ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

How are nonprofit organizations utilizing social media to engage in advocacy work? We address this question by investigating the social media use of 188 501(c)(3) advocacy organizations. After briefly examining the types of social media technologies employed, we turn to an in-depth examination of the organizations’ use of Twitter. This in-depth message-level analysis is twofold: a content analysis that examines the prevalence of previously identified communicative and advocacy constructs in nonprofits’ social media messages; and an inductive analysis that explores the unique features and dynamics of social media-based advocacy and identifies new organizational practices and forms of communication heretofore unseen in the literature.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly
2014, Vol. 43(1) 57 –79
© The Author(s) 2012
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0899764012471585
fit and Voluntary Sector QuarterlyGuo and Saxton
1School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA
2Department of Communication, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Buffalo, NY, USA
Corresponding Author:
Chao Guo, School of Social Policy & Practice, University of Pennsylvania, 3701 Locust Walk, Philadelphia,
PA 19104, USA.
Tweeting Social Change:
How Social Media Are
Changing Nonprofit
Chao Guo1 and Gregory D. Saxton2
How are nonprofit organizations utilizing social media to engage in advocacy
work? We address this question by investigating the social media use of 188
501(c)(3) advocacy organizations. After briefly examining the types of social media
technologies employed, we turn to an in-depth examination of the organizations’
use of Twitter. This in-depth message-level analysis is twofold: A content analysis
that examines the prevalence of previously identified communicative and advocacy
constructs in nonprofits’ social media messages; and an inductive analysis that
explores the unique features and dynamics of social media-based advocacy and
identifies new organizational practices and forms of communication heretofore
unseen in the literature.
nonprofit advocacy, social media, Twitter, Facebook, new media, Internet, organiza-
tional communication, public relations
In March 2012, Invisible Children, a San Diego-based nonprofit advocacy organiza-
tion dedicated to bringing awareness to the activities of indicted Ugandan war crimi-
nal Joseph Kony, started an Internet video campaign called “Kony 2012.” The goal
58 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
was to make Kony internationally known in order that he be arrested by year’s end.
Within three days, the “Kony 2012” video quickly became one of the greatest viral
successes in the short history of social media, drawing millions of viewers on
YouTube. Within three weeks, it spurred action on Capitol Hill: Over a third of U.S.
senators introduced a bipartisan resolution condemning Kony and his troops for
“unconscionable crimes against humanity” (Wong, 2012).
Invisible Children’s video campaign offers a vivid example of how the Internet has
engendered new possibilities for advocacy organizations to engage stakeholders and
influence public policy (e.g., McNutt & Boland, 1999; Saxton, Guo, & Brown, 2007).
Such is especially the case for social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, tech-
nologies whose interactivity, decentralized structure, and formal networking ties boost
nonprofits’ capacity for strategic stakeholder communications (e.g., Lovejoy &
Saxton, 2012; Waters & Jamal, 2011). For advocacy nonprofits in particular, social
media sites provide a way to expand advocacy efforts by reaching new networks of
community actors and by mobilizing those networks to take action.
An emerging body of literature has explored advocacy organizations’ employment
of social media (Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Edwards & Hoefer, 2010; Greenberg &
MacAulay, 2009). However, most of these studies only examine the prevalence of
social media, or whether advocacy organizations use social media; they barely touch
on how they use them, and when they do, have merely looked at static profile informa-
tion. There is a striking need for research on how organizations are using the core
dynamic feature of social media sites—the frequent brief messages, or “status updates,”
the organization sends to its network of followers.
This article represents a focused effort in this direction. Our research question is
straightforward: How are nonprofit organizations using social media to engage in advo-
cacy work? To answer this question, we investigate the social media use of 188 501(c)
(3) advocacy organizations. We focus on two levels of analysis: Organization and mes-
sage. At the organizational level, we examine the types of social media technologies
employed and the use of the different communication tools available on Twitter. We then
conduct the first study of advocacy organizations’ social media messages. This message-
level analysis is twofold: A quantitative content analysis that examines the prevalence of
previously identified communicative and advocacy constructs in nonprofits’ use of
social media; and a qualitative inductive analysis that explores the unique features of
social media-based advocacy and identifies organizational practices previously unseen
in the literature. Drawing on insights from these analyses, we then present a “pyramid”
model of social media-based advocacy that entails a three-stage process: Reaching out to
people, keeping the flame alive, and stepping up to action. Beyond these theoretical
contributions, this study represents a much-needed investigation into the social media
use of nonprofit advocacy organizations. Our data shed new light on how social media
help organizations engage in advocacy work.
The rest of the article is organized as follows: We begin with a review of prior
research on nonprofit advocacy and emerging organizational uses of social media for
advocacy work. We then discuss data and methods. The fourth section presents our
Guo and Saxton 59
analyses and a discussion of our findings. We conclude with a discussion of the study’s
theoretical and practical implications.
Review of Prior Research
A central theoretical task of the article is to establish a framework through which to
study how advocacy organizations are using social media to effect policy change.
Given that Twitter and Facebook are primarily communication networks, and that the
organizations studied are doing advocacy work, we bring together two important
strains of research: Advocacy strategies and tactics from the nonprofit literature, and
social media-based forms of advocacy communication from the communication and
public relations literatures.
Nonprofit Advocacy Strategies and Tactics
Advocacy is a core nonprofit function that is attracting growing scholarly interest
(e.g., Child & Gronbjerg, 2007; LeRoux & Goerdel, 2009; Schmid, Bar, & Nirel,
2008; Suárez & Hwang, 2008). Through advocacy activities, nonprofit organizations
contribute to democratic governance by representing the interests of citizens and pro-
moting changes in public policy. The advocacy function is crucial not only to organi-
zations that engage primarily in external representational activities, but also service
providers and other charitable organizations. For most nonprofits, advocacy activities
represent an additional path for helping achieve the organizational mission and
improving the lives of their constituents (Guo, 2007; O’Connell 1994).
On social media as in the offline environment, an organization’s advocacy efforts
are revealed in the tactics it employs to implement its advocacy strategies. Berry
(1977) made an early distinction between advocacy strategies, or the more general,
long-range approaches to influencing public policy; and advocacy tactics, or the spe-
cific actions taken to execute a particular strategy. Berry (1977) identified four advo-
cacy strategies: Litigation, embarrassment and confrontation, information, and
constituency influence and pressure.
Scholars have since devised a variety of ways of broadly categorizing advocacy
strategies: Gais and Walker (1991) characterized inside and outside strategies; Gormley
and Cymrot (2006) theorized insider vs. outsider strategies; while Mosley (2011) con-
ceptualized insider and indirect strategies. Though these studies differ in preferred ter-
minology, they share a concern with distinguishing working “inside the system” (e.g.,
legislative lobbying, legislative testimony) from working “outside the system” (e.g.,
public education campaigns, mass media overtures, and protests and demonstrations).
Collectively, this literature has also identified a comprehensive list of tactics non-
profit organizations use to execute their chosen strategies. Drawing upon existing
typologies (e.g., Avner, 2002; Reid, 1999), Guo and Saxton (2010) identified eleven
advocacy tactics: Research, media advocacy, direct lobbying, grassroots lobbying,
public events and direct action, judicial advocacy, public education, coalition building,
60 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
administrative lobbying, voter registration and education, and expert testimony.
Although they did not explicitly relate these advocacy tactics to broader strategies, one
can reasonably infer that direct lobbying, judicial advocacy, administrative advocacy,
and expert testimony fall under the umbrella of the “insider” strategy, whereas the
other tactics fall under the “indirect” strategy.
