Men, Linjuan Rita, & Tsai, Wan-Hsiu Sunny (2011). How companies cultivate relationships with publics on Social Network Sites: Evidence from China and the United States. Public Relations Review, 38(5), 723-730.


The popularity of Social Network Sites (SNSs) has become a worldwide phenomenon. Organizations are now building and maintaining SNS public pages to improve their social network salience, enhance interest in their organizations, and build relationships with online publics. This study advances our understanding of relationship cultivation on social media from a cross-cultural perspective. We examined how companies use popular social network sites (SNSs) to facilitate dialogues with publics in two culturally distinct countries: China and the United States. We employed a content analysis of 50 corporate pages with 500 corporate posts and 500 user posts from each country. Overall, companies in both countries have recognized the importance of SNSs in relationship development and employed the appropriate online strategies (disclosure, information dissemination, and interactivity and involvement), but the specific tactics vary across the two markets. Furthermore, cultural differences among the types of corporate posts and public posts on SNSs indicate that culture plays a significant role in shaping the dialogue between organizations and publics in different countries. Implications for corporate relationship management practice in the global market in the digital era are discussed.


Content analysis of 50 corporate pages with 500 corporate posts and 500 user posts from Renren in China and Facebook in the United States respectively in 2011.

Key Findings

1)      All three online relationship cultivation strategies (i.e., disclosure or openness, information dissemination, and interactivity and involvement) appeared on the corporate pages on Facebook and Renren. Certain tactics were more commonly employed than others. There were country-based differences.

2)      The two countries did not differ significantly across the corporate post categories of product, promotion, and company-specific information.

3)      Corporate posts on Renren were more likely to emphasize product-related educational/entertainment information and to feature messages completely irrelevant to the company or its products than those on Facebook, which reflected the implicit and indirect characteristics of high-context communication culture.

4)      The most common types of public posts on corporate pages on both sites included information seeking (“Where can I find Coca Cola Orange?”), emotional support (“I love Converse!”), and unsolicited information (“Wish myself a smooth new year!”).

5)      Renren users were less likely to post criticisms and complaints about the organizations’ products or services, which reflected the relationship-oriented collectivist culture. They were more likely to inquire about product information and to engage in conversations that were not product or company related than Facebook users.

Implications for Practice

The innate social, communicative, and interactive characteristics of SNSs provide an advantageous tool for companies to build and maintain relationships with strategic publics. To better utilize SNSs to engage stakeholders and facilitate authentic conversations, public relations professionals must equip themselves with strategies, tactics, skills, and cultural sensitivities for social media relationship management. Overall, the principles of online relationship cultivation for Internet tools such as Web sites and blogs — disclosure, information dissemination, and interactivity and involvement — hold true for SNSs, the new genre of social media. However, online dialogic communications are culture bound, and global public relations professionals need to customize their SNS messages and tactics to local audiences when communicating to people with distinct needs and gratifications, as well as with people who have differing Internet behaviors and communication orientations.

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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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