McAllister, Sheila M. (2012). How the world’s top universities provide dialogic forums for marginalized voices. Public Relations Review, 38, 319-327.

Viewed through the lens of the dialogic theory of public relations, this study examines if universities use new media tools and how the world’s top universities use Facebook as an interactive forum that gives voice to key stakeholders. With the declining economy and limited access to resources, it is important to know how organizations utilize Web-based tools to build and maintain relationships at national and global levels. Because prior research found that users had negative feelings about lack of dialogue on college websites, it is also important to know whether universities are tapping into the dialogic potential.


The websites and Facebook pages of 2009 U.S. News & World Report’s world’s top 100 universities were content analyzed between May and September of 2010 (a key recruitment time for universities) for the presence or absence of 21 characteristics.

Key Findings

1)      Nearly 70% feature links to RSS Feeds and/or news aggregates, 42% feature links to YouTube, and 39% link to Facebook and Twitter. Other new media tools included: Blogs, iTunes, iTunes U., Flickr, FriendFeed,, Digg, Futurity, LinkedIn, and StumbleUpon

2)      Although they were not featured on the university websites, more than half of the colleges had Facebook pages

3)      Users cannot post content or photos, or participate in discussions and wall posts on the Facebook pages. In essence, the voices of key stakeholders are being silenced via a medium that is intended to provide open forums for dialogue

Implications for Practice

The findings of the study examining the world’s top 100 universities can be extended to all organizations; colleges are resource dependent organizations which are publicly and/or privately funded. The findings show that the interactive potential of the Internet is being vastly underutilized. They do not provide forums for open dialogue. Perhaps it is because of the perceived inherent risk involved with creating and maintaining organization–public relationships that are based on mutuality, propinquity and empathy. The lack of participation could be a riskier proposition because social media tools provide forums for publics to engage in their own dialogue. Organizations should be part of the conversation, not putting up walls to block or redirect the conversation.

Article Location

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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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