Assessment 3 · Uncategorized


  1. Jennifer Connell
    Student ID: 430599693
    Tutorial: Tues 1700-2000

There is no doubt that social networking sites (SNSs) are an exciting and growing phenomenon that continue to change the shape of communication worldwide. But how can a non-profit or government organisation best use this medium to communicate effectively with stakeholders and develop genuine engagement and action? As a media adviser in a government organisation, this is the area I’m examining in this post: What theories ensure a government body or non-profit organisation is effectively communicating messages, hearing from their communities, growing their reach and making progress with desired outcomes?

In April 2006, Facebook opened its registration process to organisations; accordingly, this post is largely confined to examining organisations’ use of this leading SNS. Jumping on board Facebook was actively pursued by thousands of bodies straightaway with countless organisations seeking to develop relationships with their important publics (Waters et al pp.102-103). Others, however, such as government bodies, have been slower to adopt this communication medium – a position which Doesmagen & Aase (2016), in their review of healthcare organisations’ use of social media, caution against:

“In healthcare, professionals and organizations must recognize society’s ever-increasing use of social media tools… [T]he conversations will continue with or without them… [S]ocial media is a two-way street, and allows non-experts to share information just as rapidly as health agencies, if not more so.”


In the world prior to the Internet, government agencies and other organisations worked with the structures of traditional media (Brown 2009 p.11), developing relationships with and within media organisations to broadcast information to the public – an effective process prior to today’s understanding that consumers aren’t just audiences, but are “networked publics” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013 p.32). Waters et al tell us that Kent and Taylor (1998) extended on this understanding to suggest that organisations must develop “strategic virtual communication strategies” to build relationships with key stakeholders (2008 p.103).

Ensuring a strategy builds genuine engagement is the bigger challenge – or as Hou and Lampe put it in their article examining how 26 small environmental groups used social media, “liking a Facebook page is not an engagement” (2016).

In reviewing the literature, online articles and blog posts on this issue, some key theories stand out as essential. Waters et al (2008 p.105) isolate the key theories as: organizational disclosure, information dissemination and involvement. The examples below include these theories and further break down ‘involvement’ to highlight the important aspects of: relationship and community building, interactivity including multimedia offerings; calls to action and user created content.

Connecting with social media participants, perhaps from a particular target group, is arguably the first objective of organisations with messages to share. Hinton and Hjorth discuss the concept of community and refer to one definition with three characteristics: membership, personal expression and connection (p.43).

Creating a platform for membership and user feedback is one of several challenges for organisations such as government bodies. “Unlike mass media before it, social media is fundamentally a participative medium”, Hinton & Hjorth remind us (2013 p.54). But as Hou & Lampe (2016) note, the “control mechanisms of an organization may present barriers” to creating an open communication platform and this is arguably true for government bodies which are among those who have struggled with the move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. As the same authors note, some organizations use social media primarily to connect with similar entities, “scratching each other’s backs” by sharing one another’s news and doing little to reach out to the general public.

>>> One organization which has successfully developed community is the national depression, anxiety and suicide prevention agency beyond blue. According to an independent review of the organization’s work (Nous 2014 p.42):

“beyondblue has now become a household name. Its profile and funding have attracted an international reputation as an enviable broad-based program to tackle the negative community perceptions of depression… The high level of visibility is due to the breadth of its campaigns and marketing and a high social media capability.”


Waters et al found most organisations in their study failed to fully utilise all the functionality of Facebook which would foster greater interactivity: “Though components of dissemination and involvement were used differently by the non-profit subsectors, overall they… failed to take advantage of the interactive nature of social networking. They rarely posted multimedia files, press releases, or summaries of their campaigns. These items are helpful in detailing the organization’s successes to those highly involved in social networking who expect advanced organizational profiles” (Waters et al 2008 p.105).

Although these authors were writing in 2008, little seems to have changed since. In a 2015 review of social media participation by non-profits, Hou and Lampe found increased use of multimedia but itwas still largely confined to appealing photographs, which study participants described as a “better entry point” for the public.

