Strategic social media use in public relations


Hua Jiang

Associate Professor,
Public Relations


What was the focus of the project? 

As an unintended consequence of social media management and leadership performance, increasing job responsibilities may potentially lead to a high level of work-life conflict, which may result in adversarial outcomes such as burnout, turnover intentions and reduced commitment. Using the E-leadership theory from the management literature as an umbrella framework, this study examined the impact of social media use on communication professionals’ strategic communication work, leadership behaviors, and their perceptions of work- life conflict.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc?

Research Question 1: How is use of social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) related to the enhancing and aggravating impact of social media use upon communication professionals’ work?

Research Question 2: How is social media use in strategic communication functions (e.g., media relations, employee/internal communications, community relations, etc.) related to the enhancing and aggravating impact of social media use upon communication professionals’ work?

What were your findings?

There were seven key findings:

  1. Using Facebook and YouTube in their work and engaging in proactive environmental scanning helped E-leaders in communication departments enhance their leadership.
  2. The use of YouTube in strategic communication, social media use in media relations, employee/internal communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing were identified as significant positive predictors of the enhancing impact of social media use.
  3. Social media use in crisis management and employee communications significantly, positively predicted professionals’ perceptions of social media’s aggravating impact (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload) on their work.
  4. The use of Facebook and YouTube in strategic communication, the use of social media in environmental scanning, as well as the positive and negative impact of social media use all significantly and positively predicted communication professionals’ leadership behaviors.
  5. Strategic social media use enhanced communication professionals’ leadership behaviors even when it contributed to heavier workload, longer working hours, and increased job stress.
  6. When the unintended negative effects of social media use occurred, communication professionals perceived a low control over their work and thereby experienced a high level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict.
  7. Public affairs/governmental relations professionals who were frequent users of social media for their work reported a high level of strained-based work-life conflict.

What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?

Results of this study strongly suggest that managers think about how the intensive use of social media may affect employees’ physical and psychological well-being. Despite the advantages (e.g., flexible working hours, improved work productivity, additional time to fulfill other non-work responsibilities, etc.), technologically mediated work renders unintended negative consequences (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload, more stress, etc.), which in turn contribute to a high level of conflict between employees’ work and personal life. Particularly, the more social media tools that professionals used in practicing public affairs/governmental relations, the higher their perceived level of stain-based work-life conflict. Public affairs/governmental relations professionals therefore may need extra supportive resources and networks to help them reconcile the conflict and be better off in both professional and personal arenas.

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

Future research is needed to discover the features of social media and connect them to the variables in the present study. This study is also merely based on one national sample of communication professionals. The findings cannot be generalized beyond the current study’s scope. Future research is needed to theorize on social media use, communication leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict, by sampling members of international professional communication organizations, such as International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and International Association of Business Communication (IABC). Last but not the least, qualitative research may help uncover individual professionals’ narratives that explain how social media use, its impact, leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict are all interrelated to one another. The integrated E-leadership conceptual model is preliminary at the current stage and needs to be further developed in future scholarly research and professional communication practices.

Original Abstract:

Using the E-leadership theory as the conceptual framework, the study examined strategic communicators’ perceptions of the impact of social media use on their work, leadership behaviors, and work-life conflict. Through a national sample of communication professionals (N = 458), this study revealed the following key findings. The use of YouTube in professionals’ work, social media use in media relations, employee communications, and cause-related marketing/social marketing were significantly, positively associated with participants’ perceptions of the enhancing impact of social media use. Social media use in crisis management and employee communications significantly, positively predicted professionals’ perceptions of social media’s aggravating impact (e.g., extended work hours, increased workload) on their work. The use of Facebook and YouTube in strategic communication, the use of social media in environmental scanning, as well as the positive and negative impact of social media use all significantly and positively predicted communication professionals’ leadership behaviors. When the unintended negative effects of social media use happened, professionals perceived a low control over their work and thereby experienced a high level of time-based and strain-based work-life conflict. Finally, public affairs/governmental relations professionals who were frequent users of social media for their work reported a high level of strain-based work-life conflict.

