Virtual stakeholder dialogues

Key findings of the study

  • Stakeholder dialogues can be virtualized in three ways:
    1. as a virtual look-alike (the virtual stakeholder dialogue is a clone of an existing format);
    2. as a virtual extension (the existing format takes place in an online setting and is extended by opportunities of virtualization);
    3. as a virtual standalone (the virtual dialogue is a communication format for exchanging ideas with stakeholders that was not used before).
     
  • Virtual solutions offer various advantages and disadvantages.
    Advantages include scalability, independence of place and time, and the low entry barriers for participants. On the other hand, virtual communication can lack the personal nuances that in-person formats often provide. There is no ‘protected space’ and less dialogue takes place.
     
  • To implement stakeholder dialogues successfully, eight factors were identified: the alignment with strategy and goals, the purposeful use of technology and optimal timing, knowledge about needs and demands of participants, rigorous preparation of the moderation, the activation of all stakeholders, the demonstration of appreciation and respect as a host, as well as paying attention to privacy and confidentiality.
     
  • Virtual formats will continue to be a practical alternative for in-person dialogues in the future. The key to this is that stakeholder dialogues always follow a goal and purpose.

 

Methodology

The study was directed and conducted by Daniel Ziegele, Hannah Kurtze and Ansgar Zerfass at Leipzig University. As part of the project, an extensive literature review and numerous interviews were conducted:

  1. Literature review of both academic literature and practitioner manuals on the topics of stakeholder dialogues and virtualization.
     
  2. Expert interviews: A qualitative empirical study was designed to identify communicators’ experiences with virtual stakeholder dialogues, the challenges, and what requirements result from them. Two major groups of experts were interviewed:
    – companies and organizations who conduct stakeholder dialogues and 
    – consultancies who support companies in this field.

Thirty-nine interviews with experts in the field of stakeholder dialogue from thirty-five German corporations, consultancies, and service providers were conducted between April and May 2021.

Research background

Is it possible to conduct stakeholder dialogues virtually? 
This was a question often asked when discussing the results of the Communications Trend Radar 2021, a research project recently completed by the Academic Society for Management & Communication. The study describes five key trends from society, management and technology that will influence corporate communications in the near future. The virtualization of communications was one of them. 

 

Research team

  • Ansgar Zerfass is Professor and Chair in Strategic Communication at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at the Leipzig University.
     
  • Daniel Ziegele, M.A., is a research associate at the chair for Strategic Communication at the Leipzig University. 
     
  • Hannah Kurtze, B.A., is a research associate at the chair for Strategic Communication at the Leipzig University.