Research (Vol. 59): Maintaining and Framing Social Media

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A Multi-Method Examination of Award-Winning Student Newspaper Tweets

Emily A. Dolan
Slippery Rock University

Brittany L. Fleming
Slippery Rock University

Abstract: The current study examined how award-winning student newspapers used social media to maintain relationships with their audiences. We employed quantitative methods to examine 26,388 tweets for the presence of relational maintenance strategies. We then employed a qualitative analysis to understand how tweets featuring high levels of these strategies attracted audience engagement. Findings suggest that student newspapers employ relational maintenance strategies in their posts. Within each of these strategies, we identified patterns in the types of tweets that attracted high levels of user engagement. Broadly, our findings suggest that these strategies should not be centered on maintaining the relationships between audiences and newspapers, but instead should be centered on maintaining relationships between audiences and their university communities. We use these findings to propose a list of social media best practices for student newspapers and advisors.

Introduction

Young media users are considered a “hard-to-reach” audience due to the sheer amount of news information available to them, and the “perceived worthwhileness” of certain news topics (Berthelsen and Hameleers 2021; Ferne 2018). Without a doubt, the prevalence of social media helps explain this phenomenon. Recent data from Pew Research Center (Auxier and Anderson 2021) indicates that 89% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 29 use at least one social media site on a daily basis. Recent data also find that roughly 53% of U.S. adults get their news from their social media feeds (Shearer 2021). This is especially true for young adults between the ages of 18 and 29, who rely on social media to obtain news more than does any other age group (Shearer 2021).

The proliferation of digital technologies has altered the news industry. A social media presence is required, and there is no age group this is especially true for than young adults. A social media presence includes more than one-way communication from news organizations, however. These platforms are focused on interactivity between sources and their audiences. The result of such interaction is the maintenance of relationships between parties.

With the significant role that social media plays in maintaining relationships, the current study seeks to understand how award-winning student news organizations employ relational maintenance behaviors on their social media accounts. We also focus on how relational maintenance behaviors are associated with audience engagement. These findings are used to develop a list of best practices for student newspapers to employ on their social media accounts.

Literature Review

Social Media and Social Media Engagement

Social media platforms, including Twitter, are altering people’s relationships with news organizations by allowing users to actively engage in the conversation through commenting, retweeting, and “liking” content (Kite, Foley, Grunseit and Freeman 2016). Carr and Hayes (2015) define social media as “internet-based channels that allow users to opportunistically interact […] with both broad and narrow audiences who derive value from user-generated content and the perception of interaction with others.” This definition highlights the chief quality that distinguishes social media from other forms of media: interactivity.

Audience interactivity is often conceptualized with regard to behavioral user engagement (e.g., Taecharungroj 2017; Tafesse 2015). In turn, engagement is often measured by examining the number of likes, shares, and comments that posts attract on social media platforms.

Organizations seek to increase user engagement on social media. Engagement increases levels of audience loyalty to an organization (DeVries and Carlson 2014; Lim, Hwang, Kim and Biocca 2015), enhance organizational image and favorable perceptions of the organization (e.g., Ibrahim, Wang and Bourne 2017), and influence the number of visitors to a news organization’s website (Hong 2012).  These factors likely have a direct impact on student newspapers and ultimately the future careers of the staff. Put simply, professional news organizations seek to hire employees from reputable student news outlets. It stands to reason that the more engagement an organizational account attracts, the more likely the organization will be to attract revenue (e.g., advertisers). This is a particularly pertinent issue for student newspapers, who continually face budget cuts. Therefore, for many reasons, student newspapers thrive on the engagement they attract on social media platforms. Thus the question arises, how can student newspapers attract user engagement on their social media platforms?

One potential pathway to attract user engagement on social media platforms is through characteristics of the posts themselves. Research demonstrates that message features such as entertainment (e.g., Cvijikj and Michahelles 2013; Luarn, Lin and Chiu 2015), information (e.g., Cvijikj and Michahelles 2013; Tafesse 2015), and emotion (e.g., Yuki 2015) influence engagement variables including likes, comments, and shares.

The aforementioned research largely suggests that certain types of social media posts attract more engagement than others. When we consider user engagement as an audience-related behavior that results from systematic variance in message features from an organizational account, the relationship that exists between the account and the users who follow and interact with it becomes an exceedingly important factor in understanding user engagement.