A keyword-based strategy for content management


Stephen Masiclat

Professor,
Magazine, News and Digital Journalism


What was the focus of the project?

The focus of the project was to experiment and discover the best practices in content development that incorporate Google’s stated preferences—and likely metrics for—quality content. We developed and tested a procedure for keyword development and content management built from published preferences, and demonstrated its execution.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

The ultimate goal was to find the most cost-effective strategy to create and promote online content. We wanted to find the most work and cost-efficient content operation steps that aligned to best practices as defined by Google’s algorithm structure, especially with regard to behavioral changes engendered by increased mobile phone use. We also developed a strong behavioral tracking process that adheres to current understanding of Google’s RankBrain algorithm. 

What were your findings?

Almost all internet phenomena are shaped by the nature of the network—what Duncan Watts and Steven Strogatz called “large scale, small-world networks.” We found that the word choices audiences make are also shaped by network structure. One typical finding is that 80% of searches for a specific topic will use only 20% of the keywords associated with that topic. As you would expect, the competition to advertise using those few keywords is very intense. What we developed next was the most economical strategy to use both high and low-cost keywords in content optimization, in conjunction with social media and paid promotion. We tested the strategy by developing a complete content optimization plan for a client in New York City and measuring outcomes.

What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?

The industry has known for a long time that digital platforms are redefining how people find, consume and pay for media. And innovators are always trying to add new channels and platforms for media delivery. We believe that professional communicators must have integrated and strategic approaches to manage the way media and content are distributed and monetized, and this research was an attempt to begin systematically building and improving a strategic management framework.

What do you think are the implications for the general public?

Ultimately what we’re trying to do is make sure that the people who are vested in quality content creation—who are devoted to building “skill in the arts of expression”—have a significant say in what content the general public sees and consumes. One of the biggest challenges for online content creators is that Google is constantly modifying its core search engine algorithms to better reflect the changing desires of end-users, but also to fit their secret ideas about what makes good content. We want to give the best content creators the best chance to reach the many different audiences who use digital media. 

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

Innovation is constant in digital media—we like to say that it’s called New Media precisely because there is constant renewal. That means the model we developed must be regularly tested and updated to reflect what we think we know about the quality of content, and the audience data that drives its value.

Sport, media and gender


Anne Osborne

Professor,
Communications


What was the focus of the project?

My recent research centers on sport, media, and gender. In 2016 I co-authored a book titled “Female Fans of the NFL: Taking their place in the stands.” Danielle Coombs and I theorize that fandom is best understood as an identity performance. By engaging in socially constructed scripts for fandom, one enacts their identity as a fan. We then look at how the social construction of fandom reinforces masculine gender norms and how women fans negotiate their fandom in relation to conflicts with their gender identity.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

We knew from personal experience that there are a lot of devoted female football fans. And despite claims by the NFL that women make up over 40 percent of its fan base, previous research had tended to find that women did not score as highly as men on sport identification scales. We wanted to understand why and to give voice to women fans. 

What were your findings? 

In addition to contributing to our understanding of gender norms, this book offers a new theoretical lens for examining fandom: Performative Sport Fandom. This theory states that there are two broad types of fan performances, Knowing and Caring. Rather than fandom being static, fans negotiate how they perform along these two dimensions depending on the circumstances. Women engage in complex negotiations of their fandom, largely because the scripts for football fandom reinforce masculinity norms such as aggression, heavy drinking and rowdiness. Such behaviors among women tend to conflict with gender norms for femininity. In addition, the authenticity of women’s fandom is often challenged; therefore, they often see little return on investment for engaging in Knowing fan performance. Even the most knowledgeable female fan is often discredited. 

What do you think the implications are for the discipline?

This research suggests that sports organizations should be more nuanced and less stereotypical in their efforts to attract female fans. In the context of sport, women don’t want to be treated as women who happen to like football but as fans first. They want to be respected as devoted and knowledgeable. Sports organizations and the media too often reinforce stereotypes by targeting women fans with recipes for tailgating, home décor ideas and pink fan wear. 

