Remediating Corporate Discourse: Global Corporate Websites as Loci for Business Communication


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Paper presented on occasion of the 26th conference of the Italian Society for the Study of English (AIA) held at Parma University, on 12-14 Sept. 2013.

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Remediating Corporate Discourse: Global Corporate Websites as Loci for Business Communication

  2. 2. ● Background 1: Intercultural corporate communication via Web ● Background 2: Traditional vs new tools of corporate discourse ● Objectives ● Materials ● Methods ● Preliminary findings ● Discussion of preliminary findings ● Final remarks Outline of the presentation
  3. 3. Background 1: Intercultural corporate communication via Web During the last two decades, corporate communication has been affected by ● the advent of globalised trade: companies engaged in business activities across national borders → INTERCULTURAL CORPORATE COMMUNICATION ● the introduction of new technologies in the field of CMC: advancements in the communication infrastructure. → Communication technologies are “the ultimate enablers of global communication” (Louhiala-Salminen & Kankaanranta 2011, 261).
  4. 4. Background 1: Intercultural corporate communication via Web The Web, the “pivotal facet of CMC” (Petroni 2011, 24), has provided companies with a medium to ● reach a global audience 24/7/365, ● disseminate information about their performances, ● shape their corporate images ● promote their products.
  5. 5. Effects of the proliferation of online data interchange on corporate communication: ● a re-fashioning of corporate discourse: traditional printed genres have been moved to the Web, and new discoursive forms have emerged ● the spread of Business English as a Lingua Franca: English, “the chief lingua franca of the Internet” (Crystal 2007, 117) is used in the majority of business communication exchanges especially among NNSs (Louhiala- Salminen & Kankaanranta 2011). Background 1: Intercultural corporate communication via Web
  6. 6. Fiercer competition and higher accountability towards stakeholders characterise today's globalised business environment. ACCORDINGLY, the need to shape and project their identity as trustworthy business partners is growing. HENCE, the institutional presentation of the company itself can be a strategical business tool to be implemented in the context of intercultural corporate communication. Background 1: Intercultural corporate communication via Web
  7. 7. Background 2: Traditional vs new tools of corporate discourse Company brochures Askehave 1998 Purpose: to present the company as a qualified partner. Nielsen 2001 Part of a company's communication (a PR instrument). Focus: on the company itself. Polysemiotic nature (both pictures and text). Bhatia 2004 A „peripheral member” of the colony of promotional genres (partly promotional, partly information-giving).
  8. 8. Background 2: Traditional vs new tools of corporate discourse Corporate websites Virtual repositories of the promotional and informative materials delivered by companies, brought together into a common framework thanks to hyperlinks (Poppi 2011). HENCE corporate websites can be categorised as instances of a macro-genre (Petroni 2011) that has remediated traditional genres and given rise to new genres: ● web-migrated genres (e.g. company brochures, annual reports, press releases) ● web-generated genres (e.g. homepages, FAQs, hotlists).
  9. 9. Background 2: Traditional vs new tools of corporate discourse In order to create meaning, corporate websites exploit the capabilities afforded by the medium (Shepherd & Watters 2004), e.g. ● Multimodality: websites rely on different modes (text, images, animations, sounds, videos). ● Hyperlinking: different texts combined together thanks to hyperlinks. ● Interactivity: web users decide their own navigation within the website.
  10. 10. Background 2: Traditional vs new tools of corporate discourse Corporate websites now accomplish the purposes once carried out by traditional printed genres, in particular they feature a section devoted to the institutional presentation of the company which fulfils a function analogous to that of printed company brochures. This section is usually called 'About (Us)', or '(The) Company' / '(The) Group'.
  11. 11. This analysis aims at shedding light on the communicative practices emerging from a sample of German and Italian companies operating in the renewable energy sector in order to provide an institutional presentation of their organisations. RESEARCH QUESTIONS ● Which are the most efficiently implemented lexico- grammatical patterns employed? ● How does textual information interact with the other web capabilities? ● To what extent have corporate websites re-mediated a traditional genre like the company brochure? Objectives
  12. 12. Web sections from corporate websites in their version in BELF for a global audience, devoted to the company's institutional presentation. Industry sector: renewable energy → high-stakes sector: the need for clean energy production is growing worldwide due to the depletion of resources, the rising costs of fossil fuels, and the environmental degradation caused by the dramatic increase in human activities during the last decades. Materials
  13. 13. Materials SELECTION CRITERIASELECTION CRITERIA GERMANYGERMANY ITALYITALY Cramer's conceptualisationCramer's conceptualisation of the spread and use ofof the spread and use of English in the EU (2007)English in the EU (2007) Transition Circle 1: English used as a code for intranational communication in professional, institutional, educational settings Expanding Circle: English is acquired at school, and used in international encounters. Renewable energy statusRenewable energy status 50% of Germany's electricity is estimated to be coming from renewable energy sources by 2030 (RenewableEnergyWor 2009). The renewable energy industry in Italy is expanding (Mergermarket 2013).