In short, prior literature points to the importance of advocacy for nonprofit organi-
zations and has identified the broad strategies and specific tactical forms these organi-
zations employ offline to reach their public policy goals. We can use these insights to
examine whether and how these tactics and strategies are utilized in the social media
The Use of Social Media for Nonprofit Advocacy
Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites have introduced
new convening platforms for organizations to facilitate relationship building and
stakeholder engagement. Social media are claimed to help organizations engage pres-
ent and potential stakeholders by sharing, cooperating, and mobilizing joint actions in
near-real time (Golbeck, Grimes, & Rogers, 2010; Greenberg & MacAulay, 2009).
Social media’s interactive, decentralized environment offers a low-cost way for orga-
nizations to mobilize supporters, foster dialogic interactions with large audiences, and
attract attention to issues that might otherwise be ignored by traditional media
(Bortree & Seltzer, 2009; Lovejoy, Waters, & Saxton, 2012).
Recent studies have begun to explore advocacy organizations’ social media use.
Bortree and Seltzer (2009) investigated the Facebook profiles of 50 environmental advo-
cacy groups. Greenberg and MacAulay (2009) analyzed 43 Canadian environmental
organizations’ use of websites along with social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and
blogs. Although nonprofit organizations have begun to adopt social media to enhance
their communication, organization, and fundraising strategies, both studies indicated
that advocacy organizations failed to fully utilize the affordances of social media.
While the above research has focused on whether organizations use social media, a
number of recent studies have begun to examine how and why they use it. Petray
(2011) found that Aboriginal activists in Australia are using listervs, blogs, e-petitions,
and social networking sites to further their cause and bring awareness of their struggle
to a wider audience. Meanwhile, in a study of 53 advocacy groups in the United States,
Obar, Zube, and Lampe (2012) found most were using social media on a daily basis to
facilitate civic engagement and collective action. When seen together with evidence
from the political science literature (e.g., Ammann, 2010), social media appears to be
an increasingly relevant tool for political and advocacy campaigns.
Notwithstanding their important contribution, existing studies on advocacy organi-
zations’ social media use focus almost exclusively on either the adoption or basic
organizational uses of social media. Scholars have yet to examine the messages sent
by advocacy organizations on social media, despite the fact that messages, in the form
Guo and Saxton 61
of “statuses” and “updates,” are the chief dynamic feature of social media sites such as
Twitter and Facebook. As a result, we know little about the actual information content
of advocacy organizations’ social media presence. Message-level analyses are needed
to better understand the role of social media in advocacy work.
Communication scholars have made important inroads into such message-level
analysis (Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012; Rybalko & Seltzer, 2010; Waters & Jamal, 2011)
and thus provide helpful frameworks for understanding nonprofit advocacy work on
social media. Most relevant for understanding advocacy is recent work by Lovejoy and
Saxton (2012), who identified three key communicative functions in the tweets sent by
the 100 largest nonprofit organizations in the United States—information, community,
and action. The “information” function covers tweets containing information about the
organization’s activities, highlights from events, or other news, facts, reports or infor-
mation relevant to an organization’s stakeholders. The “community” function covers
tweets that serve to interact, share, and converse with stakeholders in a way that ulti-
mately facilitates the creation of an online community. The “action” function covers
tweets that aim to get followers to “do something” for the organization—anything from
donating money or buying T-shirts to attending events and engaging in advocacy
In sum, this review of existing research indicates an accumulating body of knowl-
edge is available that can improve our understanding of nonprofit advocacy strategies
and tactics in offline settings, but that we lack useful frameworks and typologies for
examining advocacy in the social media environment. The review also suggests much
can be learned from the communication literature about developing such a framework.
By combining insights from the communication literature with those from the non-
profit advocacy literature, we have a base from which to analyze how advocacy non-
profits utilize social media to effect social change.
Our sample comprises the 188 “Civil Rights and Advocacy” organizations rated in
2011 by Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit organization that evaluates the
financial health of American charities. To be evaluated, an organization must be a
501(c)(3) charitable organization, have available at least four consecutive years of
IRS Form 990, and receive public support greater than US$500,000 and total revenue
more than US$1,000,000. The average organization in our sample had US$8.65 mil-
lion in total revenues and US$8.80 million in total expenses in the most recently
completed fiscal year. They cover a range of sizes and advocacy issue areas, includ-
ing health, education, civil rights, the environment, and others (a web appendix at lists each organization’s name, location, size, industry, and social
media profile).
62 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
Data Collection
We gathered two sets of data. First, we determined each organization’s adoption of
popular social media tools through a review of its website supplemented by queries
on the Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn search interfaces. Second,
we gathered detailed Twitter data. Twitter has an open application programming inter-
face (API), and is arguably the world’s premier message network (Lovejoy & Saxton,
2012). Twitter is well suited to advocacy work, and broadly serves as a proxy for
organizations’ overall social media use.
Python code was written (available upon request) to access the Twitter API and
download all Twitter activity for the organizations over the month of April, 2012. A
month-long period was chosen to give sufficient time for each organization to send
multiple types of messages, and is in line with prior social media research (e.g.,
Lovejoy et al., 2012).1
Analysis Plan
We employ both organizational-level and message-level analyses. First, at the organi-
zational level, we will look at the organizations’ adoption rates for major social media
platforms, along with the frequency with which they use the various communicative
tools available on Twitter. The heart of our analysis, however, is on the core techno-
logical feature of Twitter—the messages the organizations send in support of advo-
cacy work. For these message-level analyses a random sample of 750 messages
(tweets) sent during April 2012 was selected, and we employ a mix of quantitative
content analysis and qualitative inductive analysis of these data. The reason is simple:
We seek to, on the one hand, explore how advocacy- and communication-related
concepts and practices identified in the existing literature are manifested in organiza-
tions’ uses of social media; and, on the other hand, to capture practices that are unique
to social media and have thus not yet appeared in the extant literature.
Accordingly, our analysis of the data possesses a bifurcated strategy: We first
employ quantitative content analyses—using the categories of social media-based
forms of communication and categories of advocacy tactics identified in the existing
literature—and then qualitative inductive analyses to identify categories of communi-
cative and advocacy practices that are newly emergent in nonprofits’ social media use
and thus not previously identified. This approach is in line with the methodological
literature, which sees content analysis (Krippendorf, 2004) as more appropriate for
positivistic evaluations of frequency distributions, and so forth, and qualitative induc-
tive analyses (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) as more appropriate
for grounded theory building.
In short, we take a content analysis approach to studying previously identified con-
structs, and an inductive grounded–theory approach to finding new categories of advo-
cacy practices. When combined, these analyses will help us to compare social
media-based advocacy to existing theory and other forms of advocacy, as well as to
Guo and Saxton 63
find new forms of action and new theoretical constructs that can inform future research
on nonprofits’ advocacy efforts.
Before turning to in-depth analyses of nonprofits’ social media messages, we report
findings from organizational-level analyses that tap nonprofits’ adoption of social
media and basic employment of technological tools on Twitter.
Organizations’ Adoption and Use of Social Media Tools
Social Media Applications Adopted. We first examine the organizations’ adoption
of social media. Table 1 shows the number and proportion of organizations that use the
major social media platforms. Over 93% of the organizations (n = 175) in our sample
are using social media in some capacity. Facebook is the most popular, being used by
nearly 87% (n = 163) of the organizations. Twitter is a close contender, being used by
almost 80% (n = 150). Slightly less than 72% use YouTube. About 42% utilize other
social media platforms such as Google+ and LinkedIn.
Organizations’ Use of Twitter Communication Tools. More important than
whether organizations use social media is how they use it. Similar to other social
media sites, organizations on Twitter have use of two dynamic tools: connections and
messages. First, connections are made through “friending” behavior. This involves the
formal, typically reciprocal connection between two users. As noted in Table 2, the
average organization in our sample had 2,465 friends at the end of April, 2012, with a
range from 0 to 83,559 (this is slightly below the 3,459 average friends of the large
nonprofits on the NPTimes 100 list studied by Lovejoy et al., 2012). Such connections
are potentially important. Not only can they facilitate coalition-building, but they send
a signal to the user community that the organization is interested in what that com-
munity has to say, given that these formal relationships facilitate the two-way flow of
communication—the organization’s followers automatically see what the organization
is saying, and the organization automatically sees what its online community is talking
about it. Highly engaged organizations can thus use these connections to “keep a
Table 1. Social Media Use—188 Advocacy Organizations, April 2012.