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

In the last year, my work has examined how mediated discourse treats athletes who do not fit neatly into the gender binary of male and female. I am currently working on a book titled,”Transgender and Intersex Athletes Within and Against Sport’s Gender Binary: Discourses of Difference.”

Book Cover: Female Fans of the NFL

Female Fans of the NFL

Professor Osborne’s Book:

Female Fans of the NFL: Taking their place in the stands” (Routledge Publishing, 2015)

In the past, sport, particularly football, has been defined as a male domain. Women’s interest stereotypically ranges from gentle tolerance to active resistance. But increasingly, women are proudly identifying themselves as supporters of their teams, and have become highly desirable audiences for sport organizations and merchandisers. Football provides a unique site at which to examine the complex interplay between three theoretical areas: identity formation and maintenance, commercialization of cultural practices and gender hegemony. This book explores how women experience their fandom, and what barriers exist for the female fan.

The relationship between food, eating and body image


Harriet Brown

Professor,
Magazine, News and Digital Journalism


Research focus: 

My last three books—Body of Truth, Brave Girl Eating, and Feed Me!—all explored aspects of our relationship with food, eating and body image.

What questions did your project seek to address?

What is true about the relationship between weight and health versus what do we believe is true?

How do the stigmas around weight play out in our culture, especially for women?

How have the cultural norms around weight and women’s bodies in particular changed over the last 150 years? How did we get to where we are now with those attitudes and norms?

What were your findings?

Much of what we think we know about weight and health is actually not true, and much of what is true is virtually undiscussed in the culture at large. We tend to believe that fat is bad and thinness is preferable from a health perspective, but the research on weight and health is complex and often contradicts these associations. For instance, heavier people with certain chronic diseases—including heart failure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes and others—actually live longer and do better than thinner people. That’s just one of many findings we rarely hear about it.

What are the implications of your reasearch?

In general journalists do a poor job of writing about weight and health. Coverage often adds to the high levels of stigma around these issues—deliberately or inadvertently—and often does not look more deeply than the press release level when reporting on these issues. We must do better. My work tries in some small part to facilitate better coverage.

I also try to give voice to those whose perspectives are under-represented in mainstream media: people with eating disorders, people who are fat, people who challenge the cultural norms around these issues.

PUBLICATIONS/PRESENTATIONS:

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It (Da Capo Press, 2015)

Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle with Anorexia (William Morrow, 2010)

Feed Me! Writers Dish About Food, Eating, Weight, and Body Image (Random House, 2009)

Corporate social responsibility


Joon Soo Lim

Joon Soo Lim

Associate Professor,
Public Relations


What was the focus of the project?

The focus of this project was to examine the impact of engagement strategy of corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication—which incorporates the employees and diverse publics in the process of planning of CSR initiative and communication—on achieving organizational goals.

This work was supported by a Page Legacy Scholar Grant from the Arthur W. Page Center at the Penn State College of Communications under Page Legacy Scholar Grant. Part of this research has been published in Public Relations Review. In the published study, Dr. Cary Greenwood, APR, and I asked corporate communication and CSR/sustainability managers from major U.S. companies how they viewed their company’s CSR initiatives and what, if any, action items were effective in getting vital buy-in from stakeholders.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

The study aimed to examine how different communication strategies of CSR communication have affected large US companies’ business, community and employee relations. The survey items were initially developed based on the extant literature in CSR and were refined through a pilot study.

The research questions were:

What were your findings?

A factor analysis yielded two strategies of CSR communication—stakeholder engagement and stakeholder responsiveness. With responsiveness strategy, companies regard the communication of CSR activities as both proactive and reactive responses to current pressures and potential threats. The newly emerging stakeholder engagement strategy reflects managerial recommendations from corporate stakeholder relationship perspective and two-way symmetrical communication. The engagement strategy brings in stakeholders at the beginning of the planning process and builds initiatives through brainstorming and stakeholder input—creating buy-in from the beginning.

According to the results, both responsiveness and engagement strategies connected positively with company goals for business and community relations, while only the engagement strategy had a positive correlation with goals related to employee relations.

