Understanding Nonprofit Organizations' Use of Social Networking Sites: An Examination of Management Factors

Understanding Nonprofit Organizations' Use of Social Networking Sites: An Examination of Management Factors

Qian Hu (School of Public Administration, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA) and Wanzhu Shi (School of Public Administration, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJPADA.2017010102
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Abstract

This study examined how nonprofit organizations use social networking sites to enhance stakeholder relations and what organizational management factors may contribute to the effective use of social networking sites. Local nonprofit organizations in the Central Florida area were surveyed. The authors found that the strategic use of social networking sites can better foster online connections between nonprofit organizations and their stakeholders. Organizational managerial decisions can have a great impact on how effectively organizations use their social networking sites.
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Introduction

Social networking site1 can be defined as web-based services that allow users to create a profile in the system and to view the information updates and connections made by them and others in the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 211). Social networking sites allow users to explicitly articulate their social connections, make their connections visible to others, and see the social networks of other friends in the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008). Social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter have instigated an unprecedented paradigm shift in the way the world communicates. Many nonprofit leaders realize the immense potential to reach and attract a vast audience utilizing innovative social networking websites (Ingenhoff & Koelling, 2009). Previous studies have shown that nonprofit organizations adopting social networking sites enhance their advocacy and positively affect donor behaviors (Guo & Saxton, 2014; Shier & Handy, 2012; Waters, Burnett, Lamm, & Lucas, 2009).

Social networking sites provide an interactive and decentralized structure for nonprofits to communicate with their stakeholders (Guo & Saxton, 2014). Individuals can directly communicate with an organization by sending messages on Facebook or ‘tweeting’ a favorite nonprofit’s link on Twitter. And through social network sites nonprofit organizations are able to create a dynamic web presence that creatively interact with their supporters (Waters & Lo, 2012). Nonprofit organizations can utilize YouTube to tell their story through a dramatic video, choose Facebook to ask the supporters to attend a special event, or choose Pinterest to educate the public through purposeful images and web links. Nonprofit practitioners are convinced that using social networking sites to engage with people based on common interests is more effectual and entertaining than traditional, pre-social network methods (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2011). Social networking sites are bringing an exciting and bright future to the charities.

However, before nonprofit leaders choose to rush exclusively into social networking sites, they need to be aware that having a dynamic website is not a substitute for effective public engagement. Many nonprofit experts point out that organization leaders are often not fully prepared before they move significant resources online (Kanter & Paine, 2012). They lack a systematic plan to measure and analyze valuable data that could be available from an online source; opportunities to evaluate performance and monitor information flow are lost. Instead, most organizations have a simple, graphic webpage with little built-in utility (Kanter & Paine, 2012). There is limited literature that examines how to best use social networking sites to engage with stakeholders.

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