Social media utilisation as relationship building component in the Public Relations (PR) strategy of nonprofit organisations (NGOs)

An example of an international NGO 'Mercy Corps'

Master's Thesis, 2012

93 Pages, Grade: 2,0

Maria M. (Author)


Table of contents

1. Introduction

Literature review
2. Literature review introduction
3. Dialogical communication
3.1 What is dialogue?
3.2 Dialogue from a communication perspective
3.3 Dialogical communication within PR
4. Relationship management
4.1 Definition of relationship management
4.2 Relationship management from the PR perspective
4.3 Dialogue and relationship management
5. Internet, new media and social media
5.1 Dialogic principles in online relationships
5.2 Relationship management in and through social media
6. Social media use of NGOs, relationships and dialogue
7. Literature review summary

8. Methodology introduction
8.1 Aims and research questions
8.2 Research strategy
8.3 Methodology
8.4 Research approach
8.5 Sampling
8.6 Data collection or methods
8.6.1 Interview
8.6.2 Content analysis
8.7 Authencity and trustworthiness
8.8 Ethical considerations and limitations

Findings and discussion
9. Findings and analysis introduction
10. Presentation of the findings
10.1 Mercy Corps European Headquarters
10.2 Mercy Corps US Headquarters
11. Discussion and analysis
11.1 Relational antecedents
11.1.1 Understanding of social media
11.1.2 Power within internal structures
11.2 Relational maintenance
11.2.1 Dialogue
11.2.2 Trust and accountability
11.3 Relational outcomes
11.3.1 PR and social media
11.3.2 Control mutuality
11.3.3 Satisfaction
12. Summary discussion
13. Conclusions and recommendations
13.1 Limitations
13.2 Recommendations for future research
14. References


Appendix 1
Appendix 2
Appendix 3
Appendix 4
Appendix 5
Appendix 6
Appendix 7
Appendix 8
Appendix 9
Appendix 10


The developments in the digital word introduced new communications channels in the

Public Relations (PR) work, which encompass technologies such as social networking. PR and communications practitioners generally accept this development as an advantageous phenomenon. However, recent research on social media has shown that the PR industry in the nonprofit sector lacks a full integration of new media to its full extent in order to be more efficient. Limited research has been carried out to explore the challenges in the adoption of social media channels in this particular sector.

This study sought to explore the experiences and perceptions on the process of social media integration in an international NGO. By using the findings of semi-structured interviews of the staff and that of the content analysis of the deployed social media channels, it aims to investigate the effect of social media communication on the relationship building with the supporters through dialogue.

The study revealed that different concepts such as dialogical communication and relationship building have enormous value within the online PR work in organisations. The new online platforms can be used for building relationships with stakeholders by embracing two-way communication which leads to a mutual understanding and commitment from the donors.

It seemed that strategic social media adoption is also dependant on the organisational culture and power structures in it. Providing for a different understanding of organisational goals and the value of social media on the management level can marginalise a successful contribution of these channels to the strategic communications and fundraising work.

The conclusions from this research represent a broad theoretical framework for further research into the effects of social media on successful PR practice in NGOs on a local, national and international level.

1. Introduction

Within the last 50 years the internet evolved from a medium for self-defense communication, academic and professionally technological purposes to the so called Web 2.0 medium, which stands for the social technologies development after the dot-com bubble and the big crash in 2000 (Mandiberg 2012). The focus on new media forms and social networking sites shifted with the focus on active, collaborative audience participation and changed the way that people communicate in a revolutionary way. The people known as the audience became participants in a multivoiced conversation, shifting from “one-directional broadcast from reporter to an audience…” (Yochai Benkler 2006 cited in Mandiberg 2012, p.3).

