Waters, Richard D., & Jamal, Jia Y. (2011). Tweet, tweet, tweet: A content analysis of nonprofit organizations’ Twitter updates. Public Relations Review, 37(3), 321-324.

Many of the relationship cultivation strategies and the dialogic principles assume symmetrical communication is taking place. However, significant amounts of information are shared in a one-way manner, especially in social media. Although they have fallen out of favor with many academics, the four models of public relations can provide significant insights into how organizations communicate. Using the models as the guiding framework, this brief study examines how nonprofit organizations from the Philanthropy 200 communicate on Twitter. The findings reveal that the organizations were more likely to use one-way communication models despite the potential for dialogue and community building on the social networking site.


Of the top 200 fundraising nonprofits in the United States on the Philanthropy 200, 81 organizations actively used Twitter. One-third of these organizations (n=27) were randomly selected, and their tweets for March 2010, were coded.

Key Findings

1)      Nonprofit organizations predominantly use Twitter to convey one-way messages to their followers.

2)      Of the traditional public relations models, public information (disseminating one-way information in a truthful, balanced manner) was most often used by nonprofits followed by press agentry, two-way asymmetry, and two-way symmetry.

3)      Organizations were less publicity-focused (emotions and catchy phrases) as they were more drawn toward facts and information sharing.

4)      Organizations were more interested in collecting opinions and feedback akin to market research rather than actually engaging in conversations.

5)      The lack of conversation continues the line of public relations scholarship showing that the majority of organizations (nonprofit, corporate, government) continue to lack interactivity and engagement online.

Implications for Practice

Rather than using the interactive nature (mentions, retweets, and public responses), organizations continue to use the web—social media and Twitter, in this case—as a megaphone.  Ultimately, the take away from this study is that public relations practitioners are not using Twitter in a manner that achieves its maximum value. It is simply being used to broadcast messages rather than interact and get people actively involved in the brand’s online community. Organizations should use social media channels to cultivate relationships and build communities with stakeholders using two-way communication.

Article Location

The full article is available for purchase at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.03.002

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