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«Dialogic Connections: An Analysis of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC’s Use of Facebook and Twitter Madeleine Shaw The George Washington University ...»

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Dialogic Connections: An Analysis of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC’s Use of Facebook and


Madeleine Shaw

The George Washington University



The recent development of social media websites makes it much easier for organizations to

interact with the community they are trying to reach. Research has been done regarding the most

effective types of social media for this task, as well as how those websites can be used best to benefit the organization. This essay analyzes the Facebook posts and tweets of Groundwork Anacostia River, DC (GWARDC) and uses frameworks laid out by Lovejoy and Saxton to determine whether or not GWARDC is creating dialogic connections with their audience. To do this, the Lovejoy and Saxton framework, originally designed to analyze tweets made by organizations, is applied to Facebook posts. I analyze Groundwork’s use of Facebook and Twitter and determine that they are on the right track to forming dialogic connections with their audience, however their practices still need to be refined for dialogic connections to occur.


Introduction The presence of social media in the nonprofit communication sphere has increased dramatically over the past decade. The development of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has made it easier to communicate a large amount of information to lots of people within a short period of time. As these new platforms gain popularity among the masses, the use of conventional websites is being questioned.

Companies and organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, utilize websites extensively to communicate with their audience. For nonprofits, which will be focus of this essay, the three groups that compose their audience are volunteers, donors, and other organizations similar to them. Websites act as a hub of information for an organization, allowing them to create a central location from which their audience can learn more about their practices and ideas. With the emergence of social media in the last couple of decades, nonprofits are moving towards using sites such as Facebook and Twitter to connect with individuals.

While most nonprofits utilize social media in some way, there are still the questions of which of these sites they should use and, furthermore, how they can best use those sites. Are there more efficient ways to use Twitter and Facebook than not? Should organizations operate these accounts based on frameworks laid out by scholars?

In order to attempt to answer these questions, I will study the social media habits of an environmental nonprofit organization called Groundwork Anacostia River, DC (GWARDC).

This is a small organization based in Anacostia, DC, which focuses on environmental education and recreation for high school students. They rely mostly on their website to relay information to their audience. However, more recently Groundwork has been utilizing their Facebook and Twitter pages to communicate more with their desired audience. Whether or not they are using these pages effectively, however, is not entirely clear.

Overview of Social Media Nonprofits have used websites to communicate information to their audience since the creation of the Internet itself. However, as the world rapidly approaches a time in which the Internet is no longer seen as revolutionary, there is a question developing regarding the relevance of websites.

The generation born after Generation X, also known as the Millennial Generation, has not known a world in which the Internet does not exist. When the Internet first went public it was such a different concept than anyone had ever imagined. One of the biggest fundamental differences between Generation X and the Millennials is that the Internet did not exist for all of Generation X’s lifespan. The Millennials, on the other hand, have been using the Internet for their entire lives as they have grown up. Many teenagers and children these days are much more technologically savvy than their Generation X parents because they have used the Internet all their life.

In the past two decades, social media has become a ‘fact of life for civil society worldwide” as more people and organizations use it as a communication tool1. As the proportion of the world population that has grown up with the Internet increases, the need for innovative technology increases with it. People who have used the Internet for their entire lives are no longer intrigued by websites or social media platforms. It takes much more creativity and innovation to impress the Millennials, especially because they have grown up in a technological 1Clay Shirky, “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change,” Foreign Affairs, (2011): 1.


world that is constantly being renovated. In order to counter this insensitivity, new social media sites are being created regularly. Pre-existing sites are also being updated so that user interest does not deteriorate.

While they are technologically more knowledgeable, the Millennial generation is also lazier than previous generations. They have become accustomed to having the world at their fingertips through the development of laptops and smart phones. For many of these individuals, the information must be practically placed in front of them in order for them to absorb it. They are, generally speaking, less driven to acquire new information unless it is very easily accessible.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, compact information into one place where a user can quickly learn about an organization. Due to the constant revitalization of social media platforms, other types of websites are beginning to fall behind. Social media platforms make it easier for organizations to compile their most crucial information in one space, such as a Facebook page or Twitter bio. It is extremely easy to go onto Facebook or Twitter and type in the name of an organization, pull up their page, and scroll through the most recent posts.

Through this process individuals can obtain large amounts of information about an organization very quickly. If the organization has attached a link to their website through the social media site, the individual may then visit the website.

Along with the aforementioned differences between social media platforms and other websites, the difference most relevant to this particular analysis is that SM platforms create a space in which dialogic connections can occur. They allow for interaction between members of a community in an organized and monitored fashion.