The more online interaction resembles interpersonal communication, the higher the level of user engagement (Kruikemeier, van Noort, Vliegenthart and de Vreese 2013). Thus, it may be in the best interest of student newspapers to communicate in ways that resemble interpersonal interactions. This idea has not escaped researchers in organizational communication. Scholars in the realm of public relations have emphasized the importance of building and sustaining relationships with key audiences, particularly on social media (e.g., Cho and Huh 2007; van Wissen and Wonneberger 2017). Research in this area, in combination with research looking at predictors of user engagement discussed previously, suggest that employing message features centered on maintaining relationships with audiences may be a pathway to attracting user engagement.

Relational Maintenance Behaviors

When it comes to understanding how news organizations may employ message features on social media to sustain relationships with their audiences, a useful theoretical framework comes from the literature on interpersonal communication. Relationships require work; once a relationship has commenced, it must be maintained; otherwise, the relationship would dissolve. Based upon this logic, it is in the best interest of organizations to work to maintain relationships with their audiences. One way to do this is through employing specific message features that are centered on maintaining relationships.

Canary and Stafford (Canary and Stafford 1992; Stafford and Canary 1991) examined the communicative behaviors that individuals convey in interpersonal relationships in effort to sustain them. This body of research identifies five relational maintenance behaviors people employ to sustain relationships: Positivity, openness, assurances, social networks, and sharing tasks.

In an interpersonal context, positivity refers to communicating in an upbeat manner and making situations pleasant (Canary and Stafford 1992; Stafford and Canary 1991). Newspapers would communicate positivity by behaving in an optimistic and positive manner with an emphasis on positive events and sentiments about these events (e.g., soft news, feature news, “feel good” stories).

Openness involves communicating in genuine and honest ways. In the current study, this strategy would be executed by posting about topics that feature depth and vulnerability through conveying strong affect. This could be in terms of the topics covered, or even posts from the newspaper to their audience (e.g., staff editorials about sensitive topics, retraction statements, posts discussing transparency behind the newsgathering process).

Assurances show one’s commitment to the relationship, particularly in the future. In the current study, we would see this behavior executed by posts focused on the future events and issues within the community, and particularly those posts aimed at lessening uncertainty for future events and/or the plans for the publication itself (e.g., posts assuring audiences that the newspaper will be publishing, updating audiences on plans for future coverage).

Next, the social networks strategy references external parties (e.g., friends) that assist in maintaining the relationship. Given the shared social networks of newspapers and their audiences, this category likely references prominent figures (e.g., administration, coaches, athletes) within the community.

Finally, sharing tasks involves communication that references an equitable distribution of relationship-related tasks. In the current study, this strategy would be executed by language that emphasizes tasks and work to be completed by either the newspaper, their audience, or both (e.g., calls to action and proposed solutions to campus issues).

The aforementioned relational maintenance strategies apply to contexts outside the interpersonal. Although there may be slight variations on these strategies based on the nature of the relationship (e.g., romantic partners versus news organizations and their audiences), the spirit of these strategies largely remains as evidenced in studies examining relational maintenance strategies in corporate-based communication (e.g., corporate blogs) to their audiences (e.g., Cho and Huh 2007; Kelleher and Miller 2006).

Various studies suggest that relational maintenance strategies are employed within organizational contexts (e.g., corporate blogs, social media; e.g., Kelleher and Miller 2006). Specifically, in a study examining a sample of 31 corporate blogs, Cho and Huh (2007) found that while all relational maintenance behaviors were present, positivity, assurances, and sharing tasks were the most prevalent relational maintenance strategies. Cho and Huh (2007) also found evidence that the employment of these strategies differs based on type of organization (e.g., retail versus manufacturing).

Although they did not look specifically to analyze content using the relational maintenance strategies set forth by Canary and Stafford (Canary and Stafford 1992; Stafford and Canary 1991), Kelleher and Miller (2006), in a controlled experiment, found that when audiences perceived the presence of relational maintenance behaviors in corporate blogs, the more they trusted, were satisfied with, and were committed to, the organization. Although these were perceptual-level relational variables, it stands to reason that these attitudinal variables influence behavioral and perceptual engagement.

The aforementioned literature suggests that organizations employ relational maintenance behaviors when communicating with their audiences through social media, and that the employment of these behaviors may influence user engagement. Missing from this corpus of literature is how student news organizations use relational maintenance strategies to sustain relationships with their audiences on social media, and how the use of these strategies affects user engagement.