Social media platform Total Proportion of all organizations (%)
Twitter 150 79.79
Facebook 163 86.70
YouTube 135 71.81
Other (Google+, LinkedIn, etc.) 79 42.02
Any social media tool 175 93.09
64 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
finger on the pulse of the community” while ensuring their own messages reached the
broadest community possible. Needless to say, an organization with 0 friends will find
it difficult to have a successful “call to action” in the online environment.
The second, and most important, technological feature of Twitter is the ability
to send short messages, or tweets, or 140 characters or fewer. The 150 organiza-
tions in our sample with Twitter accounts sent a total of 15,482 tweets during the
month of April. As shown in Table 2, on average, an organization sent about 103
tweets during the 4-week period, nearly 3.5 tweets per day. Compared to 2.3
tweets/day sent out by NPTimes 100 organizations (Lovejoy et al., 2012), these
advocacy organizations are heavier tweeters. Yet there is much variation: some
organizations sent as many as 1,000 tweets, while seven of them did not send a
single one.
There is also substantial variation in the use of five remaining technological
tools available to organizations in their tweets: Direct messages, retweets, hyper-
links, hashtags, and user mentions. First, the direct message (also known as an @
reply), characterized as any message that starts with “@[username]”, represents a
form of “public email” directed at the indicated user. Sending a direct message
demonstrates responsiveness and establishes a dialogue between users and the
organization. Users direct questions and comments to the organization using a pub-
lic message, and organizations can acknowledge and respond to these messages.
We found 6.35% of all tweets were direct messages, well below the 16% by non-
profits on the NPTimes 100 list (Lovejoy et al., 2012) or the 12% and 22% propor-
tions sent by the individuals studied by Java, Finin, Song, and Tseng (2007) and
Hughes and Palen (2009), respectively. As shown in Table 2, the average organiza-
tion sent 6.55 direct messages over the month, just over one every 5 days.
Table 2. Descriptive Statistics, Organizations’ Use of Twitter Communication Tools, April
Variable Observations Mean
deviation Minimum Maximum
Relationship tools
Number of friends 150 2,465.39 8,099.59 0 83,559
Communication tools
Total number of tweets 150 103.21 128.87 0 1,000
Number of direct messages 150 6.55 10.43 0 53
Number of retweets 150 23.11 41.68 0 329
Number of hyperlinks 150 77.41 97.74 0 567
Number of hashtags 150 108.51 189.67 0 1,354
Number of mentions 150 88.05 121.85 0 834
Number of tweets with 1
150 75.79 96.48 0 567
Number of tweets with 1 hashtag 150 62.44 100.22 0 773
Number of tweets with 1 mention 150 53.37 74.82 0 471
Guo and Saxton 65
A second special type of tweet is the retweet. Indicated by “RT,” the retweet func-
tion allows one user to repost a tweet from another user while acknowledging that user
by adding “RT@[username]” to the beginning of the message. We found 22.39% of
the tweets (n = 3,466) in our sample were retweets, with the average organization
sending 23.11 over the month of April. This is more than the 16.2% found by Lovejoy
et al. (2012) for NPTimes 100 organizations but less than the 28% found by Hughes
and Palen (2009) for individuals during natural emergencies. Retweets can serve a
variety of functions; most importantly, they are a means of disseminating information
generated elsewhere that an organization believes is important or relevant to its user
community (Lovejoy et al., 2012). They can also serve to make a connection to the
user mentioned in the retweet, insofar as there is an implicit acknowledgement that
what the original sender has said is valuable.
The three remaining tools—hyperlinks, hashtags, and user mentions—are available
within tweets and are not mutually exclusive. Hyperlinks were included in 73.43% of the
tweets (n = 11,368), with the average organization sending 75.79 tweets with a hyperlink
over the month. This is slightly higher than what was seen in large nonprofits (68%,
Lovejoy et al., 2012) and much higher than individuals’ use of hyperlinks (13% and
25%, respectively, for Java et al., 2007, and Hughes & Palen, 2009). Hyperlinks play a
key role on microblogging services such as Twitter: By including a (typically shortened)
external link, organizations can bypass the 140-character restriction and share longer
textual passages, as well as photos and videos, with their user community.
Hashtags are one of the most interesting innovations on Twitter. Represented by the
pound sign (#), hashtags denote that a message is relevant to a particular topic (often
an abstract concept), including political and social movements (#kony2012), confer-
ences (#arnova11), places (#Haiti), and knowledge bases (#womenshealth). This con-
vention allows for easier searching as well as aggregation of information on a particular
topic, which renders hashtags particularly important for advocacy organizations for
aggregating knowledge, for rapidly disseminating information during crises, and for
use as mobilizational tools during advocacy campaigns and social movements. We
found the average organization sent 62.44 tweets with at least one hashtag during
April; this represents 60.50% of all tweets sent, much higher than the 30% of tweets
seen in Lovejoy et al. (2012).
The last tool is the user mention, represented by the “@” symbol anywhere in the
tweet except at the very beginning. Such messages indicate the sender is “talking
about” another user, and are thus useful ways of acknowledging or making connec-
tions to other Twitter users. We found 51.71% of the tweets (n = 8,006) contained at
least one user mention, and the average nonprofit sent 53.37 such messages over the
course of the month.
Message-Level Analyses
We now have a sense of the frequency with which advocacy organizations are
employing various social media tools. To better understand the nature of this use,
66 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
however, we now turn to in-depth examinations of the key tool available on social
media—the messages. As noted earlier, we conduct both quantitative content analyses
and qualitative inductive analyses of 750 randomly selected messages.
Quantitative Content Analyses. In line with our review of the literatures on social
media-based organizational communication and nonprofit advocacy, our quantitative
content analyses involved coding each message along two critical dimensions: its broad
form, or function, of communication, and the presence of specific advocacy tactics.
Form of communication: Information, community, and action. To determine the preva-
lence of previously identified forms of communication, each of the 750 randomly
chosen tweets was assigned a single code from the information-community-action
scheme (Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012) described earlier. In cases where a tweet appeared
to serve dual purposes, codes were assigned according to what was considered the
tweet’s primary purpose. Discrepancies between codings were discussed and coding
rules refined until 100% agreement was reached on the first 100 messages. Using the
refined rules, another 100 tweets were coded with 93.0% intercoder agreement and a
Cohen’s kappa score of .83, indicating a high level of intercoder reliability. Table 3
shows the number and frequency of the messages in each category along with an
example of each. Over two thirds of the tweets (n = 515) fall into the “information”
category, nearly 20% (n = 148) fall into the “community” category, and slightly under
12% (n = 87) fall into the “action” category.
“Offline” advocacy tactics in Twitter messages: 11 categories of advocacy action. We
then coded each message for the presence of 11 advocacy tactics broadly identified in
the nonprofit literature and described in detail in Guo and Saxton (2010). Similar to
the above coding of communicative forms, to code the 11 advocacy tactics the two
coauthors looked at a series of off-sample tweets to develop a provisional set of coding
rules. These rules were used to code the first 100 of the 750 randomly sampled tweets;
differences in codes were discussed and coding rules refined until 100% agreement
was reached on these 100 messages. Using the refined rules, another 100 tweets were
Table 3. Forms of Communication in 750 Randomly Chosen Tweets, April 2012.
