Research and Insights

CJC at the International Public Relations Research Conference

March 2-6, 2016

Spiro Kiousis, executive associate dean and professor, Department of Public Relations
and Tianduo (Tina) Zhang, PhD candidate

Developing a Scale to Measure Country Image

Co-authors:  Diana Ingenhoff, University of Fribourg (Switzerland); Candace White, University of Tennessee; Alexander Buhmann, University of Fribourg

Abstract:  For international public relations and public diplomacy, the composition and effects of country images is a central research topic. Studies have shown a positive effect of public relations activities on country images in media content[1] and on public opinion,[2] as well as a spillover effect between corporate and country images.[3] However, when measuring country image and reputation, studies in IPR and PD often modify and apply scales developed to measure organizational image and reputation. Even though country image measures are central to understanding the importance of different components of an image, no validated scale exists to comprehensively measure country image as an attitudinal, multi-dimensional construct. To fill this gap, Buhmann and Ingenhoff’s comprehensive four-dimensional model of country image specifying the construct as subjective stakeholder attitudes toward a nation, comprising beliefs and feelings in a functional, normative, aesthetic, and emotional dimension, provides the theoretical constructs for the items developed for the scale in this project.

Thirty-two questionnaire items, measured on a seven-point Likert scale, were developed to measure the dimensions of country image. After pretesting, data were collected at two universities in the United States and one in Europe between May and September 2015. After data cleaning, the sample sizes from the two U.S. universities were n=467 and n=307, and n=516 from the European University. Measurement models will be analyzed in terms of both formative and reflective specification to assess optimal epistemic structure for the constructs. For each sample, reliability assessment will be conducted. After confirming reliability, factor analysis will be used to identify items that can build constructs in each dimension. In determining the factor structure, all dimensions should nest in the oblique model, which assumes that each construct is correlated to a certain degree, and in the orthogonal model, which assumes that each construct is independent. After selecting the reliable items, a fit test using structural equation modeling will be used as a confirmatory factor analysis procedure to evaluate each dimension’s adequacy for the hypothesized factor structure.  As a validation process, along with the fit indices, convergent and discriminant validity of the dimension, R2 and correlation values, will be employed.  After comparing the results of each data set and eliminating items that are not validated, the three data sets will be combined (n=1,290) and the measures will be repeated to validate a final version of the scale.

The new, more comprehensive scale will provide a complementary instrument to the widely used country brand indexes developed in practice, which will help public institutions as well as corporations and non-profit organizations to learn more about the effects and value drivers of different country image dimensions in various stakeholder groups. Specifically, it will help them address stakeholders with strategic messages, select appropriate communication channels, and calculate possible risks with respect to reputation spillover effects when it comes to cooperation between public institutions and organizations.

[1] Zhang, J., & Cameron, G. T. (2003). China’s agenda building and image polishing in the US: assessing an international public relations campaign. Public Relations Review, 29(1), 13–28.

[2] Kiousis, S., & Wu, X. (2008). International agenda-building and agenda-setting exploring the influence of public relations counsel on US news media and public perceptions of foreign nations. International Communication Gazette, 70(1), 58–75.

[3]Buhmann, A., & Ingenhoff, D. (2015). Advancing the country image construct from a public relations perspective: from model to measurement. Journal of Communication Management, 19(1), 62–80.

Rita Men, assistant professor, Department of Public Relations

Antecedents of social media political engagement in China: Through the lens of political discussion about Xi Jinping on WeChat

Co-author:  Baobao Song, CJC PhD student

Abstract:  This study examines the various individual and social factors that drive the political engagement of the Chinese publics on social media and the consequence of such engagement on government trust through the lens of publics’ political peer communication about the current political leader of China (President Xi Jinping) on WeChat. Results of a quantitative online survey of 396 WeChat users showed that individual factors including age, income, gender, and patriotism significantly influence the Chinese publics on their positive or negative political peer communication about President Xi on WeChat. Social factors, namely, tie strength and community identification positively influence the Chinese publics’ positive political peer communication about President Xi on WeChat.  The political social media engagement of the Chinese publics (i.e., positive and negative political peer communication about President Xi) significantly influences the publics’ trust toward the government. Important theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Strategic use of social media for stakeholder engagement  in startup companies in China: A triangulated analysis

Co-author: University of Miami graduate students Grace Ji and Fay Chen.

Abstract:  This study employed a triangulated analysis to examine the strategic use of social media for stakeholder engagement in startup companies in China. Through 28 in-depth interviews with entrepreneurs in China and a content analysis of 419 social media posts on Weibo and WeChat, findings suggest that generating awareness is the primary purpose for stakeholder engagement, along with driving advocacy, cultivating long-term relationships, developing new businesses, and building image and reputation. Apart from what was suggested in previous literature, new social media engagement strategies such as thought leadership building, co-branding, and influencer endorsement were identified for startups. Message tactics and appeals utilized by startups and their respective effectiveness were also examined.  Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Sining Kong, PhD candidate

The Impact of Message Sidedness Depending on Performance History of Companies

Abstract:  Following an accidental crisis, a company’s past performance research shows history affects stakeholders’ attitude and reaction to the current crisis, and will determine how to most effectively respond. A different perception of the organization prior to the crisis can result in a different attitude to the company’s response to the crisis, but it is not known how different performance histories impact the effectiveness of message sidedness. This study fills the void of previous literature in this respect, and also guides the public relations practitioners on how to select message sidedness when crafting crisis messages following an accidental crisis, based on companies’ different previous performance histories. An experiment investigates how different performance histories, and one- and two- sided messages plus the interaction between performance history and message sidedness affect the attribution of crisis responsibility, the company’s reputation and consumers’ supportive behavior. The empirical results conclude that (a) a good performance history is more effective than a bad performance history in reducing negative crisis attribution, and in improving a company’s reputation and increasing consumers’ supportive behavior; (b) there is no difference between the choice of one- or two- sided messages in improving company reputation and consumers’ supportive behavior, but importantly one-sided messages are more effective than two-sided messages in reducing the attribution of crisis responsibility; while (c) there is no interaction effect between performance history and message sidedness. Therefore, in an accidental crisis, the element that affects people’s subsequent perception of the company is performance history rather than message sidedness, but message sidedness affects crisis attribution. Practical implications for public relations practitioners are provided.