Citizen Perceptions of The European Union: The Impact of the EU Web Site

by Talke Hoppmann

Description

This book examines user perceptions of European Union institutions and compares them to perceptions communicators within these institutions have of their users. Analysing the images both sides have through their interaction on the EUROPA website (www.europa.eu) helps to show where communicator intentions and user perceptions do or do not overlap.

The following three assumptions underline the main idea: 1. Attitudes people hold influence their information processing; 2. Information processing and seeking are influenced by the online experiences of a user, which are in turn influenced by user skills and expertise; and 3. A frustrating search process may lead to negative perceptions of the website and by association of the communicator. Empirically, the production process and online strategy are examined within the EU institutions, while user perceptions and attitudes are studied in the information-seeking processes of Internet users in Germany, Denmark, and the UK.

The timeliness of this issue could not be more striking than in the current internal and external debates surrounding the EU (e.g., the “No” votes on the common constitution). With this in mind, every possible way of interaction should be reconsidered, in order for citizens to get more involved and feel more connected. Next to mass media, the Internet plays an increasingly important role in people’s lives. Even though the Internet may not currently be a dominant source of information about the RU relative to other mass media outlets , it continues to increase in importance as part of most people’s everyday life, in particular for the younger generation who turn to it for information.

The main focus of this book is on the integration of both user and communicator perspectives. By looking at user needs in comparison to the production processes that determine the information structure of a Web site, the usability of a Web site is defined. The user experience online in turn determines the users’ perceptions of the institutions and their attitudes towards the European Union.

When comparing communicator intentions to user perceptions, two different pictures emerge. Seen positively, a transformation process focusing on users, feedback, and interactivity is currently under way. In this scenario, users perceive the Web site (and by association the EU) as positive largely due to the language variety and the amount of information. Many are positively surprised and conclude that the EU is not as distant as they thought. The negative view on the same scenario would be that the communicators do not seem to have a clear picture of “the user” and are providing organisation-centred information, instead of user-centred information. Similarly, users perceive the institutions as unclear and confusing––mirroring their experience with the Web site.

Due to the lack of a coherence and online strategy, the picture the user develops while using the Web site and compares to her previous image of the communicator depends heavily on the individual search process. To bridge the gap between citizens’ perceptions and communicator intentions, a number of usability recommendations are proposed.

Methodologically, a qualitative multi-method approach was employed for tracing online search processes and studying the users’ interactions with the official website of the European Union. This method mix resulted in an extremely rich set of data and findings on the information-seeking and the Web site production processes.

This book will be of interest to researchers in the areas of communication, European studies, political science, and information science. It will also be interest to policy makers and government officials involved in (online) communication at the EU-, national-, or local level. It will also be of value to public relations professionals dealing with online political communication.



 

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