Category Example Frequency (%)
Information chej: Concerned about phthalates and polyvinyl chloride
(PVC)? Check out our updated list of PVC-free resources
515 68.67
Community FAIRImmigration: @cspanwj it is a federal law to carry
registration papers so we do have that law all over the
country, Obama admin just not enforcing
148 19.73
Action FreedomWorks: Over 200,000 have signed the petition to end
87 11.60
Total 750 100
Guo and Saxton 67
coded with 93.0% intercoder agreement and a Cohen’s kappa score of .87, indicating
high intercoder reliability. Table 4 shows the number and frequency of messages asso-
ciated with each advocacy tactic along with an example of each.
Slightly over 52% (n = 391) of the tweets did not reflect any of the 11 advocacy
tactics identified in the existing literature. The rest of the tweets (n = 359) collectively
cover all 11 tactics save for “expert testimony.” Most of these advocacy-related tweets
(n = 303) embody the “public education” tactic. Next, but far behind, are “grassroots
lobbying,” “public events and direct action,” and “voter registration and education,”
being associated with 18, 15, and 10 tweets, respectively.
Summary and discussion of content analyses. In terms of communicative functions, to
a large extent, the advocacy organizations in our sample tend to put the greatest effort
into providing information to stakeholders, followed by building a community, and
then calling to action. In terms of advocacy tactics, the tweets sent by these organiza-
tions cover almost all the advocacy tactics identified in the existing literature, though
the focus is clearly on public education and a few other forms of indirect tactics.
Seen from a different angle, the former set of results relate to how organizations are
communicating, while the latter relate directly to the organization’s advocacy mission.
To further explore how these two dimensions coexist in advocacy organizations’ mes-
sages, Table 5 reports the cross-tabulation of the communicative functions and advo-
cacy tactics in the 750 messages.
The results in this table yield several interesting insights. First, we can consider
tweets without an advocacy tactic (the “None” row) as not being direct manifestations
of the core mission. In generalizable terms, we might label these support messages,
and explicitly advocacy-related messages as strategic. Seen in this light, if we exam-
ine the “Action” column, slightly over half (n = 49) of the action messages are support
messages that ask followers to do something non-advocacy related, such as attending
a performance or buying a t-shirt; the remainder (n = 38) are strategic, mission-focused
messages that ask followers to perform advocacy work. These latter messages form a
key, mission-driven cluster of messages—those designed to “call to action” the orga-
nization’s supporters using specific advocacy tactics. There also appears to be a strong
cluster of messages in the “Community” column with no advocacy tactic (n = 133).
This suggests organizations are separating their community-building tweets from their
advocacy work. Lastly, in the “Information” column the majority of messages are
either support messages (n = 209) or strategic messages designed to fill a public educa-
tion role (n = 287). In fact, informational messages appear to be key to the “public
education” approach and, it appears, to advocacy organizations’ Twitter work over-
all—with 38.3% of the tweets being informational public education messages.
In sum, this two-dimensional view of social media-based advocacy communication
provides a useful framework for organizing the results of our quantitative content
analyses. In terms of communicative functions, informational messages outnumbered
community messages, which in turn dwarfed action messages. In terms of the rele-
vance to core mission, a slight majority of tweets were support messages in that they
68 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
Table 4. Advocacy Tactics present in 750 Random Tweets, April 2012.
Advocacy tactic Example Frequency (%)
Public education CCHR: Psychiatrist and former DSM chairman
Allen Frances admits: There are no objective
tests in psychiatry
303 40.4
Grassroots lobbying FreedomWorks: Over 200,000 have signed the
petition to end #Obamacare.
18 2.4
Public events &
direct action
GoAffirmations: Join us in Lansing tomorrow at
10:30-we’re announcing 50+ electeds’ support
for our work!
15 2
Voter registration &
MaketheRoadNY: Great work everybody! MT @
LICivicEngage Tks for pledging to reg. voters this
year! @naacp_ldf, #local1102, @32bj_seiu, #liia,
10 1.33
Research OpenSecretsDC: Funders behind anti-Obama
energy ads remain hidden: @NewYorker cites
our data in a post
3 0.4
Multiple advocacy
NCJW: Check out
3 0.4
Judicial advocacy InstituteForJustice: Fan of gov’t-imposed
monopolies? We aren’t and we were in court
yesterday fighting to stop one in Washington
2 0.27
Coalition building southerncenter: Thrilled to be part of the coalition!
RT @bartoncenter Small Victories For Juvenile
Justice Thanks, @
2 0.27
Media advocacy MaketheRoadNY: On Tues tenants will lead press
tour showing how Brooklyn Housing Court is
overcrowded/inadequate. Advisory:
1 0.13
americansunited: Catholic shrine declines $750
“tourism” grant from NY county thanks to a
complaint from Americans United.
1 0.13
Direct lobbying WithoutViolence: Thank-you to Senator Crapo
for your overall leadership on the #realVAWA
#reauthorizeVAWA #VAWA
1 0.13
Expert testimony None 0 0
No advocacy tactic FreedomWorks: “The Constitution is certain and
fixed; it contains the permanent will of the
people, and is the supreme law of the land”—
William Paterson
391 52.13
Total 750 100
Guo and Saxton 69
did not serve a primarily advocacy-related function. Among the advocacy-related, or
strategic, messages, in turn, most implemented a public education tactic. Collectively,
these findings suggest the advocacy organizations in our sample used Twitter mainly
for information dissemination and public education purposes.
Qualitative Inductive Analyses. The goal of the preceding analysis was to identify
the prevalence of previously identified communicative and advocacy constructs in
nonprofits’ social media messages. In this section our task is distinct: To explore the
unique features and dynamics of social media-based advocacy, and to identify new
organizational practices and forms of communication heretofore unseen in the litera-
ture. Accordingly, the method is also distinct. Instead of a more positivist, quantitative
content analysis, our approach is to employ a qualitative methodology to inductively
develop theoretical insights.
In particular, following qualitative methodological tenets outlined by Miles and
Huberman (1984) and Strauss and Corbin (1998), we analyze the data inductively to
identify theoretical constructs and conceptual categories that are unique to the social
media environment. Specifically, our coding relied on the constant comparative
method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), whereby newly coded messages are compared to
those previously coded to ensure that the validity and integrity of emergent constructs
holds. When differences in coauthors’ codings were discovered, they were resolved
through discussion until consensus was achieved.
Coding thus involved an iterative, multistage process of cycling back and forth
among data, existing literature, and emergent theoretical constructs (Eisenhardt, 1989;
Miles & Huberman, 1984). Analysis of these 750 randomly selected tweets,
Table 5. Cross-Tabulation of Communicative Form and Advocacy Tactic.
Form of communication
Information Community Action Total
Advocacy tactic
Public events & direct action
Public education
Grassroots lobbying
Voter registration & education
Judicial advocacy
Media advocacy
Administrative lobbying
Direct lobbying
Multiple advocacy tactics
70 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
representing messages from 121 diverse advocacy organizations, helped us reach the
point of theoretical saturation (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), insofar as the analysis of addi-
tional messages would not be likely to yield significant additional theoretical insights.
These inductive analyses led us to identify a series of new types of social media-
based advocacy work, which we grouped into three broader categories that form the
basis for an original “pyramid” model of social media-based advocacy. This hierarchi-
cal model entails a three-stage process: (1) reaching out to people; (2) keeping the
flame alive; and (3) stepping up to action. The organization first reaches out and brings
awareness of the organization’s cause to current and potential supporters. Once a con-
stituency is built, the next step is to sustain the constituency and keep alive the flame
of passion among supporters. When the timing is right, the final step is to mobilize the
supporters to act. The hierarchy implicit in the model reflects how each successive
layer of the model is built on the one below. Given the greater number of messages at
the earlier than later stages, the three elements of social media-based advocacy can be
depicted as a pyramid (Figure 1).
