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Mediatization of success among small & medium size NPOs in the context of social media activities

Fahimpour, Hoda (2023) Mediatization of success among small & medium size NPOs in the context of social media activities. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.103113) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:103113)

Language: English

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Social media has penetrated most domains of UK society in the 21st century. Small and medium-sized non-profit organisations (NPOs), which are defined as having an annual income of up to £1 million, increasingly use social media platforms for a wide range of mission-related outcomes. COVID-19 restrictions on face-to-face interaction increased the significance of these platforms among these organisations. By drawing on the existing understanding of the attention economy and mediatization theory, this research explores how social media as a social context influences beliefs and behaviours among small/medium size NPOs. This project focuses on definitions of success and how this influences activities on these platforms. To achieve this understanding, I have formulated two specific research questions: (1) How do small/medium size non-profit organisations define successful social media activity, and how do they measure it? (2) How are the social media practices of small/medium non profit organisations impacted by the way they perceive success?

To address these questions, I conducted 15 semi-structured interviews with staff members from NPOs who are actively engaged in their organisations' social media activities. Furthermore, I carried out a content analysis of 909 social media posts to compare the themes identified during the interviews with the actual activities of these organisations on social media platforms. Due to the timing of this project, which began in 2018, data collection and 1 analysis focused on both pre-and post-COVID-19 pandemic periods and is, therefore, able to additionally the impact of the pandemic on this topic.

The findings of this research suggest that small/medium size NPOs in the UK have been mediatized through their interaction with social media and submit to many of its logics. While study participants have various mission-driven goals related to their presence on these platforms, they rely on counting the number of likes, shares and comments rather than on fulfilling their objectives. The attention economy promoted by the social media platforms mediatized these NPOs beyond their expressed definition of success. In practice, they submit to social media logics in the way they post and create content. For example, by posting frequently to get promoted by the algorithms on these platforms, shortening their textual messages and using more visual content, especially happy images. NPOs, in their communication, prioritise social media logics rather than being based on evidence or best practice in non-profit communications, which may create a risk for achieving ultimate goals. Mediatization of NPOs is further advanced by a range of well-documented factors, such as resource deprivation and limited access to digital training for staff and volunteers coupled with increasing dependence on social media. Further, many behaviours of the participating NPOs are informed by imitation of others on social media platforms rather than based on robust evidence or their own experience, for example, choice of images, shortening of the texts and presence across multiple platforms without a clear rationale. This is in the context of resource deprivation of the NPOs, which is evident in the gap between NPOs' intentions and practices; for example, the absence of storytelling or the replication of non-tailored 2 messages across different platforms. Similarly, research participants expressed the heightened importance of social media platforms during the pandemic, but this did not result in significant changes to the quantity and quality of posting patterns before and after the pandemic.

Overall, these findings create a picture that suggests small/medium size NPOs in the UK are broadly unsystematic in how they resource and use social media. Efforts are mostly limited to how much they can attract attention and satisfy the metrics defined by social media platforms. This definition of success, which results from the mediatization of the organisations and submission to the logics of these platforms, impacts the way they behave on these platforms, from the contents they produce to the way they present and post, which in turn impacts their success in securing support and resources to advance their non-profit missions.

This thesis contributes new empirical data and theoretically informed analysis that documents the mediatization of the success of small/medium NPOs in the UK, which undermines the focus and direction of their social media activities and their subsequent capacity to deliver their missions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Breeze, Beth
Thesis advisor: Miller, Vince
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.103113
Uncontrolled keywords: social media; mediatization; non-profit organization; NPO; clicktivism; success; small-medium
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 05 Oct 2023 07:30 UTC
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2023 10:57 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Fahimpour, Hoda.

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