What do you think the implications are for the discipline/profession?

According to Edelman’s Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Communications Report, the media view a company’s CSR communication as the least credible source for information about its CSR activities and are skeptical of its CSR reports. As stated in the Edelman’s Report, the main reason for the media’s skepticism about official company documents stems from their perception that companies just talk about what they are doing without actually doing anything.

Based on the results of this study, Dr. Greenwood and I believe that executing stakeholder engagement in the process of CSR communications is the best way to ensure accountability while reporting a company’s CSR efforts. Accordingly, this stakeholder engagement approach to CSR communications appears to be well in tune with the idea that a company’s CSR should be evaluated by actions, not aspirations.

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

The project emerged after Greenwood and I observed a wealth of research literature on how stakeholders felt about a company’s CSR activities. We wanted to get a managerial perspective—a difficult population to reach. Pulling from a collection of the largest publically-traded U.S. companies, we identified communicators that may have a role in their company’s CSR planning. With assistance from their Page Center grant, we sent surveys to the group with in-depth questions on different ways their company’s strategic planning helped reached CSR goals.

In the future, we would like to expand the study to include even more executives, specifically executives responsible for CSR decision-making. This was essentially an exploratory study. A larger response will provide a lot of value, but what we found was quite illustrative about how corporations go about their engagement process.

Joon Soo Lim: Corporate social responsibility

Publication:

Lim, J. S., & Greenwood, C. A. (2017). Communicating corporate social responsibility (CSR): Stakeholder responsiveness and engagement strategy to achieve CSR goals. Public Relations Review

Abstract:

In this current study, we compared two contemporary CSR communication strategies (engagement vs. responsiveness), along with communication channels, in achieving CSR goals. We conducted an online survey with public relations, corporate communication, corporate social responsibility, investor relations and sustainability executives within the companies listed on the Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index of publicly traded U.S. companies. Results showed that CSR engagement strategy had a positive effect on achieving all three CSR goals we identified through factor analysis: business, community, and employees. The responsiveness strategy was positively associated with only business and community goal achievement. These findings lend support for the testimonials from industry CSR reports regarding the benefits of the engagement approach in achieving intended organizational goals, including attracting and retaining talented employees.

In analyzing the impact of communication channels on goal achievement, we found that print ads played a significant role in achieving business goals.

Social media and terrorism


Nina Iacono Brown

Assistant Professor,
Communications


What was the focus of the project?

In June 2016, the widow of a government contractor killed in a terror attack abroad sued Twitter, alleging that it shared blame in her husband’s death. The basis of her suit was the material support statute, a federal law that prohibits individuals and companies from supporting terrorism activities or organizations. It was the first lawsuit against a social network under these laws, and alleged that Twitter provides material support to terrorists because it allows them to use its platform to organize, recruit, raise funds, and spread propaganda. My early research focused on how the laws might apply to social media, particularly in light of federal laws that immunize websites for content posted by third parties. As new plaintiffs have emerged (there have been six more lawsuits since the first was filed) my subsequent research has examined the application of new legal theories and what it means for social media governance.

What questions did your project seek to address? What were the research questions, hypotheses, etc.?

Could social networks face liability under the material support laws for allowing terrorists to use their platforms to organize, recruit, raise funds and spread propaganda?

How would the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act impact any potential liability, when the claim is not made on the basis of content posted by third parties, but allowing them to use the service?

A follow up research project (for Slate) examined whether the Section 230 immunity would be lost if social media profited (through advertising revenue) from the terrorist content on its platform.

What were your findings? 

Although social networks could face liability under the material support laws for allowing terrorists to use their platforms to organize, recruit, raise funds and spread propaganda, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should bar these claims. This is the case even though the claims are not made on the basis of content posted by third parties, because claims that attempt to assign liability for allowing certain users (here, terrorists) to use the service are akin to the publishing function that 230 immunizes.

Section 230 immunity could potentially be lost, however, if social media profited (through advertising revenue) from the terrorist content on its platform. This does not translate to a “win” for plaintiffs, but rather it avoids an early dismissal and potentially allows plaintiffs to move forward with litigation.

