest groups and credibility of published information and web page as a whole.

The presented model can serve as a framework for a particular company when developing, evaluating or re-designing its web page as it provides a comprehensive review of important topics that have to be considered when creating and maintaining a web page. It can also be used as a tool to compare the quality of different pages, either from the same branch or for cross-sectional (or cross-national) analyses.

An example is shown in the paper where a sample of 15 corporate web pages is examined, evaluated and compared. The general finding of this experiment is that, while there was certainly a considerable improvement in the overall quality in recent years, the general quality of web pages still leaves much to be desired. The presented model also allows us to point out the main deficiencies of a certain web page.

The structure of this paper is as follows: the first section presents the main concepts of public relations theory, along with the effect of Internet in this field. Then main methods and concepts of usability testing are shown. The third section presents the CUT model. The use of the model is finally demonstrated by an evaluation of a sample of corporate web pages from different countries and branches.

Public Relations Theory

Business success of a company increasingly depends on different stakeholders and successful communication and interaction between them and a company. Effective public relations with all relevant interest groups are widely recognized as an important tool for enabling effective communication and consequently prosperity of a company.

Esrock and Leichty (2000) identified 6 main interest groups, which a company should include in its public relations plan: customers, dealers, employees, prospective employees, press and investors. Traditional media (such as newspapers) usually have a limited space and scope and thus cannot provide the content in such a way that the specific interests of every group would be satisfied within a single medium. …

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