Date of Award

5-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

Communication, Technology, and Society

Advisor

Linvill, Darren

Committee Member

Weathers , Melinda

Committee Member

Sanderson , James

Abstract

This thesis examines the use of social media for public relations in the non-profit sector. Specifically, self-perceptions and the implementation of social media by non-profit organizations was investigated through both interviews with social media practitioners and content analysis of Twitter. Through the lens of the five principles of dialogic communication, as set forth by Kent and Taylor (1998), eight community non-profit organizations were analyzed in a multiple case study. One interview and 150 tweets from a 12 month period were examined for each organization to determine the motivations for employing social media and whether dialogic communication was used to interact with stakeholders. Through these analyses, this study answered four research questions: How do social media practitioners interpret the opportunities of using social media for community non-profit organizations' public relations?, How do social media practitioners interpret the challenges of using social media for community non-profit organizations' public relations?, How do social media practitioners interpret the outcomes of community non-profit organizations' public relations via social media?, and How do community non-profit organizations use dialogic communication, as described in the dialogic theory of public relations, to connect with stakeholders via the social media platform Twitter? The study yielded eight themes. Themes of opportunity included that social media is a low-cost tool, allows for education and awareness, provides a larger and more youthful audience, and facilitates real-time conversation and engagement. Themes of challenges included social media being time consuming, causing privacy and confidentiality concerns, not being directed at non-profit organizations' traditional support base, and being open to negative reactions and responses. Perceptions of outcomes of social media use for public relations included both physical donations and volunteers. However, positive outcomes were qualified by the belief that social media return on investment cannot be measured. In addition, results found that the non-profit organizations employed the principles of dialogic communicaiton in their tweets. The most prominent dialogic principle was usefulness of information (59.8%), while the least frequent was generation of return visits (23.3%). Four statistically significant comparisons were discussed between nationally affiliated and local non-profit organizations and their use of the principles of dialogic communication.

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