Strategic dialogic communication through digital media
during COVID-19 crisis
By Mark Anthony Camilleri
This is a pre-publication version.
How to Cite: Camilleri, M.A. (2020). Strategic dialogic communication through digital media during COVID-19
crisis. In Camilleri, M.A. (Ed.) Strategic Corporate Communication in the Digital Age, Emerald, Bingley, UK.
Institutions and organizations are increasingly using the digital media to communicate with
stakeholders on a day-to-day basis and during crises situations. Therefore, this chapter presents
a bibliographic analysis on digital corporate communication technologies. The grounded
theory’s inductive approach was used to capture and interpret the findings from Scopus-
indexed publications. The articles were scrutinized in their entirety, including their research
questions, methodologies and interpretation of the findings. Afterwards, this contribution
identifies the opportunities and challenges that emerged during an unprecedented Coronavirus
(COVID-19) outbreak. In conclusion, it implies that there is scope for institutions and
organizations to incorporate digital and social media in their crises’ communications and risk
management plans. This will enable them to be in a better position to engage in credible and
transparent dialogic communications with different stakeholders.
Keywords: Corporate communication, digital media, digital communication, social media,
Department of Corporate Communication, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta,
MALTA. Email: email@example.com AND
The Business School, University of Edinburgh, SCOTLAND.
Corporate communications practitioners can avail themselves of a wide range of digital media,
to convey commercial information and/or to interact with stakeholders and the general public.
They can use them to create electronic content to inform and educate online users about their
products or services (Köhler & Zerfass, 2019; García García, Carrillo-Durán & Tato Jimenez,
2017; Krishna & Vibber, 2017; Cornellisen, 2008). Alternatively, they may utilise the digital
platforms to communicate about their organizations’ activities, including corporate social
responsibility practices and/or to engage with online users, in real time (Camilleri, 2018a;
2020). Institutions and organizations may usually promote their activities and/or offerings
through websites or other digital media including blogs, vlogs, video clips and social media,
among others (Killian & McManus, 2015; Ruehl & Ingenhoff, 2015; Fraustino & Connolly-
Ahern, 2015). Their websites can have responsive designs and different formats of verbal,
vocal and visual content to appeal to their targeted audiences. Their corporate communications
content can be displayed in web pages; blog posts, social media posts, eBooks, online articles,
review sites, product FAQs, videos and micro-videos; pictures, infographics, and animated
GIFs among other media. Marketers are also expected to create appropriate content and to
ensure that their online sites are presented in an attractive and user-friendly format and
structure. They can optimize it for mobile screens, as this medium has surpassed desktop traffic.
Moreover, their online domains have to be responsive in terms of load time, content length,
voice search, image and video processing.
Institutions and organizations can develop corporate websites or blogs that may be accessed
through organic queries via search engines like Google and Bing, among others (Romenti,
Valentini, Murtarelli & Meggiorin, 2016). These search engines will usually identify quality
content in their search results. Hence, corporate communications practitioners and digital
marketers ought to create fresh, engaging content with a growing number of quality links to
enhance the quality of their websites. They have to make sure that their landing (home) page
features a great design to improve the online users’ experience (Camilleri, 2019a). Moreover,
they may utilize social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin, among
others, to disseminate their content to their subscribers and to engage in interactive
conversations with them (Camilleri & Isaias, 2020; García-Orosa, 2019; Champoux, Durgee
& McGlynn, 2012). Corporate communication practitioners can also work with online
influencers who are capable of attracting large audiences. This latest development reaffirms
the link between high quality, corporate communication and the digital media (Camilleri,
2017a). Organizations including corporations as well as small businesses ought to be familiar
with the digital and mobile technologies (Melewar & Navalekar, 2002). They can use them to
on a day-to day basis to forge relationships with different stakeholders including employees,
customers, suppliers, investors, media, regulatory authorities and the community at large
(Bachmann, 2019; Costa-Sánchez & Míguez-González, 2018; Loureiro & Gomes, 2016), or
during crises situations (Krishna & Vibber, 2017; Champoux et al., 2012).