Though the three components represent “stages,” all three can happen
simultaneously—the stage is conceived with respect to the organization’s relation-
ship with a specific group of constituents at any given point in time. In the fluid social
media environment, an organization must always be seeking to reach out to new audi-
ences (Stage 1), deepen that audience’s knowledge and sustain its interest (Stage 2),
and then motivate it to act (Stage 3). In other words, the organization is always culti-
vating and organizing new supporters. In effect, it is a model of mobilization–driven
Figure 1. A pyramid model of social media-based advocacy.
Guo and Saxton 71
relationship-building—how organizations can generate and mobilize network sup-
port through communicative relationship-building strategies.
Stage 1: Reaching Out to People
At this stage, tweets are largely informational and the advocacy tactic they serve to
implement is predominantly public education. As such, advocacy at this stage is essen-
tially a communicative practice—what might be termed “message-based advocacy”—
that involves making new connections and getting the word out through the continual
sending of brief messages to the organization’s followers. We find evidence of several
innovative forms of communication in nonprofits’ use of Twitter.
Hashtags are a helpful tool for implementing the public education tactic at this
stage: When used in a communicative, informational role, hashtags serve as “book-
marks” under which vast, user-generated bodies of knowledge can accumulate.
Hashtags thus facilitate information dissemination by categorizing messages around
specific topics; organizations can use hashtags to find tweets on the same topic or help
others find their tweets. Hashtags also help to decentralize public education: With
information flowing through networks of users connected by formal ties as well as
informal hashtag networks, new possibilities for educating the public emerge.
One of the most interesting practices seen on Twitter is what might be called “celeb-
rity poking” or “celebrity fishing.” Celebrities have tremendous “network” powers, in
the sense that their tweets almost immediately reach an audience of hundreds of thou-
sands, even millions, of followers. If a nonprofit can capture the attention of a celeb-
rity, the payoff in terms of geometrically increasing the diffusion of an organizational
message or call to action is enticing. The following tweets thus attempt to target celeb-
rities (a progressive news talk show host and Oprah Winfrey, respectively):
southerncenter: @RichFrenchLive Connecticut joins lawmakers across the
country who are reconsidering the death penalty - more states will surely follow!
PublicCounsel: @oprah in tribute video to Elie Wiesel: “you survived horror
without hating”
Stage 2: Keeping the Flame Alive
While the aim of the first stage is to make new connections, this second stage
involves deepening and building emergent ties. At this stage, information dissemination
is still important, but the number of community-oriented tweets increases. Advocacy at
this stage is mainly a relational practice. The focus of the organization is on deepening
and sustaining communities of interest and networks of supporters. There are effec-
tively two types of community-oriented tweets: Dialogue and community-building.
First, there are tweets that spark direct interactive conversations between organizations
and their publics. For example, see the following tweet:
72 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
GLSEN: What’s your favorite part of #DayOfSilence?
Second, there are those tweets whose primary purpose is to say something that
strengthens ties to the online community without involving an expectation of interac-
tive conversation. The following message offers a good example of this type of
community-oriented tweet:
MaketheRoadNewYork: Great work everybody! MT @LICivicEngage Tks for
pledging to reg. voters this year! @naacp_ldf, #local1102, @32bj_seiu, #liia,
Hashtags remain particularly helpful at this stage, not solely as a communicative
tool but as a community-building tool that helps organize communities of interest
around specific domains of action. With hashtags, an organization can easily discover
and connect with other Twitter users who are interested in the same cause or issue topic.
To give a sense of the range and frequency of topics featured in organizations’ hashtags,
Figure 2 shows a word cloud (generated at created from the 16,231 hashtags
included in the tweets sent by the 150 organizations over the month of April. The larger
the tag, the more frequently it appeared in this body of tweets. What this figure shows
is the prominence of issues related to immigration (#immigration), reproductive issues
(#prolife, #abortion, #womenshealth), and gay rights (#lgbt, #prop8).
Stage 3: Stepping Up to Action
Figure 2. Word cloud of 16,231 hashtags in tweets sent by 150 advocacy nonprofits, April
Guo and Saxton 73
Save for the public education and coalition-building tactics, the ultimate advocacy
goal involves mobilizing supporters. At this stage, advocacy is mainly a mobiliza-
tional practice, with the organizations’ tweets being used to facilitate public events,
direct action, and grassroots lobbying, though perhaps to a more limited extent than
might be expected. Tools such as hyperlinks and hashtags are frequently used in con-
junction with mobilizational messages at this stage. For instance, the following call-to-
action tweet from the National Council of La Raza, a large U.S. Latino civil rights and
advocacy organization, contains two hashtags:
NCLR: Today we are storming the Supreme Court to highlight the injustice of
#SB1070. Join us and demand #Justice4AZ
This tweet highlights two important points. The first is that a tweet can serve multiple
functions. While this tweet primarily serves a mobilizational purpose, and is thus
coded as a call-to-action message, there is a community-building facet to this message
that complements its primarily mobilizational intent. Specifically, the two hashtags
within this message serve to connect the tweet to the #SB1070 and #Justice4AZ com-
munities on Twitter. The first tag refers to Arizona Senate Bill 1070, considered by
many as a harsh anti-immigrant legislation. The inclusion of this hashtag in the mes-
sage helps in the aggregation of information from a diverse, decentralized body of
Twitter users related to this legislation. The second tag, #Justice4AZ, was initially
created to help spread information about a Supreme Court hearing related to SB1070
on April 25, 2012, but has since morphed into a “movement” hashtag.
At the same time, (to paraphrase the salesperson’s credo “always be selling”), an
organization cannot “always be mobilizing.” Too many “calls to action” might make
the organization’s follower base turn away. Thus, even though tweets that carry an
explicit call to action are proportionally small, they nevertheless comprise an impor-
tant piece in the advocacy organization’s strategic repertoire.
Discussion and Conclusions
This study makes several contributions to the existing literature. First, whereas most
prior studies focus almost exclusively on whether organizations utilize social media,
our study pays attention to how they utilize it. Our analysis suggests that Twitter is a
powerful communication tool—and an especially formidable tool for “public educa-
tion” approaches. It is less prevalent in its role as a mobilization tool, with the orga-
nizations’ tweets being used to facilitate public events, direct action, and grassroots
lobbying less frequently than might be expected.
Second, our study suggests a two-dimensional view of advocacy communication
on social media, where messages can meaningfully be examined in terms of the basic
form of communication and the direct relevance to the core advocacy mission. With
respect to communication forms, we found the majority of the tweets were aimed at
providing information to stakeholders, followed by building an online community, and
74 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
then calling that community to action. Along the mission-relevance dimension, we
found organizations were employing a mix of strategic and support messages on
Twitter, with support messages tending to predominate. Further research should seek
to further develop this two-dimensional framework and understand the interconnec-
tions between strategic and support messages in furthering an organization’s long-term
advocacy goals.
Third, our study facilitates theory building by proposing a three-stage pyramid
model of social media-based advocacy: reaching out to people, keeping the flame
alive, and stepping up to action. This pyramid model of mobilization–driven relation-
ship-building offers a framework for understanding the process through which non-
profit organizations utilize targeted stakeholder communication on social media to
effect social change. The model is descriptive rather than normative in nature, in that
it aims to describe how the function of social media actually varies with the stage of
the advocacy process, not how it should vary. At stage one, the organization’s priority
is to reach out and bring awareness of the cause to the public. The messages sent by
the organization are predominantly informational and serve to support the public edu-
cation tactic. At stage two, the organization’s priority switches to sustaining commu-
nities of interest and networks of supporters. The messages, in turn, focus more on
community building and direct interactive conversations between organizations and
their publics. At stage three, the organization’s priority becomes mobilization, which
the organization achieves through a smaller number of targeted “call to action”
The findings of our study also have important practical implications. One question
raised by our analysis regards the “advocacy mix” that organizations employ in seeking
to reach their public policy-related goals. In the social media environment, a handful of
tactics dominated. The “king” was public education—appearing in 40% of all tweets
sent. Only three other advocacy tactics—grassroots lobbying, public events and direct
action, and voter registration and education—appeared in more than 1% of all tweets.