What do you think are the implications for the discipline/profession?

This is a new area of the law that hasn’t before been litigated—so these first few cases will serve as important precedent (even if non-binding) for those that follow. They will also test the durability of Section 230 in a way that hasn’t been done before.

What do you think are the implications for the public?

Social media has become an incredible tool for many different organizations to communicate—including terrorists. And the response by social networks has been lacking. Social networks may have an ethical responsibility to maintain a safe network, but does that result in civil liability when there is a terrorist attack? Should it?

Social networks are private companies, and can freely regulate the speech of its users (which it largely reserves the right to do in its terms of service agreements). The question we must confront is whether we trust social media to regulate speech on their platforms, and decide what should be censored.

If there are implications for the future or new directions for the work, what are they?

Victims and families will continue to look for someone to hold accountable when a terrorist attack happens. When the first lawsuits against social media for terrorist attacks failed, subsequent plaintiffs tried a new legal theory. As cases emerge, so will new theories to analyze. The broader implications, however, are whether social media is an appropriate defendant in these types of cases, and the response social media should have to terrorists on its platforms.

Nina Brown: Social media and terrorism

Presentations:

Nina Brown presented this work at the 2016 AEJMC conference, at a Symposium at Loyola of Los Angeles Law School, and the work has been published in a law review, and by Slate magazine.

Fight Terror, Not Twitter: Insulating Social Media from Material Support Claims, 37 Loyola L.A. Ent. L. Rev. 1 (2016-2017)

Should Social Networks Be Held Liable for Terrorism?Slate,June 16, 2017

Abstract:

Social media companies face a new threat: as millions of users around the globe user their platforms to exchange ideas and information, so do terrorists. Terrorist groups, such as ISIS, have capitalized on the ability to spread propaganda, recruit new members, and raise funds through social media with little to no cost. Does it follow that when these terrorists attack, social media is on the hook for civil liability to victims?

Recent lawsuits by families of victims killed in terrorist attacks abroad have argued that the proliferation of terrorists on social media, and social media’s reluctance to stop it, violates the Antiterrorism Act. This article explores the dangers associated with holding social media companies responsible for such attacks, and offers a solution to avoid liability.

This is a new challenge for social media, and little to no scholarship on the topic. This article examines the basis for this liability—the Antiterrorism Act—in depth as it relates to suits against social media, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides that an interactive computer service (broadly defined to include a variety of websites, including social media platforms) cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content.

I argue that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act should provide immunity for social media from suits based on the actions of its users. This is in spite of the fact that Section 230 has traditionally been interpreted by courts to immunize content providers for liability from the content posted by third parties, as opposed to the acts of those parties themselves.

Understanding and improving consent issues on college campuses


Rebecca Ortiz

Assistant Professor,
Advertising


RESEARCH FOCUS: 

The initial part of my research was to understand how college students define, understand, and enact sexual consent in their own lives (using focus groups and surveys). Based upon these findings, my colleague and I then designed and evaluated a multi-component, peer-to-peer campaign to improve college students’ understanding of sexual consent (measured using three online survey questionnaires distributed to the university’s undergraduate student population before, during and after the campaign’s implementation over two academic semesters).

ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN:

The goal of the campaign, “Define Your Line,” was to promote open and clear sexual communication between sexual and romantic partners and to “unblur” college students’ understanding of sexual consent by addressing the contextual nuances of sexual interactions, such as how gender and sexual stereotypes can play a role in how college students’ interpret their partners’ verbal and/or nonverbal cues. Particular focus was on promoting messages that would resonate and be relevant to all college students, including historically hard-to-read students, such as college men and students in social fraternities and sororities. Therefore, we were careful not to promote any messages that insinuated negative sexual stereotypes about a group of people, such as implying that only men can be perpetrators or that women should not wear certain clothing to avoid victimization. The campaign’s strategy was to generate a “campus conversation” about the topic of sexual communication by gathering and displaying feedback from students about questions and thoughts they have related to sexual consent and sexual assault. Trained undergraduate students were the visible face of the campaign, such that they were the ones gathering the feedback from other students on campus and making presentations, under the guidance of relevant faculty and staff.