In this light, this chapter appraises previous theoretical underpinnings that were focused on
strategic dialogic corporate communications in the digital age. Afterwards, it synthesizes the
findings from relevant academic literature, and discusses about the latest opportunities and
challenges facing organizations, following the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
pandemic. In conclusion, this timely contribution puts forward key implications to practitioners
and identifies future research avenues.
1.2 Corporate communication through digital media
The disruptive technologies are supporting institutions as well as organizations in their
corporate communications. They allow them to improve their interactive engagement with
stakeholders, whilst enhancing their legitimacy in society (Mohd-Sulaiman & Hingun, 2020;
See, Sunar, Kusnayat, Aziz, 2018; Hoffmann & Aeschlimann, 2017). The latest digital
communications are synchronous and dynamic as they enable online users to exchange
information in real time (Romenti et al., 2016; Turner, Wilkie & Rosen, 2004). They have
facilitated the corporate communications practitioners’ content marketing and increased their
two-way interactions with different audiences (Abratt & Cullinan, 2017; Järvinen & Taiminen,
2016; Holliman & Rowley, 2014; Rowley, 2008).
1.2.1 Social Media
Social media platforms enable symmetric, dialogic communications in an online environment
where there is limited gatekeeping (Camilleri & Costa, 2018; Overton-de Klerk & Verwey,
2013). Individuals and organizations can use them to establish their authority and trust among
stakeholders by consistently creating high quality content that is relevant to them. They are
encouraged to create engaging content to communicate with targeted audiences. Their online
content can turn “viral” as online users may be intrigued to re-post it again through the social
media. Such electronic word‐of‐mouth publicity and user generated content are usually
perceived as highly trustworthy sources for prospective customers (Manfredi-Sánchez, 2019;
Chu & Kim, 2011; Ye, Law, Gu & Chen, 2011). Thus, corporate communications practitioners
are increasingly subscribing to different social media networks, including Facebook, YouTube,
Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, among others, to increase the reach of their content (Navarro-
Beltrá, Medina, Correia, 2020; Costa-Sánchez, amd Míguez-González, 2018; Champoux et al.,
Currently, Facebook has 2.45 billion users. Other popular social media networks include
Instagram (1 billion users), Reddit (430 million users), Snapchat (360 million users), Twitter
(330 million users), Pinterest (322 million users) and LinkedIn (310 million users) (SEJ, 2020).
These networks have become very popular communication outlets as they promote online
content and allow synchronous interactions, in real time. In addition, some of them, including
Facebook, provide messenger systems, including Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. They
also offer live video functions to enhance virtual communications.
Twitter is a platform that is based on topical content. Generally, its users are encouraged to use
keywords and hashtags on certain topics, in particular locations. Twitter posts have a 280-
character limit. Therefore, its subscribers have to articulate short, focused messages (Siano,
Vollero, Della Volpe, Confetto, Foroudi & Palazzo, 2018). Its subscribers are expected to
dedicate time to look after their account as they need to respond to their followers to avoid
negative criticism (Camilleri, 2018b). Like Facebook, Twitter enables direct, two-way
communications among subscribers (Caerols-Mateo, Viñarás-Abad & Gonzálvez-Valles,
2017). Hence, it can be used to engage in interactive conversations with other users.
LinkedIn is another effective tool, particularly for personal branding. This social network helps
its users to identify and engage with influencers who share similar interests. Companies and
individuals can also use this site to create online articles like a blog. Pinterest and Instagram
enable their users to share images and ideas with others in their networks. They are focused on
the dissemination of visual content. Instagram and Snapchat can feature videos and user-
generated content. They may include influencer marketing material (Rios Marques, Casais &
Camilleri, 2020; Hajarian, Camilleri, Diaz & Aedo, 2020). Moreover, practitioners are
increasingly uploading short, fun videos which often turn viral on YouTube. This site offers an
excellent way to humanise or animate corporate communications content through video
The usage of social media has radically influenced the style of personal and corporate
communications as well as the dissemination of knowledge and information. Platforms can be
personalized, self-managed and interconnected. They can blend written content with images,
videos and hyperlinks (Brennan & Merkl-Davies, 2018). This disruptive innovation has led
individuals from different demographic segments in society to refine their digital and
communication skills, as social media has impacted their way of thinking, talking and even
their social lives (Dyuzhev & Boichenko, 2019).
