by Grazia Murtarelli,
IULM University, Italy

The use of social media has totally revolutionized the competitive scenario where organizations operates, by making it extremely complex: for each product, brand or company there is a network of online conversations that cannot be controlled in full by companies. Such conversations can take place between two or more users, who are increasingly able to share their personal opinions, access the information without intermediaries, and affect how the organizations are perceived and assessed externally.

“Markets are conversations” is a central thesis of the Cluetrain Manifesto (Levine et al., 2000), a call-to-action work published in 2000s and addressed to stimulate organizations in changing their online behaviors. “Thanks to the web, markets are becoming better informed, smarter, and more demanding of qualities missing from most business organizations”. These principles are still valid and, indeed, they are reinforced within the social media environment. What the Cluetrain Manifesto referred to is represented by the set of abilities and competences required to the organizations for implementing new digital communication strategies and tactics for relating with online publics. The increasing use of social media has accelerated a change already in place within the communication field: from a one-way communication model, used for conveying a message from a sender to a receiver, to a two-way communication model characterized by mutuality and collaborative mechanisms between the involved subjects.

Such transformation has become more evident within the digital environment, where the organizations share a virtual space accessible to everyone and where everybody can share their opinions and thoughts. If the questions from the online publics should remain unanswered, they could be transformed in rumors, by triggering reputational crises.

For managing the digital dynamics successfully, modern organizations cannot underestimate the relevance of online conversations for their business. They should learn how to develop new relational, listening and engaging strategies. In other terms they need to develop dialogic strategies for properly interact with digital publics.

Exploring what it means to dialogue online and what aims organizations could achieve by implementing online conversations represents a precondition for developing effective dialogic strategies.

The notion of dialogue has a polysemic value: it has been explored in different disciplinary areas and it has taken on different nuances of significance. Within the communication field, the notion of dialogue is often linked to the following concepts: co-orientation (Grunig, Hunt, 1984); two-way symmetrical communication (Grunig et al., 2002); ethical responsibility of involved actors (Kent, Taylor, 1998); and finally, rhetorical communication (Kent, 2011; Ihlen, 2011). The communication perspective has focused its attention on what is shared by the means of dialogue (content and format) and how (type of relationship developed between actors). Organizational and management studies have enriched the communication view, by developing a strategical approach to the dialogue concept and by exploring the features of the context where dialogic processes occur. Such studies have emphasized the Socratic view of dialogue, according to which dialogue is not only characterized by a specific form of communication (i.e. two-way symmetrical), but it is characterized by a specific aim. It is addressed to achieve a precise objective linked to the communicative scenario of the organization. More specifically, according to the organizational and management studies, the implementation of online dialogic processes can allow organizations to achieve mainly four aims: creating consensus towards organizations, their activities, products, services (Nielsen, 1981; Innes, 2004) ; facilitating decision-making processes (Von Krogh, Ross, 1995; Kuhn, 2008); developing new knowledge (Isaacs, 2001; Schein, 2003) and finally, supporting organizational change and development (Ford, Ford, 1995; Ford, 1999).

Defining what is the main aim for dialoguing online via social media is the first step for developing an effective digital communication campaign. Organizations often decide to open official accounts on social media because competitors have done the same and they desire to follow a trend. The resulting use of social media is traditional: several social media accounts are used as extra online spaces where to publish content, as is the case with the corporate websites. This means to not exploit the real potentialities of the new digital tools. According to the different aims, organizations can implement different dialogic strategies, characterized by specific conversational flows, tones of voices and dialogic resources to share.

Online dialogue is not an outcome, but it is a process that needs to be managed strategically in order to contribute to the organizational success within the digital environment.



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