Currently it is estimated that around one billion people are using Facebook and over 500 million people are using Twitter (Mashable 2012; Semiocast 2012). This growth of electronic communication has also been reflected within organisational communication with various stakeholders (Melcrum 2007) and a lot of organisations and companies take advantage of this growth. Public Relations (PR) practitioners figured out that organisations and companies could be more efficient when adopting social media (Li and Bernoff 2008). Therefore, Hon and Grunig (1999) call in their research for an examination of the effects of new media on organisation-public relationships, which previous studies had failed to capture properly. Current research shows that especially nonprofit organisations ignore the opportunity for furthering dialogue with supporters and potential donors on social media channels (Bortree and Seltzer 2009, Greenberg and MacAulay 2009).

This study proposes to investigate the adoption of social media into PR and communications work of NGOs by examining one specific example, namely the NGO Mercy Corps. It takes into consideration the relationship between social media utilisation and the adoption of dialogical online communication, and the resulting effect of relationship building. The integration of the new media into the communications strategy will also be an important part of the investigation. So in order to examine how social media channels are used within the PR work of the researched NGO, the focus will be on the strategic use of the dialogue concept and its influence on the promotion of the organisational image and fundraising. It is hoped that the study will deliver an insight on the potential for a more comprehensive engagement with the idea of dialogue in the new media within the nonprofit sector.

The first section of this paper deals with a general introduction into the topic by mapping out the relevance of the research. In order to build a theoretical construct for the research, the next part will dwell on the review of relevant literature for the subject. The key concepts from the literature review will represent a broad theoretical framework. In the third chapter the reader will be introduced to the methodological process which will be used to investigate and access the epistemological interest of this study. In the fourth chapter the findings of the study will be presented, while the following section will reflect on the results in an analysis and discussion of the data. Ultimately, the findings will be embedded into the theoretical context and chapter six will present the conclusions, limitations of the research and recommendations for further research.

Literature review

2. Literature review introduction

This section elucidates the emergence of theoretical concepts dialogue, relationship management and new media utilisation within PR in order to construct a theoretical context for this work. Finally, the academic research which has started to deal with the application of these concepts in communications work of NGOs will be examined.

3. Dialogical communication

Dialogue as a discipline has been neglected as an area for further examination in PR research when compared to other disciplines such as organisational or political communication. However scholars such as Pieczka (2011) claim it to be a central point within PR theory over the last 30 years. The concept of dialogue is defined by the same author as an area of study which overlaps with the concepts of symmetrical communication, relationship management and responsibility. Anderson et al. (2004) also understand dialogue as a flexible, multivocal and interactive communication concept which overlaps with other disciplines. In the following chapter the concept of dialogue will be defined through examining various viewpoints of different scholars and different disciplines. The emphasis will be put on the similarities in different theories, which can be also found in the studies of Public Relations.

3.1 What is dialogue?

After Penman (2000) attended every discussion with the word dialogue in its title at the international communication conference in 1999, she concluded, that “…there were almost as many different usages of the word [dialogue] as sessions held” (p.83). This example illustrates how slippery and unstable the concept of dialogue is.

The best known philosophers and scholars who have dominated the discussion about the term dialogue are Martin Buber, Michail Bakhtin, David Bohm, Paolo Freire and Hans- Georg Gadamer (Stewart et al. 2004). In fact, with Martin Buber’s essay ‘I and Thou’ the idea of dialogue appears for the first time and Buber becomes the ‘father of dialogue’ (Pieczka 2011). Without mentioning the word dialogue, he claims that there must be other types of human encounters besides the ‘I-It’ (subject-object) and describes these as ‘I and Thou’ encounters. ‘I and Thou’ basically explains the twofold orientation which is situated in encounters between humans and other humans, nature and other subjects (Stewart et al. 2004). Buber (1958) also emphasizes the value of words within the twofold encounters: they are crucial in order to make the ‘I and Thou’ happen and if thinking further, to create a dialogue. Without them it would be only an ‘I-it’ encounter, which could be considered as a monologue, where a human being does not really meet another subject and has a conversation with him/herself (Buber 1958). Stewart et al. (2004) go further and summarize Buber’s view with a focus on the quality rather than just on the existence of dialogue: “…dialogue for Buber means a label for a quality of contact that exists for humans in tension with instrumental and objective contact.” (p.33). However, at this point no assumptions about the measurement of the quality of the contact were made.