The Current Study

The purpose of the current study is twofold. First, we examine if and how award-winning student news organizations employ the five relational maintenance strategies on their social media pages. Given the popularity of Twitter with both young adults (Auxier and Anderson 2021) and student news organizations, we limit our sample to posts originating from Twitter specifically. Second, using qualitative analyses, we examine how tweets featuring high levels of relational maintenance strategies attract audience engagement (i.e., favorites, retweets).

The following research questions guide this study:

RQ1: Are relational maintenance behaviors present in the social media pages of award-winning student newspapers?

RQ2: What themes are present in tweets that feature high levels of each of the relational maintenance strategies and high levels of user engagement?

Results from this study will likely allow for a better understanding of how student news organizations can use social media to engage with audiences. Ultimately, the results from this study would allow for the development of a “best practices” list in effort to assist student media outlets to understand best how to maintain relationships with their audiences.

Methodology and Data Analysis

Sample and Collection Period

To understand best practices of social media posts, we collected tweets from award-winning student newspaper accounts at four-year universities in the United States. We focused specifically on tweets occurring between January 31, 2021, and May 31, 2021. For our sampling frame, we obtained lists of the 2017-2020 ACP Pacemaker, CSPA Gold Crown, and CMA Pinnacle award winners, similar to sampling of past studies on student media (Bergland 2020; Fleming and Dolan 2020; Terracina-Hartman and Nulph 2016). All newspapers included in the sampling frame (N = 43) had a Twitter presence. We eliminated any accounts that were converged with other media at their university (N = 2) and excluded any schools falling outside of the United States (N = 1).  A total of 40 newspapers were included in the sample, and a total of 26,388 tweets were analyzed.

Tweet Collection Procedure

Tweets were collected using Twlets, a program that downloads an account’s tweets and their engagement. We then went through each newspaper’s account and deleted the following types of tweets: (1) Retweets from other accounts if they were not associated with the newspaper and (2) Promoted and sponsored content. Once collected, Tweets were aggregated and submitted to the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Analysis Program (LIWC) for quantitative analysis.

Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Program (LIWC)

The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count program (LIWC) is a tool that can be used to identify relational maintenance behaviors. LIWC is a text analysis program that quantitatively analyzes text and counts the number of words that represent different types of linguistic devices, grammar, and psychological processes (Tausczik and Pennebaker 2010). The LIWC program has been employed and validated in studies interested in the psychological meaning behind language (Tausczik and Pennebaker 2010) and captures over 86% of the words used in written and oral communication (Pennebaker, Boyd, Jordan and Blackburn 2015). This program also allows for the aggregation and analysis of high volumes of data, which makes LIWC a particularly relevant analysis tool in the present study.

Coding for Relational Maintenance Behaviors. LIWC was used to code for the five relational maintenance behaviors. Our coding categories were developed using theoretical frameworks set forth by Canary and Stafford (1992) and research using LIWC to examine relational maintenance behaviors in interpersonal online environments (Sosik and Bazarova 2014). For positivity, we examined the total percent of positive-emotion words appearing in the tweets. Openness was measured by examining the total percent of words relating to affect. The category of assurances was measured by examining the total percent of future-tense words. The Social networks category was measured by examining the total percent of words that reference social processes. Finally, sharing tasks was measured by examining the total percent of words referencing work.

Coding for Engagement. The number of favorites and retweets for each tweet within each Twitter account were collected using Twlets.

Qualitative Analysis. Our second research question regarding the content of tweets that attracted the highest levels of engagement was explored by conducting a qualitative textual analysis. Creswell’s (2009) framework for qualitative data analysis was employed to complete the analysis. Given the large quantity of tweets in our sample, we focused our analysis by looking at the 99th percentile of each of the relational maintenance variables, which in turn made our qualitative analysis manageable. Within this sub-sample, we explored the content of tweets that featured high volumes of retweets and favorites.

Results

We used the LIWC program to conduct analyses on the tweets of the 40 newspapers included in our sample. In total, 26,388 tweets were submitted to the LIWC program.

RQ1: Are relational maintenance behaviors present in the social media pages of award-winning student newspapers?

 Each tweet from every newspaper was submitted to the LIWC program. This program coded every word within each tweet for the presence or absence of each of the LIWC categories related to the relational maintenance behaviors. In total, 814,478 total words were examined using the LIWC program. The following section reports the total number of words relating to each relational maintenance strategy across editorials. Figure 1 presents a pie chart detailing the prevalence of each of the five relational maintenance strategies we examined in our analysis.

