Tarleton communication professors awarded Arthur W. Page Center grant


STEPHENVILLE — Tarleton State University’s Sarah Maben and Christopher Gearhart have been awarded a grant from the Arthur W. Page Center to extend their research on organizations and online listening.

The pair of communication scholars will assess what stakeholders expect from organizations and their online social listening.

Dr. Gearhart, who studies listening, and Dr. Maben, who studies social media, previously collaborated on two projects that join their research interests and areas of inquiry.

“Organizations sometimes confuse surveillance with actual listening, and we are investigating listening traits from the interpersonal communication literature and how it applies to organizational listening in social media,” said Gearhart, head for the Communication Studies Department.

Added Maben, an assistant professor: “Now we want to uncover what we as consumers and stakeholders really expect from these organizations online. If we tell organizations they need to be better listeners, we need to find out what stakeholders expect and how characteristics like demographics, personality and temperament influence expectations.”

Listening to social media stakeholders — truly listening in active and empathic ways — can be daunting for organizations of any size. This research could offer more efficient ways to show stakeholders that an organization is listening (and responding) and acting ethically.

Organizations could benefit from the best practices a study like this offers, the researchers say, and could begin to train their social media team and listening agents to better engage a two-way communication model and dialog in social media.

As part of the grant, Gearhart and Maben will fund a Tarleton graduate student to collect and code data this summer. The team will present at an upcoming Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference, create blog content for the Page Center, and write a chapter for an upcoming book on organizational listening.

Maben and Gearhart are the first Tarleton scholars to be awarded a Page Center grant.

“Seeing that we were awarded the grant along with researchers we have worked with in the past is fun,” Gearhart said. “For me in particular, I see that my dissertation and PhD adviser, Dr. Graham Bodie, has also been funded. Knowing that he played a very important role in this accomplishment makes me happy.”

The Tarleton project was one of 12 to receive a 2020 Page/Johnson Legacy Scholar Grant. Since 2004 the Arthur W. Page Center has funded scholars from universities worldwide and awarded more than $900,000. The grants are given in the names of Arthur W. Page and Robert Wood Johnson and aim to further the study of ethics and responsibility in corporate communication.

The 2020 grant awardees are listed at https://www.bellisario.psu.edu/page-center/article/2020-page-center-grants-seek-to-learn-how-corporations-listen.

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