In this regard, some authors such as Wood (2004) arrived at the general idea that the quality of dialogue is based on responsiveness, because responsiveness reflects the quality of thoughts that “…allow transformation in how one understands the self, others, and the world around them.” (p. xvi). It can be concluded that dialogue starts with the meeting between two subjects, existence of words within this encounter, the process of responsiveness with the words and finally the realisation of the subjects within the dialogue. These definitions do not yet reflect the developments in the digital world, which mean a new consideration of the meeting between the subjects, since it happens virtually and not face-to-face anymore. These thoughts will be discussed in more detail in this work.

Another interesting aspect, which contradicts the later thoughts of communication scholars, is that dialogue involves tension and that the participants within the dialogical interaction are not seeking common ground, but only seeking for the realisation of themselves (Wood 2004). Freire (1972) shares the perspective that dialogue involves two perspectives or tensional positions. However, the opinions among different scholars vary on the idea that dialogue involves tension and conflict. Tannen (1999) claims that there are no opposite poles in dialogue: "I am questioning the assumption that everything is a matter of polarized opposites, the proverbial “two sides to every question” that we think embodies open- mindedness and expansive thinking"(p.8). These differences in views become helpful in the part of this work, where the theoretical as well as practical application of dialogue within the PR discipline is discussed.

3.2 Dialogue from a communication perspective

Another perspective, from which the concept of dialogue was discussed in detail and which contributed to the understanding of the concept, is communication theory.

In 1970 dialogue was taken up for the first time by communications scholars, who identified it as an emerging concept for the communications discipline (Pieczka 2011). According to Kelleher (2007) who draws on communication theories, dialogue is more of a philosophical concept describing a process rather than an outcome. Stewart et al. (2004) suggest that dialogue is a particular kind of communication, whereas Anderson et al. (2004) consider dialogue as a model for effective communication. These authors see dialogue as a crucial part of communication, which leads to the relevant question of creation of the dialogue in communication.

Pearce and Pearce (2004) offer one approach in reply to this question, which in this context requires a deeper understanding of the communication theory perspective. The authors suggest that describes the processes by which things are made rather than analysing the final product. This supports Kelleher’s (2007) view mentioned above, that dialogue is rather focused on the process. The authors introduce the reader to a 3-step-system in order to take a communication perspective on dialogue. The first step proposes seeing institutions such as families or organisations as deeply textured clusters of persons-in-conversation. In this context the authors support the opinion that “…all matters of efficiency, morale, reproductivity and issues can be handled by attention to what conversations occur, where, with what participants, in what type of language, and about what topics” (p.41). The issues of power and resources are addressed in the second step of the process: realisation that communication is substantial and has consequences. So the words, which are part of the communication process, possess the power to “…shape[s] the permissible and impermissible relationships between persons, and … produce[s] a social structure.” (p.42). Sigman (1995, cited in Pearce and Pearce 2004, p.42) outlines how communication represents a “…process through which cultural values, beliefs, and goals are formulated and lived.” This leads to the third step, which is the treatment of things such as beliefs, personalities, power relations and attitudes as created within the reciprocated communicative process.

Against this background, the concept of dialogue can be evaluated in more detail. Cissna and Anderson state that:

…dialogue implies more than a simple back-and-forthness of messages in interaction; it points to a particular process and quality of communication in which the participants 'meet', which allows for changing and being changed. In dialogue, we do not know exactly what we are going to say, and we can surprise not only the other but also ourselves. (1994, cited in Anderson et al. 2004, p.1)

By echoing Buber’s (1958), Pearce’s and Pearce’s (2004) and Wood’s (2004) observations, the authors establish the connection to the concept of dialogue and address the communication perspective and the encounter between the participants.