Figure 1. Prevalence of relational maintenance behaviors across tweets

Positivity. To understand how the social media accounts of newspapers employed positivity behaviors, we examined the LIWC category of positive emotion. The LIWC program examined each of the words contained across tweets for the presence or absence of 620 words reflecting positive affect (e.g., “nice,” “love”). In total, roughly 2% of the tweets contained positivity-related language.

Openness. To explore openness, we examined the LIWC category of affect. The LIWC program examined each of the words contained across tweets for the presence or absence of 1393 words reflecting affect (e.g., “hurt,” “happy”). In total, roughly 3% of the tweets contained language relating to openness.

Assurances. To explore assurances, we examined the LIWC category of future-time orientation. The LIWC program examined each of the words contained across tweets for the presence or absence of 97 words reflecting a future focus (e.g., “may,” “will”). In total, 1% of the tweets contained language relating to future assurances.

Social Networks. To explore social networks, we examined the LIWC category of social processes. The LIWC program examined each of the words contained across tweets for the presence or absence of 756 words reflecting social processes (e.g., “talk,” “mate”). In total, roughly 6% of the tweets contained language relating to social networks.

Shared Tasks. To explore shared tasks, we examined the LIWC category of work. The LIWC program examined each of the words contained across tweets for the presence or absence of 444 words reflecting shared tasks (e.g., “tasks,” “work”). In total, roughly 6% of the tweets contained language relating to future assurances.

RQ2: What types of tweets within each of the relational maintenance behavior categories attract the most engagement?

Results from our LIWC analysis provided us with the total percentages of each of the relational maintenance strategies across our total sample of tweets. To begin to explore our second research question, we examined the 99th percentile of each of the relational maintenance variables and focused our analysis on tweets within each that featured high levels of user engagement (i.e., retweets, favorites).

Positivity. In total, 327 tweets fell into the 99th percentile of the positivity strategy. Our qualitative analysis indicated that tweets with high levels of user engagement typically took one of two forms. First, tweets that shared some type of good news within the campus attracted high engagement. For instance, within our sub-sample, the most favorited (N = 709) and retweeted (N = 99) tweet was: “With Gonzaga’s NCAA Tournament championship loss to Baylor tonight, the 1976 IU men’s basketball team remains the last undefeated men’s basketball team to win the championship.” Other examples include, “We’re really proud of our team. The Daily Trojan won a total of 11 awards on Saturday from the California College Media Association, including two first-place honors and placing second best newspaper…” (N favorites = 97, N retweets = 13), and “NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!! Final score 86 to 70 BEARS WIN” (N favorites = 78, N retweets = 12). Notably, many of these tweets were sports centered.

A second type of tweet within the positivity category that generated high volumes of user engagement were tweets featuring good news about prominent characters or entities within the community. For instance, the second-most favorited and retweeted tweet was, “Happy birthday to our wonderful president, Dr. Davies! We hope you have great day!” (N favorites = 93, N retweets = 3). Other examples include, “John Petty Jr., it’s good to see you. #MarchMadness” (N favorites = 31, N retweets = 4), and “Pasta lovers rejoice! Noodles and Company on Kirkwood will be back soon” (N favorites = 19, N retweets = 3).

Openness. In total, 279 tweets fell into the 99th percentile of the openness strategy. Our qualitative analysis indicates that tweets that attracted high levels of user engagement typically appeared as those conveying a willingness to discuss emotionally charged and/or sensitive topics. In some cases, this information was positively charged. In many cases, however, the information addressed sensitive topics high in depth (e.g., “Rita Phetmixay is helping the Laos diaspora heal from generational trauma – one podcast at a time;” N favorites = 21, N retweets = 5).

Tweets that featured direct quotes from articles featured high degrees of issue depth (e.g., “’The victims of sexual violence are used as a means to an end to punish perpetrators’”) and shared opinion pieces (e.g., “Opinion | We need to get better at failing”). However, these types of tweets did not attract high levels of user engagement. Rather, information that was specific to Twitter, and did not originate in any specific article, attracted the highest levels of user engagement.

Assurances. In total, 301 tweets fell into the 99th percentile of the assurances strategy. Our qualitative analysis indicates that tweets with high levels of engagement were those that provided timely assurance about events. Oftentimes, these events related directly to the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, the most favorited (N = 333) and retweeted (N = 91) tweet featuring this strategy read: “BREAKING: UNC’s vaccination clinic in the Student Union will open March 31. Students will receive appointment information tomorrow.” Other tweets that featured high volumes of engagement featured information about other COVID-19-related aspects of education (e.g., “#BREAKING: Graduating U-M students will be invited to Michigan Stadium May 1 to watch the commencement video on the Big House big screen together. Only students will be allowed to participate;” N favorites = 82, N retweets = 13). As evidenced from the examples above, and from other tweets in our subsample, timely tweets providing assurances attracted the highest levels of engagement.