McKenzie et al (2009, cited in Thackeray et al 2008 p.340) challenge this go-easy approach saying that encouraging user created content will achieve better results: “Encouraging the customer to be part of the creative process has advantages. First, it can increase buy-in and loyalty to the program. In this regard, customers who are invested are more likely to “purchase” the product, including engaging in the desired behavior.”


>>>> The Switzerland-based Pack Head campaign on Facebook was run by the World Lung Foundation. Users were invited to add rotten teeth, throat tumors etc to their profile pictures and show the altered images on a generic pack of cigarettes and share them. The application was intended to raise awareness and support for graphic package warnings, which have been found to be more effective at communicating the harms of smoking than standard text (Butteriss 2015).


McLeod (undated) tells us that non-profit organisations often misunderstand what real calls to action are: “Calls to action are exactly what they sound like—words or phrases that drive visitors to take a specific action on your site. In other words, they function as the stepping stone between website visitors just passing by and those who feel invested…”


>>>> In 2013, Tourism Australia built upon a successful youth-focused campaign launched by Queensland Tourism, to win one of six “extraordinary dream jobs” with a state or territory tourism organisation. The campaign, targeting travellers aged 18 to 30 years, resulted in 620,000 applications from 330,000 individuals in 196 countries, with 46,000 video entries during the six-week campaign.

In May, 18 finalists from 12 different countries were selected. The finalists were flown to Australia to spend a week undergoing a series of challenges relevant to their chosen job, with the successful candidates being announced in June 2013. The campaign sparked 8,500 news articles worldwide generating over $44 million worth of media coverage.

Determining actual engagement and results due to social media activity by non-profit and government organizations remains largely unmeasured. Freeman et al (2015) tell us that there is still a question mark over whether or not increased engagement and social media participation increases the likelihood of action or behaviour change:

“There is an underlying assumption… that fostering higher-quality online engagement leads to increased likelihood of action. Evaluating whether this is true would be an incredibly valuable contribution to the social marketing literature… To truly understand the possible impact, moving beyond measuring the number of ‘likes’ and developing outcome measurement frameworks, is vital.”

In the meantime, as an employee of a government body, what I will take away from these learnings is an understanding of the importance of building community (not just people who ‘like’ you); looking for ways to feature more multimedia and user created content; and posting purposeful, clear calls to action that develop genuine engagement.

Afia Health website (no author). ‘Top Reasons Hospitals & Healthcare Organizations are Slow to Social Media Adoption’. Retrieved 25 April 2017

Brown, R (2009).  Public Relations and the Social Web: How to use social media and Web 2.0 in communications. Kogan Page Ltd UK/USA. Retrieved 27 April 2017

Butteriss, C (2015). ‘The world’s best public health social media campaigns’. Published on Bang the Table website. Retrieved 27 April 2017

Dosemagen, S & Aase, L (2016). ‘How Social Media Is Shaking Up Public Health and Healthcare’. Published on The Huffington Post website 27 January 2016. Retrieved 25 April 2017

Freeman, B, Potente, S, Rock, V, & McIver, J (2015). ‘Social media campaigns that make a difference: what can public health learn from the corporate sector and other social change marketers?’. Published in Public Health Research & Practice March 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2017

Hinton, S & Hjorth, L (2013). Understanding Social Media. SAGE, London.

Hou, Y & Lampe, C (2015). ‘Social media effectiveness for public engagement: an example of small non-profits’. Published 25 April 2016 in Non Profit Quarterly online. Retrieved 5 April 2017

Kent, M, & Taylor, M (1998). ‘Building dialogic relationships through the World Wide Web’. Public Relations Review, 24(3), pp.321–334.

McLeod, Pamela (undated). ‘Non-profit marketing: 40 call to action examples that drive engagement’ Published on Firespring website. Retrieved 5 April 2017

Nous Group, 27 May 2014. Independent evaluation of beyond blue.  Published on beyond blue website. Retrieved 28 April 2017

Thackeray, R, Neiger, B, Hanson C & McKenzie, J (2008). ‘Enhancing Promotional Strategies Within Social Marketing Programs: Use of Web 2.0 Social Media’. Published in Health Promotion Practice 2008; 9; 33. Retrieved 27 April 2017


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