Dixon (1996) adds the constructs of relationship building and mutuality to this concept and contradicts the view that dialogue can be a one-way talk. Pearce and Pearce (2004) seize on Dixon’s (1996) idea that dialogue is about reflecting one’s assumptions within the communication process.

Derived from these ideas for creating and maintaining dialogic communication, listening to someone else’s story and giving feedback is as valuable as telling one’s story as a response. At this point further explanation is required of how these dialogical features are discussed and applied within the PR discipline.

3.3 Dialogical communication within PR

According to the dominant tradition in the PR studies, a large number of PR practitioners still assume that the primary purpose of communication is to get the message across by purely disseminating new information in order to shape the publics' behaviour (Anderson et al. 2004). This indicates how little attention is paid to the concept of dialogue within the discipline of PR. Wood (2004) confirms that non-dialogical forms of communication have been well recognised and even been central in the field of communicative forms such as persuasion within PR. Pieczka (2011) comes to the same conclusion within the theoretical context by saying that PR lacked in expert engagement with the dialogue discipline compared to other disciplines which were dealing with the theory of dialogue in more detail and applying it to solving real-life problems. In other words, while the discipline of PR was dealing only with the theories of dialogue, other disciplines applied these theories in practice.

Searching for applications of dialogue within PR might be difficult, since “…actual examples of dialogue in PR are difficult to find” (Meisenbach and Feldner 2009, p.253). The most well-known and influential work which involves dialogical communication is Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) four models of PR. The first two models press agentry and public information are concerned with pure information dissemination without any feedback possibilities. These models have the nature of one-way communication; whereas two-way asymmetric and symmetric models focus on building and maintaining a relationship to publics with feedback possibilities (McQuail and Windahl 1993). The role of dialogue is central to the symmetric two-way model, which represents a balanced, dialogical flow of communication with the aim of bringing about real changes in both parties' ideas and behaviours (Grunig 2001). In this context PR scholars (Bailey 2009) urge that PR practitioners should help to manage the relationship and create a "dialogue of equals" (p. 300). However, from critical theory perspective there exist issues of power between the two communicating parties. So eventually the motive in symmetrical communication is to find a balance between the interests of the organisations and publics by using dialogue and research in order to change the attitude and the behaviour of both the organisations and their publics.

In other words many PR practitioners prefer the practise of one-way communication, instead of the desired (by the dominant tradition of scholars) two-way symmetrical communication (Grunig and Hunt 1984). Freire (1972) stated that monologic speech, which might involve for instance slogans and instructions, " partial, oppressive and limits authentic praxis." (p.76).

Another comprehensive framework in order to approach dialogue within a PR perspective is offered by Kent and Taylor (2002, cited in Pieczka 2011, p.117) by finding the connection between the dialogue theory and PR and outlining the risks and unpredictability of dialogue. Kelleher (2007) refers to this research in order to illustrate how a dialogical loop online involves real people communication: he emphasizes the value of response, but also the quality of the content, since it is critical to the relationship building with publics. He also states that “…dialogical communication not only means to engage with people in a conversation, but also to keep them engaged” (p.51), which leads to a concept which is essential to the discussion on dialogue within PR, namely the relationship building concept. As Pieczka (2011) states: “The discipline of dialogue deals in communication, but deals with relationships.” (p.110). With reference to this, the concept of relationship building in PR and the role of dialogical communication in it will be discussed in the next part of this work.

4. Relationship management

Ledingham and Bruning (2000) observe that emergence of relationship management as a paradigm of PR questions the essence of the discipline: It seems essential to rethink the functions and goals of the paradigm, to capture the value and benefits of the idea for organisations as well as for their publics. Furthermore the authors claim that “The relationship paradigm also provides a framework … [for] exploring the linkage between PR objectives and organisational goals, for constructing platforms for strategic planning and tactical implementation…” (Ledingham and Bruning 2000, p.xiii). In this writing the relationship paradigm is used to offer a framework for assessing the linkage between organisational goals and how online PR is used in order to achieve them. Nowadays organisation-public relationships are considered to be highly important to an organisation’s “…ability to successfully meet its mission objectives and they are ignored at the

organisation’s peril” (Jahansoozi 2006, p.90). However, this work will challenge this assumption from the symmetric point of view by looking not only on how the organisation wants to meet its objectives, but also on whether the organisation is willing to change its objectives, if the public opinion demands it. It will be also looked at, whether the organisation is interested in building long-term, qualitative relationships instead of shortterm relationships or no relationships at all.