The Importance of Dialogic Connections A topic that has become increasingly prevalent in the literature surrounding social media and nonprofit organizations is the importance of dialogue, specifically the formation of dialogic connections between organizations and their audiences. Dialogue can occur in various social media sites in a number of different ways, depending on the features of the site. With Twitter, users have the option of retweeting, hashtagging, or replying to a public tweet to connect with other tweeters. Facebook allows users to like, share, or comment on the posts made by other organizations or people.

Dialogic communication can be defined as “a process of two-way, open, and negotiated discussion, where participants are able to exchange ideas and opinions freely, acknowledging the value of each other.” 2 Possibly the most important portion of dialogic connections is that they must be two-way. In order for interaction to be an actual dialogue between two or more parties, there must be input from either side to the conversation. If there is not input from both parties, what results is the dissemination of information from one group to another. While this type of information exchange is necessary in order for organizations to make themselves known to their audience, it does not constitute dialogic connection.

Dialogic connections between organizations and their audiences are crucial to their evolution as an organization within an increasingly social media-oriented world. With this essay, I will attempt to determine whether or not GWARDC is using Facebook and Twitter to foster dialogic communication between itself and its audience.

2Daejoong Kim, Heasun Chun, Youngsun Kwak & Yoonjae Nam, “The Employment of Dialogic Principles in Website, Facebook, and Twitter Platforms of Environmental Nonprofit Organizations,” Social Science Computer Review, no. 32 (2014): 591.


Information, Community and Action Framework In order to review and analyze GWARDC’s use of Facebook and Twitter, a framework will be necessary to make sure that the analysis is done in a fair and un-biased manner. To do this I will use the framework Lovejoy and Saxton presented in 2012 for viewing and analyzing the Twitter habits of nonprofit organizations3. Lovejoy and Saxton are both researchers at the University at Buffalo, SUNY in the Department of Communication. Their research focuses on social media and nonprofit organizations specifically. The framework they laid out is in relation to the types of tweets sent out by organizations, and subsequently the type of dialogic interactions those tweets then promote.

Most organizations send out tweets that can be categorized as “informational.” 4 These tweets contain information about “the organization’s activities, highlights from events, or any other news, facts, reports, or information relevant to an organization’s stakeholders.” 4 These tweets do not foster much of a dialogue between the audience and the organization itself; instead, they function mainly as a “one-way information exchange.” 5 Lovejoy and Saxton then go on to discuss the next level of tweets an organization can send out which are “community” tweets4. These are tweets made by an organization to facilitate “the creation of an online community with its followers.” 5 This group consists of tweets that are made in order to encourage direct dialogue between the two parties, and those whose purpose is to “[strengthen] ties to the online community” without necessarily involving an explicit interaction6.

Finally, “action” tweets consist of messages intended to spark mobilization among the organization’s followers5. These tweets involve “promotional” uses of messages in which users are seen as “a resource that can be mobilized” to help the organization with the work they need to do7. Tweets falling into the action-based category promote involvement with the organization that occurs outside the realm of social media.

Although it seems that organizations should be very focused on creating a dialogic connection between themselves and their audience, the majority of the organizations analyzed in this study fell into the “information” category4. This may be because this is the easiest type, of the three types listed here, of tweet to send out. Information-based tweets are very onedimensional and do not require a follow-up by the community organization. Groups can send out tweets as they wish to and do not have an obligation to interact with the community. However, this does not help the organization to foster relationships with their audience members. The case is the same for the “community” and “action” based tweets. When used singularly the individual paradigms are not strong enough to adequately communicate all that an organization wishes to.

3 Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012) 4 Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012): 341.

5 Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012): 343.

6 Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012): 344.

7 Kristen Lovejoy & Gregory D. Saxton, “Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, no. 17 (2012): 345.


Using Twitter in a solely information, community, or action-based way is not the most efficient way to utilize the resource. Lovejoy and Saxton argue that the paradigms should be used hierarchically instead of individually3. In their study, they discuss that when used orderly and precisely these types of tweets can work together to the organization’s advantage. First, the organization should use tweets categorized as “informational” in order to make them better known within the Twitter sphere. Once they have established themselves, the organization moves to community-based tweets. These help foster involvement and begin to connect the organization to their audience. Finally, the organization should employ tweets that promote “action” among the community they are targeting. By this time, the audience that has been following the Twitter behavior of the organization will be invested and willing to act for the benefit of the organization.

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