RESEARCH FINDINGS:

Focus Group Results:

College students often had a hard time defining sexual consent; they regularly articulated that they knew consent “when they saw it,” but the examples they described were typically the most extreme, such as individuals being so intoxicated they cannot stand or when someone clearly and consistently says “no.” They felt that many of the sexual assault prevention campaigns and messages they encountered were not relatable or useful in helping to clear up their confusion, especially regarding situations where sexual consent was less obvious (e.g., when sexual partners are drinking or have had sex before). College men also indicated that they often did not engage with sexual assault prevention campaigns because they assumed the primary motive was to berate males for being perpetrators of sexual assault.

Survey Results:

The more college students defined sexual consent based upon the parameters of affirmative consent, such that the consent must be explicit, conscious, voluntary, and be given by all parties involved, the more likely they were to accurately identify sexual consent (and sexual assault) in a variety of scenarios and intend to engage in sexual consent in the future.

The more college men reported comfort in verbally communicating consent and desire in sexual encounters in an assertive (but not aggressive) style and the less they reported belief in common rape myths (e.g., agreeing with statements such as “it shouldn’t be considered rape if a guy is drunk and didn’t realize what he was doing”), the more likely they were to also have positive attitudes and intentions about sexual consent and accurately identify sexual consent (and sexual assault) in a variety of scenarios.

The more potential new sorority women (i.e., college women interested in joining a sorority) reported believing in common rape myths, the less they felt comfortable intervening in a potential sexual assault and engaging in verbal sexual consent communication.

Campaign Evaluation Results:

Sexual consent understanding, beliefs, and intentions improved over the course of the campaign. College men and members of university-affiliated social sororities or fraternities resulted in the greatest improvement, compared to their respective counterparts (i.e., college women, non-members).

IMPLICATIONS:

Sexual consent education campaigns for college students that are student-driven and address relevant sociocultural factors (e.g., gender stereotypes, rape myths) while authentically interacting with students can improve students’ sexual consent understanding, beliefs, and intentions. These type of campaigns also have the opportunity to reach historically hard-to-reach audiences, such as college men and students in social sororities and fraternities. College men must be as much a part of the conversations and educational efforts on college campuses to reduce sexual assault incidence as college women. Programs should therefore consider messaging that addresses the relevant concerns and needs of all their students, avoids alienating certain audiences, and encourages assertive, verbal communication.

PUBLICATIONS/PRESENTATIONS:

Ortiz, R.R., & Shafer, A. (2017). “Unblurring the lines of sexual consent with a college student-driven sexual consent education intervention.” Presented at the 2017 International Communication Association annual conference, San Diego, CA.

Ortiz, R.R., & Shafer, A. (2016). “Engaging college students in a campus-wide sexual consent education campaign using digital communication tactics.” Presented at the annual Society for Research on Adolescence conference as part of the panel titled, “Sexual health in the digital world: Developing and evaluating eHealth and media-based interventions for youth,” Baltimore, MD.

Ortiz, R.R., Shafer, A., Murphy, A. (2015). “Define Your Line: A case study on student-driven sexual consent education campaign.” Journal of Campus Title IX Compliance and Best Practices, 1, 16-20.

Ortiz, R.R. & Thompson, B.A. (forthcoming). “Risky recruitment: How the rape myth acceptance of potential new sorority members is related to their efficacy to prevent sexual assault and perceptions of university sexual assault reporting.” Oracle: The Research Journal of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.

Ortiz, R.R., & Shafer, A. (forthcoming). “Unblurring the lines of sexual consent with a college student-driven sexual consent education intervention.” Journal of American College Health. 

Shafer, A., Ortiz, R.R., Thompson, B., Huemmer, J. (forthcoming). “The role of hypermasculinity, token resistance, rape myth, and assertive sexual consent communication among college men.” Journal of Adolescent Health.