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Between rules, norms and shared understandings: how institutional pressures shape the implementation of data-driven communications

Emmanuel Economou (QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Edwina Luck (QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Jennifer Bartlett (QUT Business School, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 28 February 2023

Issue publication date: 16 March 2023

482

Abstract

Purpose

Big data and analytics make digital communications more effective, but little is known about how institutional pressures shape data-driven communications. These pressures determine and constrain how, what, when and to whom practitioners should communicate. This empirical study explores how institutional forces influence the use of data in guiding digital communications. The paper identifies factors that impact communications and shape practitioner views on particular tools in their day-to-day work.

Design/methodology/approach

This study uses a qualitative exploratory approach with in-depth interviews of 15 Australian communication practitioners through the lens of neo-institutional theory. Thematic analysis was applied to identify three main themes.

Findings

Communications professionals disclosed how they were influenced by coercive institutional forces such as ambiguous data privacy regulations, normative forces that shaped ethical concerns, professionalism and various challenges, and mimetic forces that determined shared methods and implementation of digital communications technologies such as analytics. Furthermore, the authors reveal how analytics – tools typically associated with uncertainty and mimetic influences – exert coercive pressures that could lead to misguided decision-making.

Research limitations/implications

This study’s findings highlight the need for practitioners to learn more about the inner workings of analytics tools and for managers to determine if the perceived benefits of these solutions outweigh any undesirable effects.

Practical implications

The study contributes to extant research on digitalization in strategic communication by providing new insights into practitioner views and challenges with digital communications technologies.

Originality/value

Despite the considerable effects of institutional pressures, this study is the first to explore the impacts of data-driven communications at the level of individual practitioners. The paper advances neo-institutional theory in public relations (PR), strategic communication and corporate communications at the micro level.

Keywords

Citation

Economou, E., Luck, E. and Bartlett, J. (2023), "Between rules, norms and shared understandings: how institutional pressures shape the implementation of data-driven communications", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 27 No. 1, pp. 103-119. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-01-2022-0009

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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