  14. 14. A mixed methodological approach has been adopted in order to assess the interdependence between textual information and other web capabilities: ● Corpus Linguistics: wordlists and concordance strings (most frequent content words, incidence of company names, pronouns, modals). ● Multimodal Discourse Analysis: qualitative analysis of multimodal resources (images, colours, layout), taking into account hypertextual and interactive strategies as well. Methods
  15. 15. Germany COMPANY NAMECOMPANY NAME ENERGYENERGY SECTIONSSECTIONS TOKENSTOKENS TYPESTYPES AEG Power Solutions B.V. Photovoltaics Company (8 sub-sections) 5,504 1,779 EnBW Energie Baden- Württemberg AG Geothermal Company (4 sub-sections) 3,735 1,154 JENZ GmbH Biomass About Us (5 sub-sections) 1,718 696 PCC SE Hydropower PCC Group (7 sub-sections) 8,754 2,113 ZF Friedrichshafen AG Wind Company (6 sub-sections) 62,488 7,776 TOTAL 82,199 9,434
  16. 16. Italy COMPANY NAMECOMPANY NAME ENERGYENERGY SECTIONSSECTIONS TOKENSTOKENS TYPESTYPES Bonfiglioli SpA Wind Company (7 sub-sections) 26,734 3,942 IREM SpA Hydropower Company (4 sub-sections) 579 299 Micron – Cappello Alluminio srl Photovoltaics About Us (5 sub-sections) 278 163 Palazzetti SpA Biomass The group (10 sub-sections) 6,643 1,860 Turboden srl Geothermal About (10 sub-sections) 2,458 939 TOTAL 36,692 5,303
  17. 17. Preliminary findings ● In the German corpus, the company name is the most frequent content word in 4 out of 5 companies' sub- corpora, ranking second only in Jenz's sub-corpus. ● In the Italian corpus, the company name is the most frequent content word in 3 out of 5 companies' sub- corpora (Bonfiglioli, IREM, Turboden). In one sub- corpus, the group name is the most frequent content word (i.e. Cappello Group owning Micron company). In Palazzetti's sub-corpus, the company name is the second most frequent content word, after 'company'.
  18. 18. ● Company name [1]: theme-rheme structure to foreground the company: GERMAN CORPUS - AEG Power Solutions will agree to Suppliers Code of Conduct [...]. (AEG) - EnBW Trading GmbH offers green electricity from hydro power to wholesale customer. (EnBW) - PCC today employs approximately 2,500 staff in more than 70 subsidiaries and associated companies [...]. (PCC) ITALIAN CORPUS - Bonfiglioli is an international group with subsidiaries all over the world […]. (Bonfiglioli) - Turboden is a leading European company in development and production of ORC […]. (Turboden) Preliminary findings
  19. 19. Preliminary findings ● Company name [2] used as a modifier: GERMAN CORPUS - The executive committee oversees and executes AEG Power Solutions strategies across the globe. (AEG) - The EnBW 2020 Strategy now follows the corresponding structure. (EnBW) - ZF Aviation Technology is setting worldwide standards in this industry segment. (ZF) ITALIAN CORPUS - […] Bonfiglioli Inverters are customized to the Indian conditions. (Bonfiglioli) - Turboden ORC units generate up to 15 MW electric per unit […]. (Turboden) - 2009/ Palazzetti Pellet Technology was born. (Palazzetti)
  20. 20. ● Use of 'company' (5th most frequent content word in the German corpus, 7th most frequent content word in the Italian corpus) to talk about its history, location, services offered (indirectness): GERMAN CORPUS - The company is located in Piedmont close to Greenville/SC [...]. (PCC) - The company also provides catering, vending and party services to external customers. (ZF) ITALIAN CORPUS - The new company was baptized Costruzioni Meccaniche Bonfiglioli [...]. (Bonfiglioli) - The company was founded in 1980 in Milan by Mario Gaia [....]. (Turboden) Preliminary findings
  21. 21. Preliminary findings ● Use of 'we' (as a receiver-exclusive pronoun) to convey an idea of expertise, commitment, reliability: GERMAN CORPUS - We take responsibility for our actions and behavior, recognizing that we should be held accountable for everything we say and everything we do professionally. We are each accountable to all of our internal and external stakeholders, including co-workers, management, customers and business partners. (AEG) ITALIAN CORPUS - [...] we are committed to satisfying our customers' requirements by supplying high quality products and providing excellent service on an increasingly wide scale. (Bonfiglioli). - We try to improve all the time, not only in the things we do but also in the way we do them. (Palazzetti)