Interestingly, tweets that provided assurances about the functioning of the paper (e.g., “We’re currently updating the website with a new and improved layout and it may not be accessible or reliable during some periods from tonight until early tomorrow. Once everything is working smoothly we’ll send out an update. Thank you all for your patience!”) featured low levels of audience engagement.

Social Networks. In total, 289 tweets fell into the 99th percentile of the category of social networks. Our qualitative analysis indicated that tweets with high engagement were those that fostered a sense of community. Of note is that many of these tweets referenced the publication’s role in the community. For instance, the most favorited (N = 211) tweet read, “…On Wednesday, the Texan tweeted photos of maskless students playing in the snow. This evening, we deleted that tweet. We strive to produce good journalism that helps people. That tweet did not. Thank you to everyone who responded to the tweet to hold us accountable.” Another example of a community-based tweet comes from the second-most favorited tweet (N = 138): “No more Twitter crop, you said?” In these cases, and others, the newspaper indicates they are listening to their audience and adjusting their practices accordingly.

Shared Tasks. In total, 280 tweets fell into the 99th percentile of the shared tasks strategy. Our qualitative analysis indicates that tweets with high levels of engagement were those that featured timely campus-related issues that have been, or needed to be, solved within the community. For instance, the most favorited (N = 100) and retweeted (N = 32) tweet in our sample was, “Thread: Graduate workers are degree-seeking students who pay tuition and work about 15 to 20 hours a week. They include research and graduate assistants, as well as associate instructors. Their work is indispensable to IU, yet their stipends are among the Big Ten’s lowest.” Other examples include, “‘Unpaid internships exploit the labor of college students and exacerbate existing inequalities in the corporate world,’ the Editorial Board writes” (N favorites = 48, N retweets = 5) and “Social work graduate students form Queer Student Alliance” (Nfavorites = 61, N retweets = 12).

Discussion

The current study sought to understand if and how award-winning student newspapers employed relational maintenance strategies in their social media posts. Results from our quantitative analysis indicate that student newspapers employ each of the five relational maintenance strategies in their social media posts, albeit to differing degrees. Specifically, student newspapers most often tweeted content that fell under the social networks and shared tasks categories, followed in descending order by openness, positivity, and assurances. Our results further indicate systematic patterns in user engagement within each of the five relational maintenance strategies.

Results from our qualitative analysis provide strong evidence that, when it comes to attracting engagement, posts that strive to maintain relationships directly with their audiences via Twitter (e.g., through speaking to them directly; e.g., “stay tuned!”) do not necessarily attract the greatest volume of user engagement. Rather, tweets that address the central tenets of newsworthiness within each of these categories attract the highest levels of user engagement.

Consider the category of assurances: Although tweets that assured audiences that the newspaper would be fulfilling some function (e.g., “Once again, thanks for tuning in! We’ll have new content to share with you tomorrow,” “We’ll be back here tomorrow. We hope to see you then!”), featured high levels of assurances, these tweets did not attract high levels of user engagement (N favorites = 1, 3). Rather, tweets that were timely and featured prominent figures within the community attracted the highest levels of engagement. This assertion is further evidenced by the high volume of breaking news tweets within the assurances category, as well as up-to-date information about COVID-19-related issues.

Prominence was featured across all tweets that attracted high levels of engagement, regardless of category. For instance, the category of positivity featured positive news and information about various people and entities on campus (e.g., sports teams, university presidents, university athletes), while a similar theme was identified within the openness category. Taken together, these findings suggest that despite the “social” nature of social media, student newspapers must still be concerned with basic news values. This is not to say that student newspapers must not be concerned with employing relational maintenance strategies. Rather, the emphasis should be on the relationships within greater campus communities, as opposed to relationships between newspapers and their audiences.

A Proposed Framework for Best Practices

Results of the current study largely suggest that student news organizations should be less concerned with strengthening the newspaper-audience relationship and more concerned with strengthening the audience-community relationship. To strengthen this relationship, student newspapers should focus their social media content on the criterion of newsworthiness.

Holistically, findings from the current study allow us to create a framework of best practices that student newspapers should employ in their social media posts in order to garner the greatest user engagement. These recommendations largely point to the importance of developing a well-thought-out and intentional social media strategy, with emphasis on garnering followers and strategically posting certain types of material. In the following paragraphs, we discuss how student newspapers can craft their social media strategy according to these dimensions.