Chaffee (1991) states that the concept of relationships needs explication in order to derive trustworthy measures useful for applying and testing PR theory. So before practitioners can describe and compare the organisation-public relationships, the idea of relationships needs an explication, which goes beyond the use of the term mainly used to define PR.

4.1 Definition of relationship management

Broom et al. (2000) state that relationships are hard to measure, because a fully explicated definition of the concept is absent. Ferguson (1984) is considered to be one of the first scholars to point out the need for the definition and measurement of relationships between organisations and their publics. In her review of published PR texts in the time from 1975 to 1984, she found out that a minor part of the articles encouraged developing a theory of relationship management within the PR discipline. Especially inter-organisational relationships and relationships between organisations and other groups of stakeholders derive special consideration in terms of paradigm development. Another offered insight was conducting a research which is not focused on the involved parties (stakeholders or organisations), but on the relationship itself. Broom and Dozier (1990) picked up on these ideas and suggested a co-oriental approach to measure organisation-public relationships in order to calculate the value of PR instead of just communication efficiencies.

Other scholars introduced different approaches to describe the concept of relationship management, without actually defining it or indicating how to measure it. Grunig, Grunig and Ehling (1992) only state that the concept of relationships between organisations and stakeholders is central to their PR theory and organisation effectiveness. They propose attributes and constructs to measure the relationships such as “…reciprocity, trust, credibility, mutual legitimacy, openness, mutual satisfaction, and mutual understanding” (p.83).The authors also say that “…building relationship with publics … constrain or enhance the ability of the organisation to meet its mission.” (p.20). Dozier, Grunig and Grunig (1995) also point out the missions and goals of organisations within the relationship building process as essential. They call for the use of communication as “…a strategic management function [to] manage relationships with key publics that effect organizational mission, goals and objectives” (Dozier et al. 1995, p.85). This view presents rather an asymmetric approach, which focuses more on the organisational interests, and not on both publics' and the organisations' interests.

Broom, Casey and Ritchey (1997) derive some definition of the concept from other disciplines such as interpersonal communications, psychotherapy, interorganisational relationships and systems theory in order to draw conclusions and create their definition of relationship management. So drawing on concepts for example of interchanging message patterns within interpersonal communications or exchange of resources within the inter- organisational relationships perspective, the authors define relationships as following:

…Organisation-public relationships are represented by the patterns of interaction, transaction, exchange, and linkage between an organisation and its publics. These relationships have properties that are distinct from the identities, attributes, and perceptions of the individuals and social collectivities in the relationships. Though dynamic in nature, organisation-public relationships can be described at a single point in time and tracked over time. (Broom, Casey and Ritchey 1997, p.18)

This definition provides a rich understanding for further discussions about the concept of relationships within PR, which will be discussed in the following chapter.

4.2 Relationship management from the PR perspective

With regard to PR effectiveness, Hon and Grunig (1999) examined the IABC Research Foundation Excellence Study, pointing out Dozier, Grunig and Grunig‘s (1995) findings of correlation between short-term effects resulting from communication. These short-term effects support the development and maintenance of quality long-term relationships. So Hon and Grunig (1999) applied indicators of relationships from interpersonal perspective to the field of PR, in order to address already discussed issues of measurement. They proposed measurement of relationship outcomes, stressing six elements: control mutuality, trust, satisfaction, commitment, exchange relationship, communal relationship. These six elements are considered to be valuable indicators of public perceptions in public-organisation relationships and were found to be fundamental for demonstrating the value of PR. However, this research did not focus on relational perceptions from an organisation’s perspective and did not measure the relationship itself, as suggested before by Ferguson (1984) and other scholars. This issue will be addressed in this paper by focusing on relationship-building strategies between Mercy Corps and its publics.

