Woo, Chang Wan & Chung, Wonjun (2012). Social media in relationship-building among collegiate sports organizations: A test of relationship cultivation strategies. In S.  Duhé (Ed.), New Media and Public Relations, (2nd ed.,pp. 245–254), New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.


Sports organizations and players use various social media platforms to update their fans and promote parasocial relationships between players and fans. The purpose of this study was to investigate how various publics of athletic departments value the use of social media as a relationship development tool. A survey questionnaire was developed based on six indicators of relationship cultivation: access, positivity, openness, sharing of tasks, networking, and assurance. A total of 474 respondents (23 staff members, 111 student-athletes, and 340 students at three National Collegiate Athletes Association universities) participated in this study. All three publics had favorable attitudes about the use of social media by athletic departments and student-athletes as an effective means of relationship management. In particular, staff members regarded the use of social media as a relationship management tactic the most highly among the three groups tested. However, they had less favorable attitudes toward openness of student-athletes’ use of social media, especially between players and fans. On the other hand, students had less favorable attitudes about social media’s relationship-building potential between athletic departments and student-athletes but expected that social media would help athletic departments and student-athletes to build relationships with external publics more than with themselves.


Online and offline surveys were administered to staff members, student-athletes, and students at three NCAA affiliated universities from April 1 to April 30, 2011. There were 474 valid responses.

Key Findings

1)      Staff members thought athletic departments’ use of social media would best contribute to networking between staff members and players

2)      Staff members had less favorable attitudes toward openness of student-athletes’ use of social media, especially between players and fans.

3)      Student-athletes expected athletic departments’ social media use to benefit relationships between staff members and players more than between staff members and fans (in every indicator, especially access and assurance).

4)      Students had relatively lower expectations about athletic departments’ and student-athletes’ abilities to build relationships through social media use compared to the other two publics.

Implications for Practice

Considering some recent crises that occurred involving social media in various areas (e.g., Domino’s Pizza crisis, KitchenAid’s Twitter crisis during the 2012 presidential debate, Mississippi State University’s men’s basketball team player’s criticizing his coaching staff on Twitter, etc.), it is understandable that some institutions may not be supportive of student-athlete social media use. However, since external publics expect more transparent and direct conversations with organizations using social media, it should function as a dialogic tool rather than a one-way information dissemination tool. Therefore, practitioners should:

1)      promote more conversations with publics;

2)      assure publics that their organizations are listening and willing to communicate through social media channels;

3)      spend more time educating internal publics, including encouraging them to actively participate in social networks without damaging the reputation of their organizations as well as themselves;

4)      find new ways to communicate with, not promote to, various publics of organizations.

Article Location

The book that contains this chapter can be ordered online at: http://www.peterlang.com/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=62208&concordeid=311627

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