All other categories of advocacy tactics (research, judicial advocacy, coalition building,
media advocacy, administrative lobbying, direct lobbying, expert testimony) were rare
or (in the case of expert testimony) not found in the organizations’ tweets. In effect,
social media advocacy is heavily indirect in terms of strategic orientation (Mosley,
2011); there is little evidence of insider strategies. This distinct mix of advocacy tactics
might be partially due to the characteristics of the medium: Unlike email, which can be
much more selectively stratified, Twitter is a mass approach in that tweets go out to
everyone. Such a mass approach seems to work better with indirect advocacy tactics
(e.g., public education, grassroots lobbying, etc.) that aim at diffused publics; it works
less well with direct lobbying and other “insider” tactics that require a targeted approach.
This “advocacy mix” raises questions for nonprofit advocates about new ways of think-
ing and operating. If more advocacy work moves online, and it involves primarily
coalition-building, calls to action, and public education—as we found here—what will
the implications be for the sector as a whole? What will it mean if administrative lob-
bying and expert testimony, among other tactics, are less common?
Guo and Saxton 75
Our study also suggests several avenues of research. First, our study only examined
the use of Twitter. It did not consider how advocacy organizations actively use other
social media tools. In view of the considerable role Facebook and other technologies
appeared to play in, for instance, the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and the
fact that the major Web 2.0 tools are frequently used together, future research should
examine the interrelations and potential synergies of these technologies with respect to
the effectiveness of advocacy engagements.
In addition, our study did not consider the organizations’ offline advocacy work. It
may be that social media strategies are more employed by smaller, resource-poor orga-
nizations, or perhaps instead resource-rich organizations use all available means of
advocacy. To answer these questions, follow-up research is needed that examines the
interaction of organizations’ offline and online advocacy efforts. It would also be help-
ful to further explore the relationship between organizational size and technology
adoption and use. There is a large literature (e.g., Hackler & Saxton, 2007; McNutt &
Boland, 1999; Saxton & Guo, 2011; Schneider, 2003) that has found a strong relation-
ship between technology use and size in nonprofit organizations, with smaller organi-
zations being at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the adoption of earlier
technologies such as computers, websites, and email. By contrast, Nah and Saxton
(2012) recently found evidence of a negative or no relationship between size and the
adoption of newer social media technologies. Admittedly, they looked at the 150 larg-
est U.S. charities. Still, their evidence “ . . . suggests there might be something differ-
ent about social media that has ‘freed’ nonprofits from some of the capacity and
environmental constraints that have hampered them in the past . . .” (p. 22). In other
words, size may not be so strong a determinant of the use of social media as it has been
for previous technologies. Overall, we believe there are substantial opportunities for
additional research that builds on our findings.
Another area of future research is to understand the organizational capacities
needed to enhance advocacy. Some prior research recommends advocacy organiza-
tions establish governance mechanisms permitting constituents to participate in the
shaping of the organization’s mission, vision, and strategies, as doing so enables the
organization to more accurately reflect the needs of constituents (Guo & Musso, 2007;
Guo & Saxton, 2010). Considering their highly interactive framework, social media
offer strong possibilities for constituency engagement. The number of media employed
(Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and the number of accounts and users involved in sending
messages on social media can dramatically increase the number of “voices” involved
in communicating with the public. Our study indicates advocacy organizations are
taking advantage of this possibility. That said, might this multiplicity of voices lead to
a “cacophony” that renders it harder to identify a unified organizational voice? Future
research could answer such questions.
Our findings also raise issues regarding the decentralization and democratization
of advocacy work in the context of social media. With individual followers not neces-
sarily having a formal connection to the organization, with followers and “support-
ers” able to dynamically join with and exit from the organization’s advocacy work,
76 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
and with cross-organizational coalitions forming and splitting fluidly, what are the
boundaries of “the organization” working for social change through social media? Is
an organization’s social media presence analogous to a variable “membership” orga-
nization, with the number of followers akin to the number of members? What role(s)
do the organization’s supporters play on social media, and how is this different from
traditional activities? And will we see any evidence of the decentralization of advo-
cacy work? In a way, we are, at least with users’ retweeting of organizational mes-
sages. The organization’s followers are thus what we could call “public education
foot soldiers.” More cynically, one might refer to such relatively low-cost efforts by
supporters as examples of what has been called slacktivism (Karpf, 2010). Either
way, this raises the issue of how organizations can best make use of their loose net-
works of online followers.
Moreover, such types of actions beg the question: Is there a “centrifugal pull”
toward decentralized, “extraorganizational” advocacy work? For instance, a real
movement sprang up around the #kony2012 hashtag—and there was not necessarily
a single organization or group of organizations that were central to the movement’s
success. Just as important were the celebrities, such as Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna, or
P. Diddy (Sean Combs), and their legions of followers, who were critical in bringing
this issue to the attention of a vast audience. In any case, our study sheds light on some
key elements of advocacy work that carry important implications for the nonprofit
sector. Future work should continue to probe more deeply into the nature and conse-
quences of this fast-changing and increasingly important environment.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
1. While some nonprofits may limit their advocacy to policy issues arising at certain times of
the year, we believe we have, collectively, tapped the sample’s range of advocacy efforts.
Temporal predilections would cancel each other out, such that any particular month would
capture the range and approximate frequencies of the different forms of advocacy and com-
munication. Moreover, most advocacy tactics, save for perhaps political lobbying, would
not be tied to particular seasons. Still, it was possible we over- or under-represented the
frequency of certain tactics. As a robustness check, we drew a second random sample of
750 tweets from the pool of 100,607 tweets sent by the 150 nonprofits from January 1 to
June 30, 2012. One co-author coded this new sample, which generated similar results in
terms of the distribution of communicative forms and advocacy tactics. This validates the
April sample.
Guo and Saxton 77
Ammann, S. L. (2010). A political campaign message in 140 characters or less: The use of Twit-
ter by U.S. Senate candidates in 2010. Retrieved from
Avner, M. (2002). The lobbying and advocacy handbook for nonprofit organizations: Shaping
public policy at the state and local level. St. Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.
Berry, J. M. (1977). Lobbying for the people: The political behavior of public interest groups.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Bortree, D. S., & Seltzer, T. (2009). Dialogic strategies and outcomes: An analysis of environ-
mental advocacy groups’ Facebook profiles. Public Relations Review, 35, 317-319.
Child, C. D., & Gronbjerg, K. A., (2007). Nonprofit advocacy organizations: Their characteris-
tics and activities. Social Science Quarterly, 88, 259-281.
Edwards, H. R., & Hoefer, R. (2010). Are social work advocacy groups using Web 2.0 effec-
tively? Journal of Policy Practice, 9, 220-239.
Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building theories from case study research. Academy of Management
Review, 14, 532-550.
Gais, T., & Walker, J., Jr. (1991). Pathways to influence in American politics. In J. Walker, Jr.
(Ed.), Mobilizing interest groups in America (pp. 103-121). Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press.
Golbeck, J., Grimes, J., & Rogers, A. (2010). Twitter use by the U.S. Congress. Journal of the
American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61, 1612-1621.
Gormley, W. T., & Cymrot, H. (2006). The strategic choices of child advocacy groups. Nonprofit
& Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 35, 102-122.
Greenberg, J., & MacAulay, M. (2009). NPO 2.0? Exploring the web presence of environmental
nonprofit organizations in Canada. Global Media Journal—Canadian Edition, 2, 63-88.
Guo, C. (2007). When government becomes the principal philanthropist: The effect of public
funding on patterns of nonprofit governance. Public Administration Review, 67, 456-471.
Guo, C., & Musso, J. A. (2007). Representation in nonprofit and voluntary organizations. Non-
profit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 36, 308-326.