4.3 Dialogue and relationship management

Relationship management within PR is also distinctive from other concepts due to its emphasis on exchange and dialogue. The potential for open, honest and authentic PR activity is also embedded in Ledingham’s (2006) statement that relational PR models undergo a movement from ‘manipulation’ toward the ‘nurturing relationships’ (p.468). The idea of dialogue appears when the author examines what constitutes an organisation-public relationship. He points out that organisation-public relationship involves an “ongoing exchange of needs, expectations and fulfillment” and that the desired outcome of an effective relationship contains “mutual understanding and benefit” (Ledingham 2006, p.475). This stresses the idea of reciprocity within the relationship, based on Grunig’s (2001) model of two-way symmetry, which Grunig describes as an important contributor to ‘organisational effectiveness’.

Relationship management is important for organisational effectiveness (Ledingham 2006), because a relationship based on mutuality brings benefits for organisations and publics. An organisational success confirms the implementation of a right strategy, while publics perceive the organisation’s work as authentic and fair, therefore as legitimate to process their work. In order to be involved in this kind of relationships it requires dialogue (Edwards 2009). Scholars Morsing and Schultz (2006) depict in their study of CSR communication how companies can deploy different strategies (informative, responsive and engaging) in order to communicate with the stakeholders and build long-lasting relationships. Based on Grunig and Hunt's (1984) four PR models, the authors introduce a 'one-way' information strategy and stakeholder response and stakeholder involvement strategies, which are derived from the two-way symmetric and asymmetric communication models. In this work PR and relationship theories will offer a framework through which the relationships between the NGO Mercy Corps and its publics will be investigated with focus on the strategies used. Finally to assess the quality of the relationship Ledingham’s (2006) deconstructed categories of relationship will be used: trust, openness, involvement, investment and commitment. This framework and perspective is also suggested by Jahansoozi (2006) since it allows PR to “legitimately” work with relationships. The next chapter introduces the digital PR paradigm and the role of dialogue and building of relationships in it.

5. Internet, new media and social media

The creation of the so called web 2.0 is rooted in the internet development after the dot-com bubble and the big crash (Mandiberg 2012). The original meaning of web programming became a term which described tools for making new media (Mandiberg 2012).

Against this backdrop the term of online PR emerged. Kelleher (2007) argues that online PR is about “…what people are doing with online media technologies instead of what these technologies do to them” (p.1). The people known as the audience became participants in a multivoiced conversation, shifting from “one-directional broadcast from reporter to an audience…” (Yochai Benkler 2006, cited in Mandiberg 2012, p.3). The same idea was addressed by Solis and Breakenridge (2009) as they introduced PR 2.0 - a term used to describe the shift in PR from liaising only with the traditional media to liaising with the traditional as well as incorporating the new media. According to the authors, Web 2.0. introduced a new sphere where hosts and participants could contribute to a more collaborative web landscape; and also introduced social web, which was “... about people communicating with each other using the tools that reach their [] online communities…” (p.37). Within this context it can be said that new PR has the goal to understand which online communities it has to reach and how to engage them in conversations. Kelleher (2007) talks about contingency interactivity, a process which “…involves users, media and messages with the focus on interchangeability of the messages in order to achieve the occurrence of full interactivity” (p.11). Related to this, he also introduces the concept of contingency PR, which is described as communication process between the organisation and the public which creates an atmosphere of a dialogue.

According to McAlliser-Spooner’s (2009) research these concepts are crucial, since “…web sites are very poorly used dialogic tools” (p.321), which reflects the already discussed lack of engagement with the concept in the PR discipline.

