Briones, Rowena L.; Kuch, Beth; Fisher Liu, Brooke & Jin, Yan. (2011). Keeping up with the digital age: How the American Red Cross uses social media to build relationships. Public Relations Review, 27, 37-43.

Forty individuals from the American Red Cross were interviewed to explore the use of social media in communicating with key publics. Results show that practicing public relations through social media is effective and necessary in the emerging digital age, as shown through the Red Cross’s development of a two-way dialogue with younger constituents, the media, and the community. This two-way dialogue has been accomplished primarily through Twitter and Facebook, with opportunities to improve National Headquarters and local chapter relations, despite barriers such as lack of staff and time, . The insights shared by the American Red Cross are useful for both public relations scholars and professionals to help them understand and apply social media practices to build strong, lasting relationships.


40 in-depth interviews with American Red Cross employees who either deliver or manage social media communication

Key Findings

1)      The American Red Cross used social media to build relationships with a variety of publics, including volunteers, the community, and the media.

2)      Social media’s two-way dialogue created faster service, provided more media coverage, and enabled feedback for the American Red Cross on their services.

3)      The American Red Cross’s social media usage exhibited dialogic principles, communality (both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the other’s welfare) and control mutuality (degree to which parties agree on who has the rightful power to influence one another)

4)      Barriers to using social media for the American Red Cross included staff buy-in, lack of time, managing content, and catering to an older generation.

Implications for Practice
As social media tools become mainstream, organizations must update their strategies and tactics to build relationships. When an organization has few paid staff members with time to execute social media, the effectiveness of the organization can be reduced because often the tools are not being applied to their fullest extent. The reality of not having enough staff or time is a barrier for many nonprofits and corporations, calling for the need for more staff to be assigned social media implementation. Without consistent staff strategically managing social media it is difficult, if not impossible, for organizations to achieve commitment, which improves organization–public relationships through showing that organizations are dedicated to online engagement.

Communication tactics can be tailored to appropriate publics, a challenge all organizations face. Such tailoring is important to improve communality with volunteers, which in turn likely will improve volunteers’ satisfaction with their online engagement. Finally, this study provides a lesson for any organization with a headquarters and satellite office structure. The satellite offices look to headquarters for guidance and instruction on how to use tools, so it will be up to headquarters to continue facilitating the use of social media to help the organization succeed. Headquarters can continue to develop social media trainings, messages, and standards to create continuity across offices.

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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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