Guo, C., & Saxton, G. D. (2010). Voice-in, voice-out: Constituent participation and nonprofit
advocacy. Nonprofit Policy Forum, 1(1), Article 5. Retrieved from
Hackler, D., & Saxton, G.D. (2007). The strategic use of information technology by nonprofit
organizations: Increasing capacity and untapped potential. Public Administration Review,
67, 474-487.
Hughes, A. L., & Palen, H. (2009). Twitter adoption and use in mass convergence and emer-
gency events. International Journal of Emergency Management, 6, 248-260.
Java, A., Finin, T., Song, X., & Tseng, B. (2007). Why we twitter: Understanding microblogging
usage and communities (pp. 56-65). Proceedings of the 9th WebKDD and 1st SNA-KDD
2007 Workshop on Web Mining and Social Network Analysis, New York, NY.
Karpf, D. (2010). Online political mobilization from the advocacy group’s perspective: Look-
ing beyond clicktivism. Policy & Internet, 2(4), Article 2. Retrieved from http://www
78 Nonprot and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43(1)
Krippendorf, K. (2004). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. London: SAGE.
LeRoux, K., & Goerdel, H.T. (2009). Political advocacy by nonprofit organizations: A strategic
management explanation. Public Performance & Management Review, 32, 514-536.
Lovejoy, K., Waters, R. D., & Saxton, G. D. (2012). Engaging stakeholders through Twitter:
How nonprofit organizations are getting more out of 140 characters or less. Public Relations
Review, 38, 313-318.
Lovejoy, K., & Saxton, G. D. (2012). Information, community, and action: How nonprofit orga-
nizations use social media. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17, 337-353.
McNutt, J. G., & Boland, K. M. (1999). Electronic advocacy by nonprofit organizations in
social welfare policy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 28, 432-451.
Miles, M., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE.
Mosley, J. E. (2011). Institutionalization, privatization, and political opportunity: What tactical
choices reveal about the policy advocacy of human service nonprofits. Nonprofit & Volun-
tary Sector Quarterly, 40, 435-457.
Nah, S., & Saxton, G. D. (in press). Modeling the adoption and use of social media by nonprofit
organizations. New Media & Society. Retrieved from
Obar, J. A., Zube, P., & Lampe, C. (2012). Advocacy 2.0: An analysis of how advocacy groups
in the United States perceive and use social media as tools for facilitating civic engagement
and collective action. Journal of Information Policy, 2, 1-15.
O’Connell, B. (1994). People power: Service, advocacy, empowerment. New York: Foundation
Petray, T. L. (2011). Protest 2.0: Online interaction and aboriginal activists. Media, Culture, &
Society, 33, 923-940.
Reid, E. (1999). Nonprofit advocacy and political participation. In E. T. Boris & C. E. Steuerle
(Eds.), Nonprofits and government: Conflict or collaboration? (pp. 291-325). Washington,
DC: Urban Institute Press.
Rybalko, S., & Seltzer, T. (2010). Dialogic communication in 140 characters or less: How For-
tune 500 companies engage stakeholders using Twitter. Public Relations Review, 36, 336-
Saxton, G. D., & Guo, C. (2011). Accountability online: Understanding the web-based account-
ability practices of nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40,
Saxton, G. D., Guo, C., & Brown, W. A. (2007). New dimensions of nonprofit responsiveness:
The application and promise of Internet-based technologies. Public Performance & Man-
agement Review, 31, 144-173.
Schmid, H., Bar, M., & Nirel, R. (2008). Advocacy activities in nonprofit human service orga-
nizations: Implications for policy. Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 37, 581-602.
Schneider, J. A. (2003). Small, minority-based nonprofits in the information age. Nonprofit
Management and Leadership, 13, 383-399.
Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:
Guo and Saxton 79
Suárez, D. F., & Hwang, H. (2008). Civic engagement and nonprofit lobbying in California,
1998-2003. Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 37, 93-112.
Waters, R. D., & Jamal, J. Y. (2011). Tweet, tweet, tweet: A content analysis of nonprofit orga-
nizations’ Twitter updates. Public Relations Review, 37, 321-324.
Wong, S. (2012). Joseph Kony captures Congress’ attention. Politico. Retrieved from http://
Author Biographies
Chao Guo is an associate professor of nonprofit management in the School of Social Policy
and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. His research centers on nonprofit governance
and accountability, representation and advocacy in nonprofit organizations, collaboration
within and across sectors, social entrepreneurship, and volunteerism.
Gregory D. Saxton is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the
University at Buffalo, SUNY. His interests are in new media and organizational communica-
tion, particularly with regard to nonprofit organizations.
... Similar to the results of our study, found that although attempts are made to build communities, the primary orientation of tweets by these organizations is toward disseminating information. Guo and Saxton (2014b) also explained, based on their analysis of advocacy organizations, that Twitter does not play a role as a tool for action mobilization, even though Twitter is a powerful communication tool for disseminating information. ...
Full-text available
This study investigates how Islamic fundamentalists groups in Indonesia use Twitter to communicate with their stakeholders to achieve organizational goals. Based on previous work, three main functions of the use of social media by organizations were examined: spreading information, building and maintaining communities, and mobilizing for action. Based on an analysis of 2000 coded tweets from 20 Islamic fundamentalist accounts in Indonesia, the results showed that using Twitter for spreading information is by far the most frequently used function for Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia, followed by community building and mobilizing for action. Our analysis of the effect of the different uses of Twitter shows that in terms of reach (i.e. retweets), there is an advantage in using Twitter to spread information compared to calling for action in terms of retweeting and – to a lesser extent – to building a community.
On October 18, 2019, The New York Times reported that Major League Baseball was eliminating more than 40 teams from its minor league system. Fourteen months later, some teams permanently ceased operations when contraction became official. During those 14 months, fans and community members joined advocacy campaigns to save their teams. Given how minor league fans have unique, community-based identities, social media may help them communicate support for their teams during a threat. Using a framework of social media advocacy, the study sought to (1) understand the advocacy efforts present on social media and (2) the tone and emotions manifest in tweets related to contraction. Using quantitative methods, the study found that most discussions of contraction were negative in tone and contained emotions like anger. The most often used advocacy strategy was information, which may have been a lost opportunity for fans to rally support. As time moved on, tweets contained less negativity, more sadness than anger, and more use of the community advocacy strategy, providing evidence that fans found contraction inevitable. The study makes a contribution by bringing advocacy communication into the discussion of sport fandom and uses social media data to extract fan emotions during identity threats.
Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are significant contributors culturally, socially, and economically, but little research has focused on their management of organizational crises. Research has been quickly documenting impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on different sectors, but again less so for NPOs. This is significant because research and recommendations developed in one sector (such as for-profit corporations) may not translate to others (such as NPOs). NPOs are particularly vulnerable due to their dependence on public financial support and demands on their resource during crises. We report on a unique and unfortunate opportunity to assess response dynamics from a half year before (2019) and a half year after (2020) the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. We draw on a unique dataset (combining surveys at two points in time, Twitter use data, and financial information, from 578 NPOs) to develop a general model (grounded in the discourse of renewal theory) of five sources of influence (communication, organizational resources, crisis experience, crisis management, crisis impacts) on three types of strategic responses by nonprofits (retrenchment, persevering, and innovating) to COVID-19. Higher levels of communication, crisis experience, and crisis management all predicted greater tendencies for persevering and innovating in response to COVID-19. The implications for research and practice include extending crisis communication research to the nonprofit sector and demonstrating how NPOs can strengthen themselves to recover from COVID-19 or the next crisis.
