New PR Research Answers 5 Intriguing Questions

An image to illustrate the concept of questions answered by new PR research.

Isn’t it nice when new PR research provides straightforward answers to intriguing questions? Here are some of those questions, along with answers provided by the 2021 International Public Relations Research Conference:

Intriguing PR Question #1:
Which is worst for your brand: Exaggerating your good points or minimizing your bad points?

 Answer: Underclaiming is worse.

Anli Xiao of the University of South Carolina and Michelle M. Maresh-Fuerhrer of Texas A&M answered this question with a 390-subject experiment that evaluated and compared the impact of underclaiming and overclaiming on how customers viewed a brand, and their intent to purchase. (“Organizational Overclaiming and Underclaiming: Public Perceptions, Reactions, and Behavioral Intentions”) Participants viewed ads and reports on a fictitious energy supplement that either downplayed its side effects (underclaim) or exaggerated its benefits (overclaim). Underclaiming had a much greater negative impact on evaluation of the message, attitude toward the brand, and purchase intent.

Intriguing PR Question #2:
Which country’s health officials did the best job communicating about COVID-19 on Twitter?

Answer: None of them.

Renowned health communications researchers Jeanine Guidry and Nicole O’Donnell of Virginia Commonwealth University continued their investigation into best practices for health communications during disease outbreaks. They analyzed the COVID-19 tweets of 12 countries to determine the extent to which they adhered to the best practices of the Health Belief Model (HBM). (“Tweeting a pandemic: Communicating COVID-19 across the globe”) The HBM was developed in the 1950s to understand what makes people take action to prevent the spread of disease. 

They found that the HBM was barely used at all in South Africa, Singapore, and India. Most other countries used some of its elements, but not all. Most messages were about prevention. Almost none addressed the barriers that people might face in taking action to keep themselves healthy. Engagement with the messages dropped substantially after April.

Intriguing PR Question #3:
Given all the female candidates running in the 2020 U.S. presidential primaries, did men or women get more coverage?

 Answer: Men, duh.

Sofiya Tarasevich, Ekaterina Romanova, Hadeel Alhaddadeh, Long Xiao, and Spiro Kiousisn carried out a study to examine whether male and female politicians’ PR messages have a different chance of setting the news agenda (“being noticed” by media) in the news coverage of the 2020 U.S. primaries. (“Gender, Politics, and the Glass Ceiling: Comparing News Coverage of Female and Male Politicians in 2020 U.S. Primaries”)

Of 593 news stories analyzed, 287 were about the female candidates while 306 were about the male candidates. This may have been because female candidates put out fewer press releases—just 216 to compared to 236 for the men. 

In yet more depressing gender-divided political candidate news:

  • Male politicians were more likely to be reflected as honest, courageous, persistent, independent, and aggressive, although with a relatively modest margin.
  • Female politicians were twice as often described in gender terms.
  • Male politicians’ ideas were slightly more likely to be reflected in the news, compared to the ideas of their female counterparts.
  • Mass media were more likely to discuss female politicians’ appearance, while 0% of mass media articles discussed the appearance of male candidates.

Intriguing PR Question #4:
Did all the corporate newsjacking around COVID-19 do any good?

 Answer: Not really.

Ekaterina Bogomolete of North Carolina State University studied Coke, Nike, and Heineken’s COVID-19-related campaigns. (“Normalizing the new reality: Newsjacking, brand activism, and something in-between.”) She found that the political side of the brands’ responses to the pandemic was more important than the newsjacking aspect of the campaigns:

  • All three campaigns were accused of propaganda and promoting a political agenda.
  • The public suggested boycotting the brands.
  • Organizations’ past missteps or negative sides of their products might become an unintended part of the public discussion of brands’ activism.
  • There were a predominance of negative polarity words over positive polarity words for Nike and Heineken, an almost equal number for Coke.
  • Some brands were accused of “woke washing.”

Intriguing PR Question #5:
Can social media influencers help out in a crisis?

 Answer: Not as much as traditional influencers.

Xinyan (Eva) Zhao of the University of North Caroline at Chapel Hill and Mengqi Monica Zhan of the University of Texas at Arlington analyzed 1.4 million tweets from four corporate crises and four disasters that occurred between 2015 and 2018. (“Fostering Social Media Influence Across Crises: Examining Communicative and User-Specific Antecedents”) They random sampled 2000 tweets from 464 influentials for human analysis. As it turns out:

  • Organizational influentials, particularly from traditional media and companies, tend to have higher influence across crises than social media influencers.
  • No matter who was speaking, linking to trusted media sources increased influence.
  • Citing non-media sources affiliated with the organization decreased the influence.
  • Taking action generated the most positive response.
  • Influencers were found more likely to have an impact in corporate crises than natural disasters.

Photo by Tachina Lee on Unsplash.

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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.