The Role of Public Relations in Social Capital

Weiwu Zhang, Alan Abitbol
2016 Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies  
Public relations research has traditionally focused on how public relations efforts make organizations more effective. Recently, scholars have argued for the broader role of public relations in society. That is, how can public relations be used to improve society rather than simply making organizations more effective? Existing studies have emphasized the relationship between internal public relations and organizational social capital. Lack of scholarly attention has been paid to how public
more » ... to how public relations efforts affect citizens' social capital in general. To fill the gap in this area, this study examines how different types of public relations efforts contribute to citizens' social capital. Specifically, this study uses data from the 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project 'Social Side of the Internet' survey to examine the influence of public relations efforts by various organizations in individuals' social capital. Overall, the analyses suggest that organizations' face-to-face meetings with their members enhance interpersonal trust and civic engagement, and that organizations' strategic use of social media boosts civic engagement, whereas strategic communication via email, blogs, and websites decreases civic engagement. This study provides empirical evidence and practical implications for the important role of strategic social media use and interpersonal communication in enhancing social capital. Disciplines Communication | Communication Technology and New Media Comments This document is provided for download by permission of the publisher. Permission documentation is on file. Abstract Public relations research has traditionally focused on how public relations efforts make organizations more effective. Recently, scholars have argued for the broader role of public relations in society. That is, how can public relations be used to improve society rather than simply making organizations more effective? Existing studies have emphasized the relationship between internal public relations and organizational social capital. Lack of scholarly attention has been paid to how public relations efforts affect citizens' social capital in general. To fill the gap in this area, this study examines how different types of public relations efforts contribute to citizens' social capital. Specifically, this study uses data from the 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project 'Social Side of the Internet' survey to examine the influence of public relations efforts by various organizations in individuals' social capital. Overall, the analyses suggest that organizations' face-to-face meetings with their members enhance interpersonal trust and civic engagement, and that organizations' strategic use of social media boosts civic engagement, whereas strategic communication via email, blogs, and websites decreases civic engagement. This study provides empirical evidence and practical implications for the important role of strategic social media use and interpersonal communication in enhancing social capital. Traditionally, public relations research focuses on how public relations efforts make organizations more effective. Increasingly, public relations scholars have argued for the central role of public relations in reviving community relations (Kruckeberg & Starck, 1988) and fostering social capital, civic engagement, and democracy (e.g., Taylor, 2009; Taylor, 2010) . Social capital is defined as encompassing various forms of citizen engagement in community affairs and features of social life such as networks, norms, and trust which enable citizens to effectively work together to improve society at large (e.g., Putnam, 1995). It typically includes threemajor dimensions: social relations/connections/networks, the nature of social relations such as norms of generalized reciprocity and trust (interpersonal trust and institutional trust) that are embodied within the relationship (Paxton, 1999) and civic engagement. In this study, we focus on interpersonal trust and civic engagement as major components of social capital.
doi:10.29333/ojcmt/2565 fatcat:ye4mmzsqkrau7d6jzvafgs55m4