In a similar vein, social media platforms may be used by businesses and other organizations to
illustrate their communication to stakeholders through verbal, visual and vocal content. For
example, non-governmental organizations can raise awareness about political, social and
environmental issues. Businesses can use social media to communicate about their corporate
social (and environmental) responsibility (CSR), corporate governance, responsible
procurement, philanthropic and stewardship practices, et cetera, in different markets (Troise &
Camilleri, 2020; Weder, Einwiller & Eberwein, 2019; Camilleri, 2019b, 2017b, 2016a; 2015;
Mendes-da-Silva, Christensen & Richardson, 2008; Fombrun, 2005). These online networks
are also effective monitoring tools. They feature the most trending topics and contemporary
issues (Lestari, Suryana, Mulyana & Hidayat, 2019). Social media users can utilize the hashtag
(#) to enhance the visibility when they share content. For example, some of the most popular
hashtags for corporate communication practitioners include #communication, #marketing,
#digital, #CSR, #sustainable, #EcoFriendly, #sustainability, #ZeroWaste #CircularEconomy,
#CSRcomm, et cetera. Hashtags may be used to raise awareness on charities, philanthropic
institutions as well as on non-governmental organizations and trusts (Camilleri, 2016b, 2016c).
The social media have transformed the communicative dynamics within and between
corporations and their external environment (Capriotti, Zeler & Camilleri, 2020; Bruce &
Solomon, 2013). These platforms have potential to empower their subscribers to engage with
others, on a wide array of topics. Individuals, groups, organizations and institutions can use
them to promote their content online and through ubiquitous mobile technologies.
The mobile devices have become a part of our daily lives. We use them while we are out and
about (Butler, Camilleri, Creed & Zutshi, 2020). Individuals can access the Internet through
their laptop, smart phone or tablet from different places. They can read their emails and posts
on social media networks. Alternatively, they can share pictures, listen to podcasts and watch
videos or live streams. Therefore, organizations and their content marketers are encouraged to
create responsive and scalable mobile-friendly applications (apps) to improve their users’
browsing experience through different technologies and applications (apps). For example,
search engines like Google and Apple’s Safari are two of the most popular apps that are found
in mobile devices. Their search engines serve their online or mobile users in their search
queries, as they list and rank websites for them.
1.2.3 Search Engines
The search engines’ algorithms identify pertinent information from corporate websites and
present snippets and links to them, in their search results. The items that appear in the first page
of the search results are placed in a better position than others which are featured in the latter
pages of the same search query.
The search engine optimization term (or simply SEO) is the process of getting traffic from
"free" "organic", editorial" or "natural" listings on search engines. The search engines are
supposed to feature and signal the most relevant and highest quality content to their users. As
a result, top-ranking search results tend to have lots of social shares, while those ranked lower
have fewer. Several organizations are striving in their endeavors to improve their placement in
search engine results.
There are opportunities for them to leverage their content through search results. They may
create high quality, online content that can be captured through search engines, including blogs,
if they use appropriate keywords and present relevant material.
Blogging, guest blogging and the curation of websites are a great way to disseminate corporate
communications. These digital media outlets may be used to raise awareness about social and
environmental issues. The regular contributions on blogs allow their users to connect with other
individuals and organizations who share similar values, ideas and opinions (Brennan & Merkl-
Davies, 2018; Kristina & Payal, 2013). Notwithstanding, blogs and websites possess analytical
tools that can reveal which content had the biggest impact on their audiences.
1.3 Data capture and analysis
This research relied on the grounded theory’s methodological approach to capture and interpret
the findings (Eisenhardt, Graebner & Sonenshein, 2016). An inductive approach was used to
collect the data from Scopus-indexed publications. The search results from the systematic
review was focused on those publications that featured the words ‘corporate communication’
and ‘digital’ in article titles, abstracts and keywords. The researcher scrutinized the journal
articles’ content in their entirety, including their research questions, methodologies and
interpretation of the findings.
