|Chapter 1:||Introduction and Underlying Assumptions|
Theory, however, lags behind practice in the area of public relations Web sites. This research project intends to address the need to develop theory by proposing a framework of the public relations Web site experience.
Public relations scholars agree that the purpose of public relations is to build positive, mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and stakeholders (Botan, 1992; Broom, Casey, & Ritchey, 1997, 2000; J. E. Grunig & Huang, 2000; Hallahan, 2003; Heath, 2000; Kent & Taylor, 1998; Ledingham, 2003; Ledingham & Bruning, 1998). Organizations engage in a variety of relationship-building communication strategies and behaviors. One important tool for relationship building and maintenance is the organizational Web site. Web sites have many characteristics that make them attractive for public relations (Esrock & Leichty, 1998). One of the main advantages is that the gatekeeping function of mass media does not operate on the World Wide Web—organizations are free to make public any information they desire, without having to pass through the selective process of the mass media. Another advantage of Web sites is that they can have built-in interactive features that facilitate two-way communication. Through the use of feedback features, an organization can easily collect information, monitor public opinion, and get input from its publics. Finally, Web sites tend to serve active audiences that seek information and are already motivated to listen to what the organization has to say (Esrock & Leichty). Kent and Taylor maintain that the WWW provides organizations the opportunity to move beyond monologue and create dialogic relationships with their publics.
It is no surprise then, that organizations use Web sites for public relations purposes to build and maintain relationships with their stakeholders.