Men, Rita Linjuan, & Muralidharan, Sidharth (2017). Understanding social media peer communication and organization-public relationships: Evidence from China and the United States. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 94(1), 81-101.

There is a lack of research particularly on how peer communication in virtual communities about companies may influence the quality of organization–public relationship (OPR) outcomes. To fill the research void, using social learning and socialization theory as the theoretical framework, this study proposed and tested a social media peer communication model that links tie strength, social media dependency, and public–organization social media engagement to the peer communication process as well as organization–public relationship (OPR) outcomes.

During a two-week time period, an online survey was conducted with social media users from the United States (n = 328) and China (n = 304).

Key Findings
(1) Tie strength and public–organization social engagement were positive predictors of peer communication about companies on social media, which further leads to quality OPRs.
(2) The model indicates that both public-initiated (i.e., peer communication) and organization-initiated conversations (i.e., public–organization engagement on corporate SNS pages) in the digital sphere matter for organization–public relationship cultivation.
(3) The impact of peer communication about companies on social media on the quality of relationship that publics develop with organizations includes trust, satisfaction, and commitment.
(4) The model demonstrated major commonalities in the process of social media peer communication in China and the United States.

Implications for Practice
By proactively monitoring publics’ peer communication behavior on social media, companies can not only identify opportunities and issues but also be sensitive to changes in public behavior patterns, values, and needs (Wang et al., 2012). Companies seeking to better engage digital-savvy publics should help build stronger ties among their social media followers as it encourages public–organization social media interaction as well as peer communication about companies. Especially in countries where audiences have relatively loose social ties (e.g., the United States), communicators should take initiatives to assist publics to connect with like-minded others who share similar brand interests. For example, companies can initiate social media campaigns that stimulate “peer linking,” sharing, member-to-member interactions, and collaboration (Men & Tsai, 2013).

Companies can utilize big data analytics such as cluster analysis and microsegmentation to better segment target audiences based on not only demographic and psychographic factors but also patterns of social media usage and social media dependency. Corporations should invest in social media engagement efforts with publics, optimize social media platforms, and develop compelling, relevant, useful, and sharable content that meet publics’ needs (Men & Tsai, 2012). Techniques such as effective visuals, personalized badges, and gamification ideas such as “points” and “leveling up” can also be utilized to boost engagement. More importantly, companies should engage in friendly, sincere, and authentic conversations with publics on their social media pages and establish a deeper connection and community identification between the publics and the organization (Men & Tsai, 2014).

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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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