Bots in corporate communications

Goals

While social bots have been used several times to influence opinion-forming processes in a political context (e.g. during the lead-up to the Brexit referendum or during the US presidential election campaign), an academic discussion within the corporate context is still missing. For this reason, we want to look at companies as passive actors, analyzing the communication of bots about companies, and as active actors, examining companies’ interest to use bots for their own purpose. Hence, the research is divided into two phases in order to achieve significant results.

 

Part 1 of the research project

As part of the first phase, we will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the status quo of social bots in the corporate context. The aim is to explore the extent and relevance of the topic, focusing on the question of how social bots can influence communication about the company externally. In this context, companies are passive actors. The following questions will be considered:

  • To what extent do social bots influence corporate communication?
  • What resonance and reach does bot communication about companies have?

For this purpose, we will analyze the communication related to the DAX30 companies. This will provide insights into the extent to which social bots exist today. The goal is to gain an overview of the relevance of social bots within social media communication about German companies. 

 

Part 2 of the research project

Based on these results, the second part of the project will analyze how companies evaluate the active use of automated communication. The focus is not on how companies use social bots to spread messages on a massive scale, but rather how they use automated communication in a targeted manner (e.g. to answer requests from customers or journalists). The following key questions are addressed in qualitative interviews:

  • Which ethical fields of application exist for the active use of automated communication (bots) within corporate communications?
  • Is there necessary technical infrastructure and skillset. If not, what is needed?
  • What risks or barriers do companies see for the use of automated communication?
  • What are the ethical implications of using bots?

Approach

Part 1 of the research project

  • Within the first phase, we want to get an overview of the relevance of social bots within social media communication about German companies. Therefore, we will collect and evaluate data sets of social media communication about the DAX30 companies over a period of several months. Several million tweets will be collected and we will also examine Facebook and YouTube.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative methods will be used to analyze the collected data.
  • The collected data will then be evaluated, prepared and interpreted using various methods such as network, sentiment or content analyses. Manual analyses will support the quantitative evaluations in order to derive significant results.

 

Part 2 of the research project

  • Based on a literature review and in cooperation with selected companies, we will develop and validate an interview guideline.
  • In the main survey, the interview guideline will then be applied in interviews with representatives of 10+ companies (AGUK members and other DAX30 companies). We will acquire interview partners from different areas (e.g. companies that have already gained experience with bots themselves, provide bot technologies or external service providers).
  • On basis of the interviews, we will aggregate the findings and write a report, outlining the potential and risks of using bots within corporate communications. In addition to that, we will develop recommendations for action for companies.

 

Scientific lead