5.1 Dialogic principles in online relationships

Solis and Breakenridge (2009) encapsulate the essence of the described development by saying that “Monologue has changed to dialogue, bringing a new era of Public Relations" (p.2). However, this view seems to be utopian, because as already outlined in the course of this work, this new era of PR did not occur completely and monolog one-way communication is still the case within every day (online) PR practice.

Most of the research in this terrain is associated with Kent and Taylor’s (1998) recommendations for better online dialogic communication. They encourage PR practitioners and scholars to embrace a richer understanding of dialogue that takes into account the need for dialogic loops, for example feedback opportunities via online surveys. They also outline the usefulness of online information, by suggesting the opportunity for publics to sign up for newsletters. Another recommendation is organisational encouragement of traffic to the website, which could be achieved through updated and easy understandable quality content on the website. Kelleher (2007) sums it up by saying that the authors introduced a smart use of web in PR in the context of dialogue, with the result that “…dialogue doesn't mean agreement and dialogue is about intersubjectivity and not objective truth” (p.49). The usefulness of information and involvement of real people in the dialogic loop appear to be the principles of dialogic communication: "Response is a major part of the dialogic loop, however, the content of the response is also critical for the relationship building" (Kent and Taylor 1998, p.327).

However, according to scholars of critical theory such as Pieczka (2011) “…there is a danger in the methodologies used so far of reducing the search for genuine dialogue to somewhat mechanistic principles of building feedback loops…” (p.117). The issue is that by examining online -communication of organisations, a large proportion of PR discussions go into technical matters without focusing on the actual dialogue. Kelleher (2007) also underpins that engaging people into dialogue and building relationships is not about the technology but about people. So the next chapter deals with possibilities to strengthen and maintain online relationships through dialogue.

5.2 Relationship management in and through social media

Relationship-building through new media incorporates the concept of feedback, which scholars such as Ovaitt (1995) value as high important for disparate groups who want to communicate. Kelleher (2007) suggests breaking down the study of relationship into antecedents, maintenance processes and outcomes. All three parts are vital in order to understand the role of online media in PR. The relational antecedents are introduced by Hallahan (2003, cited in Grunig and Huang 2000, pp.37) in three broad categories: technologies, the individuals with general knowledge about the organisation and the social structures which provide context to relationships.

For the creation and maintenance of relationships, the author suggests that on the individual level online relationships are built in a process. This process begins with awareness of the organisation and develops itself as individuals gain relational knowledge, attitudes and behaviours. Stafford's and Canary's (1991) study illustrates how interpersonal relationship strategies can help to understand and improve online relationships between organisations and publics. The five maintenance strategies are: positivity (in the interaction), openness, assurances, social networks and sharing tasks. These strategies can be perfectly applied to organisational relationships by shifting the focus on publics.

The last step proposed is evaluating relational strategies in order to assess relationship outcomes. Hon and Grunig's (1999) PR relationship measurement scale appears to be appropriate for this purpose. The scale includes the following categories: Control mutuality, trust, satisfaction and commitment.

Concluding, it can be stated that user- generated content changed the way in which traditional PR and media function. Social media is about tools such as Twitter and Facebook that are used to forge of reinforce conversations. Through the open and participatory nature of these channels, PR can be practiced more transparent, but also more unethical. The Bell Pottinger Wikipedia case serves as an example for it. After Wikipedia started an investigation into Bell Pottinger's use of the site, it was found out that the agency was using fake identities to edit pages on behalf of clients (PR Week 2012). This case reflects the practical difficulties and ethical issues when incorporating online media channels into PR work.

Social media changed the foundation of PR, forcing the PR professionals to publicly engage with the people they are trying to reach. The new channels are understood by many as mechanisms for engaging in conversations, but the engagement/participation has to be informed, mutually beneficial and genuine in order to build relationships (Kelleher 2007). The problem of many PR people is 'cultural voyeurism' (Solis and Breakenridge 2009), which means they only observe conversations without participating in them. Furthermore, PR professionals face the challenge of developing short and engaging messages. The authors claim that the relationship building process online will grow, if the peers are listened to and the rules of engagement are followed. However, the mention of rules implicates very technical, functionalist view of relationship building. In order to approach the relationship- building concept in this work, this view appears to be inappropriate due to its bias.