There were 91 contributions that were listed in Scopus’ repository. These articles were
published between January 2000 to June 2020. Thirty-nine (39) of them were journal articles
that were in English. Their top 3 subject areas were related to: business, management and
accounting (27), social sciences (22) and computer science (3). Table 1.1 presents a complete
list of these contributions. It endorses their authors, describes their research approaches, and
features the keywords of their articles. This research has excluded 2 out of 39 as they did not
have identifiable authors.
For the record, there were just 8 journal articles that were captured when the search query
included “corporate communication” and “digital media”. Moreover, there was only one article
that included “corporate communication” and “COVID-19” in the search results (i.e. Xifra,
Insert Table 1.1 here.
1.4 Strategic communication during Coronavirus pandemic: Opportunities and
1.4.1 Dialogic communication during the crisis
The Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) has had an impact on political and socio-economic
structures and on their communication processes (Xifra, 2020). It has affected the institutions
and organizations’ stakeholder engagement. As a result, their communications and public
relations departments had to respond to an unprecedented Covid-19 situation. The information
they received about health, safety, and continuity was not always consistent and trustworthy
(WHO, 2020). Yet, they had to engage with stakeholders, including employees as well as
customers, to restore their faith and trust, thereby providing a sense of stability to them
(McKinsey, 2020). They were expected to communicate in a clear and straightforward manner
and as frequently as possible about their preventative social and fiscal measures in order to
restore confidence in their organization.
In many cases, governments, institutions, and organizations including businesses and media
have provided useful information on social distancing and hygienic practices to the general
public. They encouraged citizens to remain calm and stay safe. This was the moment of truth
for them to engage in dialogic communications with their publics (Wang & Yang, 2020; Yang,
Kang & Cha, 2015; Capriotti & Kuklinski, 2012; Yang, Kang & Johnson, 2010; Bortree &
Seltzer, 2009; Seltzer & Mitrook, 2007; Taylor, Kent & White, 2001; Kent & Taylor, 1998).
The governments had to communicate with organizations and their citizens to instill trust in
their preventative measures. Very often, they were following the recommendations of local and
international health authorities (WHO, 2020). This is in stark contrast to previous crises
situations, where institutions or organizations were not always responding to their stakeholder
messages in a timely manner (Camilleri, 2017b; Roshan, Warren & Carr, 2016).
The organizations’ openness and willingness to engage in dialogic communication with
stakeholders is usually evidenced during times of crises (Yang, Kang & Johnson, 2010;
Coombs, 2007). Crises are a source of reputational threat as organizations as well as institutions
will usually react in different ways. For example, during COVID-19 various businesses have
informed their employees about operational changes and new working conditions, revised their
policies on leave of absence, working times, time-off, overtime, et cetera. Moreover, they
established baseline safety requirements and adjusted to the new normal (McKinsey, 2020).
Employees were instructed to maintain safe physical distances from each other, to adhere to
cleaning and sanitizing procedures, and to ensure that they stay away from public activity, if
they had temperature.
Very often, the businesses’ corporate communications were positively framed as they
highlighted best practices (Cheung & Thadani, 2012; O’Keefe & Jensen, 2008). Such
communications could have been repeated and reinforced, as repetitive messages can have a
persuasive effect on the individuals’ perceived statement credibility (Kock & Zerback, 2013;
Segars & Kohut, 2001). Conversely, there may be indirect and negative effects if repetition is
taken too far, as individuals may not trust the source of the message (Rotfeld, 2006). The
information service providers’ legitimacy is a positive attribute that should be factored in, as
reputable businesses can enhance public approvals, reinforce credibility and trust during crises
(Lin, Spence, Sellnow & Lachlan, 2016; Coombs, 2007; Fombrun, 2005). However, Yang et
al. (2010) posited that source credibility as well as the salience of certain crises have minimal
effects on postcrises outcomes. They argued that when it comes to crisis communication, the
effective use of invitational rhetoric in openness to dialogic communication, may result in
greater concerns and sympathy toward stakeholders. Crisis situations and extreme events with
high threats and uncertainties will inevitably create challenges to detect credible and
trustworthy information (Lin et al., 2016; Edwards, Spence, Gentile, Edwards & Edwards,
1.4.2 The use of the digital media for crisis communications
Organizations can enhance their dialogic communications and relationships with stakeholders
if they use digital media tools, including corporate websites, emails, blogs, social media, et
cetera, on a consistent basis (Eriksson & Olsson, 2016; Ngai & Singh, 2014; Caron, Hwang,
Brummans & Caronia, 2013; Kristina & Payal, 2013; Rybalko & Seltzer, 2010). Relevant
literature review suggests that social media have provided an interactive platform that fostered
dialogic relationships between organizations and their publics (Wang & Yang, 2020; Capriotti
& Kuklinski, 2012). Organizations can post status updates through social media (Killian &
McManus, 2015; Freberg, 2012) or may reply to their stakeholders’ messages in real time
(Men, Tsai, Chen & Ji 2018; Grafström & Falkman, 2017; Ott & Theunissen, 2015). Several
businesses can share links to websites and images through social media and disseminate news,
information about products, events, announcements, et cetera, to capture the attention of their
subscribers (Harlow, Salaverría, Kilgo & García-Perdomo, 2017; Rybalko & Seltzer, 2010).
