Stafford and Canary’s (1991) taxonomy of relational maintenance strategies provides a theoretical link between strategies found to be effective in interpersonal communications and the relational outcomes of interest in public relations. These relational strategies have been found to be related to perceptions of equitable relationships (Canary & Stafford, 1992) and have subsequently been used as an evaluative tool in a variety of interpersonal communication objectives such as liking, satisfaction, and reduction of apprehension in interethnic relationships (Dainton, Stafford, & Canary, 1994; Messman, Canary, & Hause, 2000; Toale & McCroskey, 2001). More recently, they also have been used to evaluate online interpersonal relationships (Wright, 2004).
Canary and Stafford’s (1992) five maintenance strategy factors include the following: positivity (interacting with partners in a cheerful, uncritical manner); openness (directly discussing the nature of the relationship and disclosing one’s desires for the relationship); assurances (communicating one’s desire to continue with the relationship); social networks (relying on common affiliations and relations); and sharing tasks (performing one’s responsibilities). These strategies may be applied to organizational relationships by shifting the focus of the communication strategies to a public, rather than interpersonal, audience (Hon & Grunig, 1999). For example, positivity/cooperation would involve efforts an organization employs to make a relationship more enjoyable for those involved; openness would include providing disclosure regarding the nature of the organization and information of value to audiences; assurances would include communication that emphasizes the value of audience members; social networks would involve an emphasis on common affiliations between organization and publics; and sharing tasks may include asking for public involvement when appropriate.
Evaluating Relational Strategies—Relationship Outcomes
Throughout the last several decades, public relations practitioners have endeavored to quantify their organizational value. A unique contribution of public relations is its ability to build and enhance relationships with key publics via relational strategies.
Organizational relationships, which may include professional, personal, or community relations (Bruning & Ledingham, 1999), can increase organizational effectiveness, reduce the cost of litigation, regulation, boycotts, etc., and may also contribute to an organization’s financial well being through shareholder, consumer, and/or donor support. Research in public relations and marketing has recently turned its focus on quantifying this abstract notion of relationship management as a means of contributing to the success and well being of an organization, as well as organizational financial success.
In assessing the effectiveness of relational strategies, a number of fields have developed relationship measures to evaluate the strength and quality of relationships. Within the interpersonal communication discipline, for example, Burgoon and Hale (1987) developed a relational communication scale. The scale involved dependent variable measures such as immediacy/affection, similarity/depth, and receptivity/trust.
Public relations research, meanwhile, has shifted the relationship focus from more interpersonal relational attributes to communication linkages aimed at attaining mutual goals (Broom et al., 1997). While a number of public relations scholars have developed preliminary measures to evaluate the quality of an organization’s relationship with publics, including outcomes relating to mutual satisfaction (Ferguson, 1984) and predictions of consumer’s behavior in competitive markets (Bruning & Ledingham, 1999), Broom et al. (1997) suggested there was little agreement in defining relationships or how they should be measured.
In response, Hon and Grunig (1999) developed measures to evaluate the success of relationship-building efforts. Through an application of Hon and Grunig’s (1999)PR Relationship Measurement Scale, an organization’s longer-term relationships with key publics can be evaluated by focusing on the following four indicators of the quality of an organization-public relationship: 1) control mutuality, the degree to which parties agree on issues of power and influence; 2) trust, which includes dimensions of integrity, dependability, and competence; 3) satisfaction, the degree to which parties feel favorably toward each other because positive expectations are met; and 4) commitment, the degree to which parties believe that the relationship is worthwhile to continue.
In addition to these indicators regarding the quality of the organization-public relationship, the status of the relationship also can be evaluated via two relationship type indicators. In an exchange relationship, parties are willing to provide benefits because comparable benefits are expected in return. Conversely, in a communal relationship, both parties provide benefits without expecting anything in return. Rather, they provide benefits out of concern for the welfare of the other (Hon & Grunig, 1999, pp. 18–21).
Although some researchers suggest that two-way measurement of both the organization’s perceptions and its publics’ perceptions is necessary to evaluate organization-public relationships (Broom et al., 1997), there is support for the notion that publics’ perceptions of organizations are key indicators of the overall organization-public relationship (Kim, 2001). Kim’s argument lends credence to the measures proposed by Hon and Grunig (1999) and the rationale for evaluating online relationship building according to public perceptions.