  22. 22. ● Use of 'you' [1]: involving the audience in a dialogue (in combination with 'we'): GERMAN CORPUS - We are sure that you will find machines for new possibilities. (Jenz) - You, as ZF's partners, contribute significantly to the competitiveness of our products. (ZF) ITALIAN CORPUS - We know you want to see your money put to tangible, practical uses [...]. (Bonfiglioli) - We want to give you something more than others. We want to tell you how we work, how we invent, and how we create. (Palazzetti) Preliminary findings
  23. 23. ● Use of 'you' [2]: guiding the web user during his/her navigation, often in close proximity to hyperlinks or downloadable files, in combination with modal 'can': GERMAN CORPUS - Archive / In the archive, you can find annual and quarterly reports for previous business years. (PCC) - Here you can find the registration form to our events and the General Terms and Conditions as well as the training catalogue to download. (ZF) ITALIAN CORPUS - In this area you can download material produced for journalists and press agents. (Bonfiglioli) - You can download press releases and contact our Press Office personally for more in-depth information. (Palazzetti) Preliminary findings
  24. 24. High degree of personalisation in the management of the Company/About US section in each corporate website: ● The section is to be accessed by means of a hyperlink on the homepage, often combined with a drop-down menu offering an overview of the content of the section. ● Wealth and variety of information is presented in each sub-section, also including different genres: vision/mission, company profile, history, responsibility, sustainability, annual reports, news area/archive, R&D, job openings. ● Different stakeholders are addressed: customers, investors, the press, institutions, the general public, (prospective) employees. Preliminary findings
  25. 25. ● Communication relies not only on textual information but also on multimodal resources: media (photo and video) galleries. ● Colour choice and company logos are strategically used to stress the corporate image. ● Images occupy prominent positions (use of banner images), and they are often used as clickable objects. ● Interactivity [1]: hyperlinks, menus, search tools cater for a personalised navigation within the website. ● Interactivity [2]: hyperlinks may be realised by the use of directives (read more, click here, download pdf). ● Interactivity [3]: the sections of some websites feature contact forms to be filled in on-line for the web users to get in touch with the company. Preliminary findings
  26. 26. The advent of the Web has introduced a wealth of new capabilities for companies to improve and personalise their intercultural corporate communication, HENCE remediating the traditional business discourse genres. Just as the traditional company brochure, the About Us/Company section included in corporate websites ● is part of the PR strategies of a company ● aims at presenting the company as a qualified partner ● is polysemiotic ● has a partly informative, partly promotional function, IN ADDITION, it takes advantage of the capabilities of the web medium (multimodality, hyperlinking, interactivity), and it includes other genres thanks to hyperlinks. Discussion of preliminary findings
  27. 27. About Us/Company section ● informative function: - theme-rheme structure topicalises the company - the use of third person to refer to the company is consistent with the degree of formality implied in the institutional presentation of a company - multimodal resources integrate textual information. ● promotional function: - use of we/you to 'personify' the company and reach out to its stakeholders - focus on the company's reliability, commitment, expertise. - strategical use of images, company logo and colour choice to stress corporate image. Discussion of preliminary findings
  28. 28. Although the sections investigated belong to websites owned by companies based in two different countries, the linguistic choices in BELF implemented to address an intercultural audience seem to be comparable across the two corpora. Further investigation of lexico-grammatical features is needed to support this finding. YET, all websites differ from one another in the way information is managed and web capabilities are exploited. This personalised implementation of promotional strategies gives added value to the communication of each company, whose aim is not only to maintain business relationship with a multiple audience, but also to stand out from competition. Final remarks
  29. 29. Thank You!
  30. 30. Question Time