First, it is important for student newspapers to garner a large following. We would be remiss not to discuss the association between numbers of followers and engagement. The more followers an organization had, the more likely they were to attract engagement on their social media posts.

Of course, the quality of content will influence the number of followers and engagement on social media. Student newspapers, then, should strategically consider the types of content they should post on social media. The most effective content on social media, in terms of attracting engagement, mirrors the traditional criterion of newsworthiness. Audiences appear to be less concerned with their relationship with the newspaper and more concerned with their function: Providing news and information that is proximal, timely, and features people, places, and things that are prominent or recognizable to them. Our qualitative analysis provided evidence that student newspapers should frame topics that fit these criteria around the five relational maintenance strategies.

Our results also indicate that newspapers should be less concerned with promoting content appearing in their publication and more concerned with disseminating timely news about prominent figures in the campus community. Interestingly, based on our qualitative analysis of each of the relational maintenance strategies, posts that highlighted opinion pieces or direct quotes from articles did not attract high levels of user engagement regardless of relational maintenance strategy. Audiences may consider these types of posts less relevant or timely and therefore engage with them less. It stands to reason that by the time many articles are written and published, the timeliness value of the topic has decreased. By waiting to post about a topic, student newspapers decrease the likelihood of attracting high levels of user engagement. Therefore, student newspapers should take advantage of the affordances of social media, namely timeliness. Information that fits the criterion of newsworthiness should be communicated with audiences as soon as possible through social media.

Although we did not analyze promotional content in tweets, we did need to sift through our sample and exclude any promotional content featured in it. Roughly half of our sample featured promotional content (which we deleted for subsequent analyses). The format of these types of tweets varied drastically. While some newspapers had separate promotional accounts, others tweeted promotional content directly from their news accounts. Although all these posts were labeled “promotional” or something to that effect (e.g., “sponsored”), the placement of the term varied among newspapers. Some placed the term at the start of the tweet while others placed the term at the end of the tweet. It is important for newspapers to exercise caution while tweeting promotional content. Placing the promotional tag after the content could potentially be misleading or confusing to audiences. Therefore, we suggest that, if a newspaper features promotional content on their social media, they make it clear to their audiences that the content is in fact promoted. One way to do this would be to write “PROMOTED” before the content appears.

In order to effectively communicate with audiences on social media, advisors and journalistic organizations need assistance, as students cannot employ these recommendations alone. Training materials and workshops should be conducted on both the local and national level to help student journalists understand how to connect with their audiences on social media, as well as how to employ these recommendations in the future.

Limitations and Future Research

Due to our focus on only award-winning newspapers, the results from this study should not be generalized to the larger population of student newspapers. Due to the caliber of our sample, however, these results should be taken as evidence for the set of best practices mentioned previously.

Future studies should examine the social media posts of student newspapers on platforms other than Twitter. Given that each social media platform has its own unique sets of affordances (e.g,. Instagram is image-based, Tik-Tok is video-based), we may see that these findings apply only to Twitter and not to other social media. Additionally, examining audience comments on social media posts would allow for a better picture of how audiences cognitively and emotionally process content from student newspapers. In turn, such studies could speak more to the levels and types of user engagement that posts attract.

Finally, we selected posts from a timeline that included the COVID-19 pandemic. It may be the case that in circumstances outside of a pandemic, we would see different types of posts and engagement behaviors. Ideally, a longitudinal study of social media content could provide more insight as to how student newspapers employ relational maintenance behaviors on social media in ordinary circumstances.

Conclusion

Overall, our findings suggest that that student newspapers employ the five relational maintenance strategies in their posts. The emphasis on employing these strategies, however, should not be on maintaining the audience-newspaper relationship. Instead, these strategies should be employed in effort to strengthen the audience-university community relationship by means of posting content that is timely and features prominent and proximal figures.


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Emily A. Dolan, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Strategic Communication & Media at Slippery Rock University. She teaches and researches in the areas of persuasion, interpersonal communication, and digital and social media. Her research is centered on message processing with an emphasis on the effects of digital and social media on emotion regulation processes.

 

Brittany L. Fleming, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Strategic Communication & Media at Slippery Rock University. She teaches digital media and broadcast production courses and advisees two award-winning student media organizations, The Rocket and WSRU-TV. Her research focuses on best practices in student media and media convergence. Fleming is a CMA certified college media adviser and is on the Executive Council for the Society for Collegiate Journalists.

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