The Role of Public Relations in Social Capital

Weiwu Zhang 1 *, Alan Abitbol 2

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Public relations research has traditionally focused on how public relations efforts make organizations more effective. Recently, scholars have argued for the broader role of public relations in society. That is, how can public relations be used to improve society rather than simply making organizations more effective? Existing studies have emphasized the relationship between internal public relations and organizational social capital. Lack of scholarly attention has been paid to how public relations efforts affect citizens’ social capital in general. To fill the gap in this area, this study examines how different types of public relations efforts contribute to citizens’ social capital. Specifically, this study uses data from the 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project ‘Social Side of the Internet’ survey to examine the influence of public relations efforts by various organizations in individuals’ social capital. Overall, the analyses suggest that organizations’ face-to-face meetings with their members enhance interpersonal trust and civic engagement, and that organizations’ strategic use of social media boosts civic engagement, whereas strategic communication via email, blogs, and websites decreases civic engagement. This study provides empirical evidence and practical implications for the important role of strategic social media use and interpersonal communication in enhancing social capital.


public relations strategic communication social media Internet use traditional media use social capital


This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Article Type: Research Article

Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies, Volume 6, Issue 3, July 2016, pp. 211-233

Published Online: 26 Jul 2016

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