DiStaso, Marcia Watson, & Bortree, Denise Sevick (2012). Multi-method analysis of transparency in social media practices: Survey, interviews and content analysis. Public Relations Review. 38(3), 1-10.
With the decline of public trust in corporate America, organizations must consider ways to improve their relationships with key publics. One of the best strategies to build trust is through engaging in transparent communication. The increase in the popularity of social media has brought both challenges and opportunities for organizational transparency. This study used multiple methods to explore whether public relations professionals believe they are using social media to communicate transparently, to investigate how social media can be used to improve transparency along with its benefits and challenges, and to identify how transparency is used in social media campaigns.
This study utilized three separate methodologies, a survey with 68 public relations professionals, in-depth interviews with 12 public relations professionals, and a content analysis of award winning social media campaigns from the 2009 Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) Excellence in New Communications Awards.
1) Most public relations professionals believed they used social media to enhance transparency.
2) Transparency was used in social media campaigns to provide useful information for others to make informed decisions.
3) Social media were used for the organizations to demonstrate that they are accountable for their actions and to communicate about how decisions affect others.
4) In the survey, the public relations professionals felt strongly that they used social media to communicate about what the organization does and why; however, the content analysis of top social media campaigns did not find this. This was partly due to the fact that although many campaigns in the content analysis communicated what the organization was doing, few explained why they were doing it. In other words, there is a discrepancy between what they think they are doing and what they actually are doing.
Implications for Practice
Social media provide an opportunity for organizations to embrace and welcome transparency. However, simply providing information does not guarantee transparency. An organization achieves transparency by communicating to improve understanding. As organizations develop social media campaigns and design communication for transparency, they should consider the degree to which they are disclosing the motivations for their actions.
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