6. Social media use of NGOs, relationships and dialogue

As illustrated in the previous chapters, there was some research in assessing the value, strategies and tactics of engaging stakeholders into dialogue in order to build and maintain relationships. In this context social media provided new possibilities for organisations to connect with their stakeholders by allowing them to receive real-time feedback and engage in conversations. However, as McAllister Spooner (2009) concluded that the dialogical potential in the web was not fully deployed by organisations for engagement and authentic communication with stakeholders. This study focuses on how an NGO embraces the new communication opportunities and will show what further research reveals about social media use in the PR work of NGOs.

The few studies which concentrate on social networking on the organisational level point out different organisational behaviours for building and maintaining relationships. Bortree and Seltzer (2009) report ambivalent result: while some environmental NGOs use the dialogic character of social media to its full extent, other use their social media sites to simply disseminate information in form of one-way messages. Similar results were derived from a research of a big number of organisations in the nonprofit sector whilst studying the relationship-building features of their Facebook profiles (Waters et al. 2009). The study confirmed that organisations were losing or purely ignoring opportunities to engage with their key stakeholders on Facebook. Studies on other social channels such as Twitter also discuss the emergence of lost dialogic engagement opportunities (Rybako and Seltzer 2010). Few organisations make the attempt and send out informational messages, but the usage of one-way messages as means of strategic communication is still the most used form of organisational-public communication (Waters and Jamal 2011).

Full understanding of these developments can be established with a view which incorporates PR practice in this discussion. Kelleher (2007) contributes to this discussion by defining good PR as PR which involves “…effective communication which builds trust and strong relationships with the stakeholders; influence and change in opinion; positive image and reputation; presence and enhancement of brand loyalty; response and action” (p.8). Considering this definition, the question arises how to engage and communicate through appropriate channels and which tools to use for achieving regular practice of PR work, which incorporates if not all, at least few of the features.

Christ (2005) predicted that social media will enforce PR practitioners to rethink how they approach relationship development and maintenance with their stakeholders. In the last years consultants have been putting pressure for PR to embrace social media use in order to develop online communities (Solis and Breakenridge 2009). Waters et al. (2009) reflect these trends and their study puts emphasis on the fact that although nonprofits are open and transparent with their social media profiles, they are not using the devices to their full potential in order to practice symmetrical two-way communication. Hyunjin et al. (2009) contribute to this discussion with the findings of their study on how 75 NGOs in United States utilise new media channels. The authors recommend NGOs, especially the ones with a tight budget or lack in resources, to expand their online PR practice by using different social media channels in order to promote organisational image and raising funds. They explicitly claim that NGOs need to recognise the potential of social media tools for improving two-way communication and integrate the recommendations in their communication strategy long-term. However, in order to underpin this assumption further research is needed, especially research which involves pubics' and stakeholder's opinion.

7. Literature review summary

This literature review shows the importance of dialogical communication in the PR. Utilisation of dialogue on new online platforms supports the building of qualitative, mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and publics. This work will offer an in-depth study of this area on the example of the NGO Mercy Corps based in the US and in Scotland. This example was chosen, because social media use within the PR work of NGOs is a relatively new area of research compared to the existing literature about relationship management in PR. The next part of this research will report on the methodology and the research process.


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Social media utilisation as relationship building component in the Public Relations (PR) strategy of nonprofit organisations (NGOs)
An example of an international NGO 'Mercy Corps'
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Kommunikation, Medien, Journalismus, Public Realtions, PR, Social Media, Neue Medien, Stiftungen, NGO, NRO, Fundraising
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Maria M. (Author), 2012, Social media utilisation as relationship building component in the Public Relations (PR) strategy of nonprofit organisations (NGOs), Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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Title: Social media utilisation as relationship building component in the Public Relations (PR) strategy of nonprofit organisations (NGOs)

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