Although public relations practitioners and researchers frequently tout the ability of Facebook to foster relationships between organizations and publics, sparse research has empirically investigated the specifics of that process. Corporations and nonprofit organizations have different missions and publics with whom they communicate, because they likely use different relationship cultivation strategies via Facebook. This study extends research on relationship theory by examining how Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations from the Philanthropy 200 use Facebook to cultivate relationships. Both Fortune 500 companies and nonprofit organizations most frequently use strategies—openness, disclosure, and access—that exemplify one-way communication. Corporations outperform nonprofit organizations in their usage of the assurance strategy, as evidenced by the fact that corporations responded to users’ questions on average 75% of the time, whereas nonprofit organizations responded on average 45% of the time. Neither type of organization is fully utilizing the interactive relationship cultivation strategies of networking and sharing of tasks.


The Facebook pages and 10 posts from Feb. to March 2012, of a random sample of Fortune 500 companies (n = 100) and Philanthropy 200 nonprofit organizations (n = 100) were systematically coded by two trained researchers for the presence of relationship cultivation strategies.

Key Findings

  • Overall, nonprofit organizations utilize more relationship-building strategies compared to corporations. Nonprofit organizations share phone numbers, addresses, and email contact information; tag and “like” other organizations; and provide information via “About,” “Founded,” and “Mission” sections more often than corporations.
  • However, corporations do a better job in terms of responding to questions and concerns from publics. Corporations responded to questions posed by publics 75% of the time whereas nonprofits responded to questions only 45% of the time.
  • Nonprofits and corporations do not differ in their frequency of usage of photos, videos, or embedded polls/quizzes.
  • Overall, corporations and nonprofit organizations most frequently exhibit relationship cultivation strategies—openness, disclosure, and access—that exemplify one-way communication, not two-way communication.

Implications for Practice

Despite the two-way relationship building capability afforded by Facebook, this research indicates that most large nonprofits and corporations use Facebook to disseminate one-way communication. Professionals working at both nonprofit organizations and corporations are encouraged to take advantage of their networks in Facebook to collaborate on important issues and to mobilize others to action. Public relations professionals can use the results of this research to benchmark their cultivation strategies and to analyze their usage of Facebook to share information, engage and network with stakeholders, and to respond to questions and concerns. In order to effectively manage their resources, professionals should determine which Facebook relationship cultivation strategies yield the greatest return in terms of obtaining organizational goals.

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