Funded in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Communities RISE Together (RISE) aims to increase the reach and effectiveness of messages to address vaccine hesitancy to further health equity. Twitter is a predominant social media source used by communities to share messaging and factual local information with constituents. We looked at the Twitter accounts of the organizations in 10 regional communities to examine social media communication patterns to guide how to increase messaging engagement. Specifically, we focused on Twitter post content, likes, and retweets. Our findings identified certain words—such as “food,” “older adults,” “equity,” and “covid”—that were most associated with increased likes and retweets on the platform. However, the strongest predictor of receiving likes and retweets is the number of followers. Sentiment was a significant, but not meaningful, predictor of tweet engagement.
Nonprofit activity produces social benefits, brings engaged actors in social networks, and promotes a sense of community and belonging by instilling shared values and norms, resulting in community trust and support back to the nonprofit. This reciprocal pattern of community building features the nonprofit role in building social capital. Social capital develops in interaction with the entrepreneurship context. Social entrepreneurial models of nonprofit learning and innovation demonstrate the potential of new entrepreneurial methods and market opportunities to help organizations achieve desired social impacts. This article adds a discussion on nonprofit missions as a vehicle driving nonprofit learning and innovation to be motivated to facilitate community building. By developing a moderated mediation model, we propose that value-instilled innovation from the interactive form of learning and shared mission enhances the nonprofit role in building social capital. The findings support the hypothesized relationships, producing implications for the community-building motivation of nonprofit organizations.
The use of technology in rehabilitation counseling including the delivery of rehabilitation services via virtual counseling is occurring at greater rates than ever before. At the same time, views about the utility of social media have evolved, necessitating increased consideration of social media benefits while at the same time highlighting a need for more detailed guidance regarding its usage and risks. As a standard of ethical practice, certified rehabilitation counselors (CRCs) are required to be aware of guidelines that govern the ethical use of technology in the provision of rehabilitation services, including revisions to the Code of Professional Ethics for CRCs. The 2023 revisions to the Technology, Social Media, and Virtual Counseling section of the Code of Professional Ethics for CRCs specify expanded guidance for CRCs integrating apps, relevant social media, and the provision of virtual counseling. To assist CRCs to meet their standard of ethical practice, this article reviews the historical evolution of technology within the Code, the changes and expansions to Section K of the Code and discusses ethical consideration and revised guidance in the critical technology areas of virtual counseling and social media.
Full-text available
It is held that nonprofit and voluntary organizations contribute to democratic governance by representing the interests of their constituents to the state. Yet little is known about the capacities of these organizations to represent effectively their constituents and the larger community. This study proposes a framework for understanding the varieties of representation in nonprofit and voluntary organizations. The authors argue that the nature of representation within an organization is indicated by five dimensions: substantive, symbolic, formal, descriptive, and participatory representation. Formal, descriptive, and participatory representation are different means of achieving substantive and symbolic representation; the latter being measures of the extent to which organizations act for and stand for particular constituencies. They further suggest that this conceptual framework serves as a useful first step toward examining the representational capacities of nonprofit organizations. Two illustrative cases of community-based organizations are presented to tease out the complexity of representational mixes found in nonprofits. © 2007 Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action.
Full-text available
Academic observers and public intellectuals frequently criticize mass email action alerts as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” arguing that the lowered transaction costs of the medium produce a novel form of activism that carries with it hidden costs and dangers for the public sphere. This article challenges those claims, relying on a combination of personal observation within the advocacy community and on a new quantitative dataset of advocacy group email activity to articulate three points. First, that mass emails are functionally equivalent to the photocopied and faxed petitions and postcards of “offline” activism, and represent a difference-of-degree rather than a difference-in-kind. Second, that such low-quality, high-volume actions are a single tactic in the strategic repertoire of advocacy groups, thus reducing cause for concern about their limited effect in isolation. Third, that the empirical reality of email activation practices has little in common with the dire predictions offered by common critiques. The article responds to a previous Policy & Internet article: “The Case Against Mass E-mails.” 1 (1).
Can social media promote civic engagement and collective action? Advocacy organizations think so. Obar, Zube, and Lampe surveyed 169 individuals from 53 advocacy groups of diverse interests and sizes and identified a revealing trend. All groups admitted that they use social media technologies to communicate with citizens almost every day. Respondents also believe that social media enable them to accomplish their advocacy and organizational goals across a range of specified activities. The authors note that the relationship between this and real political and ideological change is still speculative, but suggest that future studies can build on their research.
In recent years there has been growing recognition of the role played in American politics by groups such as Common Cause, the Sierra Club, and Zero Population Growth. This book considers their work in terms of their origins and development, resources, patterns of recruitment, decision-making processes, and lobbying tactics. How do public interest groups select the issues on which they work? How do they allocate their resources? How do they choose strategies for influencing the federal government? Professor Berry examines these questions, focusing in particular on the process by which organizations make critical decisions. His findings are based on a survey of eighty-three national organizations with offices in Washington, D.C. He analyzes in detail the operation of two groups in which he worked as a participant.
- This paper describes the process of inducting theory using case studies from specifying the research questions to reaching closure. Some features of the process, such as problem definition and construct validation, are similar to hypothesis-testing research. Others, such as within-case analysis and replication logic, are unique to the inductive, case-oriented process. Overall, the process described here is highly iterative and tightly linked to data. This research approach is especially appropriate in new topic areas. The resultant theory is often novel, testable, and empirically valid. Finally, framebreaking insights, the tests of good theory (e.g., parsimony, logical coherence), and convincing grounding in the evidence are the key criteria for evaluating this type of research.
Nonprofit organizations serve as a voice for their constituent publics in the political arena, even though advocacy practices remain outside their core mission. Some nonprofits embrace their advocacy roles and engage in these activities frequently, while others choose to avoid these activities altogether. What organizational capacities enable nonprofits to pursue an advocacy agenda? Drawing on theoretical perspectives in organizational behavior, public management, and political science, we propose a strategic management explanation of nonprofit advocacy. Using survey data from nonprofit organizations in Michigan, we test an empirical model in which factors of organizational learning, structure, resource dependence, and resource competitiveness contribute to nonprofits' advocacy activities. Findings suggest that experience with collaborative networking, productive exchange relations with funding principals, representation of lobbying skills at the managerial level, dependence on government resources, and competition in the resource environment all shape nonprofits' advocacy practices in important ways. These findings have important implications for both theory and practice of nonprofit management.
Technology is revolutionizing the practice of political advocacy, a fact that has important ramifications for the nonprofit sector. This exploratory study examines the current application of electronic advocacy techniques in the affiliates of a national social work professional association and considers what factors tend to predict the affiliates that are most successful at adopting these techniques. The study found that all of the affiliates were using some of these technology-based advocacy techniques in their advocacy practice and that the factors that predicted utilization depended on whether affiliates were planning new technology or actually using new technology.
Social movements, like every other aspect of life, have become increasingly reliant on the internet for networking, information sharing and coalition building. This is the case even for disadvantaged groups with few resources and less capacity for utilizing computers and the internet. Aboriginal activists in Townsville have been slow to exert their presence on the web, but are gradually becoming savvy in the use of electronic networking in furthering their cause. They rely on listservs, blogs and, more recently, social networking sites to make their struggle known to a wide audience. In addition to the use of Web 2.0 to supplement ‘offline’ activism, there is a new form of ‘virtual’ activism emerging. The rise in ‘push-button activism’ increases the opportunities for everyday engagement with the state by social movement participants. However, it also changes the notion of participation as marches and demonstrations give way to electronic petitions and Facebook fan pages.
Many of the relationship cultivation strategies and the dialogic principles assume symmetrical communication is taking place. However, significant amounts of information are shared in a one-way manner. Although they have fallen out of favor with many academics, the four models of public relations can provide significant insights into how organizations communicate. Using the models as the guiding framework, this brief study examines how nonprofit organizations from the Philanthropy 200 communicate on Twitter. The findings reveal that the organizations are more likely to use one-way models despite the potential for dialogue and community building on the social networking site.