Welcome to the IPR’s Social Media Research Center, a comprehensive source for information about the social science of social media, best practices, measures and benchmarking. If you want to learn more about social media and how it is impacting the field of public relations, this is the place.

This research center is a continuously growing database of research articles and information about social media and its impact on public relations. With just a few steps, visitors to this site can locate abstracts of important research studies about many social media topics. Each overview summarizes a research study in about 250 words and provides specifics about its methodological approach and key findings. Then it suggests implications for practice and includes a link to the full text, if available.

We want this research center to be more than a database. It’s interactive. It’s a space for conversation among professionals and academics who share interests in and a passion for research about social media. We want you to express your thoughts, insights and experiences about the research and the topic. We also hope you’ll alert us to other important research studies and/or research needed involving social media.

Definition of Social Media

Social media are virtual online communities for people (and businesses) to share information with each other, to increase their circle of acquaintances and to develop and maintain online relationships.

Social media have changed many of the rules of how organizations communicate with strategic publics. They also have changed the ways in which stakeholders are empowered. Research conducted by one of the IPR’s Social Media research team members recently found more than two-thirds of the Fortune 2000 companies are using social media sites. Social media can involve a variety of online communication tools including, but not limited to, social networks (such as Facebook and LinkedIn), blogs, micro-blogs (such as Twitter), message boards, photo sharing, video sharing sites (such as YouTube), gaming and Wikis.

Why Social Media is So Important

With the rapid development of social media, many organizations have changed how they communicate and engage with external and internal stakeholders. Social media can have a significant impact on an organization’s reputation, both good and bad, in a matter of minutes.

Even though organizations might not have entered the social media space, conversations may be happening about them, without their input. Listening to what’s being said about an organization on social media sites may be as important as engaging with the organization’s stakeholders.

Communicating effectively on social media sites can increase stakeholder satisfaction, increase trust and enhance an organization’s reputation. Due to social media’s widespread adoption, organizations are incorporating international social media and a few have developed social media recruiting guidelines.

Benefits of Studying Social Media

As social media continues to grow, so do the benefits for companies. To stay relevant in today’s digital era, organizations must adapt.

Social media allows organizations to deliver the right content at the right time to the right people. Consumers are using social media to connect to friends, family and brands. They ask questions, provide feedback and have become accustomed to receiving immediate responses.

Organizations that make effective use of social media strategy can understand their stakeholders, respond quickly to criticism and attract attention. They also can turn passive stakeholders into brand advocates. Organizations communicating effectively with key influencers via social media can let others tell their story for them.

Positive social media experiences can lead to building trust, goodwill and reputations. By understanding what others have experienced or what the research finds, companies can position themselves to engage, improve and/or maximize social media use.

Research in Social Media

Social media have impacted the practice of public relations, and hundreds of studies about social and other new or emerging media exist in the literature of psychology, sociology, business, technology, mass communication and public relations. Public relations scholar Sandra Duhé, who has extensively researched what’s been written about public relations and social media, claims these studies have focused primarily on predictions, relationships, usability, application, perceptions and concerns.

– Sandra Duhé, (2012). A thematic analysis of thirty years of public relations literature addressing the potential and pitfalls of new media. In S. Duhé (Ed.), New media and public relations (2nd Ed., pp. xiii-xxvi). New York: Peter Lang.

How IPR Manages the Research Center

Our process for selecting, abstracting and sharing social media research consists of five steps:

Step #1: We identify relevant studies by reading professional and academic journals, attending conferences and otherwise seeking out new research from diverse sources.

Step #2: We select appropriate studies, articles, book chapters, and books for inclusion in the data base. Once studies and articles are identified, an academic team reviews the research to determine whether it is appropriate for inclusion in the research center. Criteria for inclusion are: a clear focus on some aspect of social media, high quality of the research methodology and overall research project, significance of the findings and “newsworthiness,” among other factors. In particular we seek articles that will be relevant to those practicing public relations.

Step #3: We work closely authors of appropriate articles to prepare a professional overview for each selected article. This includes brief summary of the study and methodology along with key findings, implications for practice and a link for the full article or text, when available. Not all research articles are freely available online.

Step #4: We enter the research overview and document/link into the appropriate research center topical category so that it is available. As the database expands we will ensure that all new entries are headlined on the research center’s home page.

Step #5: We evaluate use of this research center by regularly monitoring the: 1) number of visitors to the site, 2) frequency of visits to particular research documents, 3) number of downloads, 4) comments of visitors to the site, and 5) other measures that may allow us to continuously improve the site and its value.

IPR Social Media Research Steering Committee

The Institute for Public Relations and its Social Media Research Team are grateful for the support provided to this project by the following organizations:

  • APCO Worldwide
  • Hormel
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Southern Company

Social Media Research Team

Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., is the Director of the Social Media Research Center and an Assistant Professor of Public Relations in the College of Communications at Pennsylvania State University. She is a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur W. Page Center, Chair of the PRSA Financial Communications Section, and Co-Chair of the PRSA National Research Committee. Her research focuses on exploring and informing the practice of social media, financial communication and investor relations. She serves on the Editorial Review Board of Public Relations Journal and is a member of the Research Advisory Committee of the International Public Relations Research Conference. She is a past recipient of IPR’s Ketchum Excellence in Public Relations Research Award and was recently recognized as a Promising Professor by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Prior to entering academia she worked in the global investment industry. She also has worked in agency, nonprofit and university public relations. Her Ph.D. degree is from the University of Miami. She also holds an M.A. degree in mass communications and a B.A. degree in economics from the University of South Florida. Her M.A. thesis won the IPR’s Northwestern Mutual Masters Thesis Competition.

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