‘Social media strategies of leading nonprofit organizations’ by senior research fellow Frank Dardis

November 11, 2020 • Frank Dardis

Frank Dardis

Nonprofit organizations have always done their best to try to convince stakeholders of the importance of an issue as a “problem” that can and should be solved. They seek to explain how their cause(s) or mission is an effective way to combat the problem and to advocate or promote specific actions that can improve the situation.

Much research in the realm of public relations and strategic communications can inform the communication efforts of a non-profit regarding the attempt to influence public and stakeholder opinion with potential solutions or remedies. This process can also run the gamut across all types of stakeholders and the specific actions that each one accordingly can take to help “solve” or mitigate the problem.

Admittedly, the type of general observation above has been quite well known for some time and it is not that profound in and of itself. However, in the modern communications environment that generates ever-evolving knowledge regarding the effects of social media content on potential stakeholders, non-profits (much like any other organization, brand, or entity) would need to know the specific communication strategies and efforts that can benefit the organization and its mission via social media.

Therefore, a current, two-pronged Page Center study focuses on specific communication and relationship-building strategies that major non-profits employ via their Twitter accounts. Our research team will be examining various attributes of tweets from leading U.S.-based non-profits on two basic dimensions:

  • Content-related attributes (e.g., message features and content characteristics)
  • Relationship-based features (e.g., shared and earned media, social-networking efforts, etc.)

The content-based features will include at least polarity analysis (positive, negative, neutral) and sentiment analysis (joy, sadness, fear, surprise, etc.). Relationship-building features will include engagement activities such as sharing, retweeting, inviting and network characteristics. Once any specific associations are known, we will be able to better understand which types of social media strategies lead to which types of specific communication and relational outcomes.

Then, after such linkages are discovered or established, we will execute an important second phase of the study in which an experiment will be conducted to determine the specific influence that the characteristics and associations discovered in phase one have on consumers. Potential research questions here would examine the effects of specific message and social-media strategies on consumers’ attitudes and behavioral intentions regarding the NPO and its cause, future social-media behaviors, and other important outcomes such as organization-public-relationship measures that include perceptions of organizational trust, commitment, satisfaction, and control mutuality.

The ultimate goal of this two-pronged study is to better understand how leading non-profits communicate and attempt to build relationships via social media, and then to specifically test these efforts and gauge their impact on consumers and other potential stakeholders.

For further information on this study, please email Dardis at fed3@psu.edu. This project is supported by Dardis’ position as a senior research fellow for the Arthur W. Page Center. Results from the study will be available in 2021.