Ciszek, Erica., & Logan, Nneka. (2018). Challenging the dialogic promise: how Ben & Jerry’s support for Black Lives Matter fosters dissensus on social media. Journal of Public Relations Research, 30(3), 115-127.

Scholars have continually used dialogic principles to examine whether social media is dialogic. Extant public relations literature on social media, however, demonstrates that most organizations do not behave dialogically. Rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, meaning continuing to apply dialogic principles onto digital media practices, we suggest using postmodernism as a framework to account for changes digital media have brought to the discipline. This research explores agonistic dialogic communication, the interactions in the communicative environment that precede dialogue, putting forth the postmodern concept of dissensus as an important consideration for studies of digital communication.

Within digital landscapes, public relations research suggests organizations and publics do not always operate in ways that scholars originally predict. This article challenges consensus-driven orientations of dialogue, embracing the postmodern concept of dissensus and critically contesting the dialogic promise of digital communication through a case of corporate political advocacy. By applying critical discourse analysis (CDA), this study analyzes Ben & Jerry’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the subsequent public response. This study advances dialogic theory by presenting an agonistic orientation toward dialogue.

This study employed critical discourse analysis (CDA) to analyze Ben & Jerry’s initial Facebook post announcing support for Black Lives Matter on October 6, 2016 as well as the public’s response. Our examination focuses on the top 200 user-generated Facebook comments. Although Ben & Jerry’s initial post generated more than 4,000 comments, the top 200 were selected for analysis because, according to Netvizz, those 200 are the most “active conversations.”

Key Findings

  • Social media are discursive spaces, but they are not inherently dialogic. Dialogue does not happen without effort; practitioners have to plan and work for it.
  • Agonism can be healthy in public relations because it shines a light on ideologies of oppression and positions organizations to publicly fight them.
  • Issues of morality, equality, and democracy can become a central concern and responsibility of public relations.

Implications for Practice
The Ben & Jerry’s example shows how an organization can engage in CPA and how social media can be a space for corporate discourse to “challenge dominant discourses” about race in the United States by proving a platform for “multiple competing, and often conflicting, perspectives to emerge” (Ciszek, 2016). Taking a stand on public issues of moral and societal significance and advocating for justice and equality are also important pursuits of public relations. Scholars and practitioners can define a new role for public relations by helping organizations define their values, strategically communicate them, and fight for social justice causes.

Article Location
The full article is available at:

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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