Websites and advocacy campaigns: decision-making, implementation, and audience in an environmental advocacy group's use of websites as part of its communication campaigns
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Professional communicators designing websites need to know more about common barriers to good decision-making they might face. They also need to know how the websites they make function rhetorically and how audiences interact with them. Current publications on web design do not answer some of the designers' most important questions, especially for non-commercial websites. I begin to answer some of these questions through a case study portraying how an environmental advocacy group plans and uses websites as part of its advocacy campaigns. I interviewed and observed group staff, investigating barriers to good decisionmaking including not having clear goals, not knowing the consequences of one's choices, and dealing with cognitive constraints such as time and technical knowledge. My findings suggest using a more defined publication management process may lead to better decision-making. I also conducted a rhetorical and content analysis, studying how the websites functioned rhetorically. My analysis demonstrates the importance of visual elements for emphasizing more important web material In addition, by comparing the content of the websites to the group's goals for the website, my analysis also shows how group might check whether their websites reflect their goals. My analysis of the websites provides a foundation for building a definition of the unique genre of an environmental advocacy site. I also surveyed audiences for the group's websites, leaming who visits the websites and why and completing a comprehensive portrait of how the group's websites fianction within a larger communication context that includes face-to-face, email, and other contact with the organization. The survey respondents demonstrated a heartening interest in taking action for the environment online and offline. Finally, my dissertation provides an in-depth analysis of how one group plans and uses its websites that can guide website planning and use in environmental advocacy organizations and other small groups that are likely to suffer from similar decision-making barriers (such as not having a flill-time web designer on staff). More systematically analyzing web audiences, using better routines to plan, create, and maintain websites, and evaluating the effectiveness of web communications might lead to more successfiil web discourse.