The organizations that post regularly updates on Twitter are experiencing more retweets and
likes from the part of their followers (Wang & Yang, 2020; Caerols-Mateo et al., 2017).
Therefore, institutions and organisations are encouraged to use this medium or other social
media, to engage in two-way communications with stakeholders and other publics. If they do
so, their social media followers would feel valued, recognized and cared for. They would
probably reinforce their sense of belonging when they interact with them (Wang & Zhou,
However, during crises, institutions and organizations are not always utilizing these
technologies in an appropriate manner (Jones, 2005). Perhaps, they did not allocate scarce
resources to build up crisis communication capacities on social media platforms, or were not
perceiving the benefits of using these interactive platforms with their audiences (Eriksson &
Olsson, 2016; Helsloot & Groenendaal, 2013; Kavanaugh, Fox, Scheetz, Yang, Tzy,
Shoemaker, Natsev & Xie, 2012). Alternatively, they were not replying to their stakeholders
in a timely manner, or they were not showing their ‘humanness’ (Roshan, Warren & Carr,
Organizations need to be humane and responsive in their stakeholder engagement through the
digital media. They should ensure that they address their followers’ queries and concerns,
particularly during times of crises. They will inevitably have to share distressing news on the
state of their organization or about changes in their policies and practices, that can have
devastating effects on stakeholders and other publics. For example, during COVID-19,
organizations were not always in a position to communicate with certainty on when they will
lift their social distancing measures. However, they were expected to be as credible and
transparent as possible in their communications in order to instil trust and restore confidence
(Colbran, 2020). Their effective communication of crisis narratives can reduce negative
emotions and may even enhance positive post-crisis outcomes (Yang et al., 2010; Coombs,
2007). In this light, institutions and organizations can utilize social media to disseminate online
content, including images, videos, live streams, et cetera, to engage with stakeholders. For
example, they can use them to thank their employees’ commitment or express their gratitude
to frontline employees who faced threats to their health and safety during COVID-19.
Alternatively, they may interact with them in one-on-one conversations via social media or
messengers, to boost their morale and sense of belonging. Such dialogical communications can
impart positive attitudes, improve the organizational culture and enhance stakeholder
The latest advances in the digital technologies have created significant challenges to identify
truthful and trustworthy information, especially during times of crises. Institutions and
organizations ought to be credible in their dialogical communications if they want to reinforce
their legitimacy in society. There is scope for them to use the digital media, including corporate
websites, emails, blogs, social media, et cetera, to reach diverse audiences. The social media is
an important tool for crisis communications as it enables organizations to share their latest
verbal, vocal and visual content including videos and live streams. Hence, corporate
communications departments should incorporate digital and social media into their crisis and
risk management plans. Social media enable subscribers to disseminate content in a viral
manner and/or to actively engage in online conversations with individuals and organizations in
real time. This implies that organizations are expected to monitor misinformation or fake news
and to interact with their social media followers.
Despite the promise that digital media improves the efficiency and effectiveness of corporate
communication, the practitioners’ engagement with these technologies is neither automatic nor
easy. The dialogic features that are enabled by them may (or may not) always result in
improved stakeholder relationships.
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