Linda Hon, Jungyun Won and Ah Ram Lee Receive PRSA’s 2015 Top Faculty Research Award
Professor of Public Relations Linda Hon and doctoral students Jungyun Won and Ah Ram Lee have won PRSA’s 2015 Top Faculty Research paper for their research on factors that influence individuals’ decisions to participate and remain engaged in online social issue campaigns.
“The Role of Situational Awareness and Participation Benefits on Motivating Publics’ Online Social Campaign Behavior Intentions: Moderating Effects of Social Ties Influence”
The digital era has raised a new and important question for public relations professionals: What factors influence individuals’ decisions to participate and remain engaged in online social issue campaigns? Research conducted prior to the ubiquity of the Internet and social media suggested that people tend to mobilize around issues for which they have strong situational awareness, that is, issues they care about, feel involved in, and feel they can do something about. This study builds upon this framework by introducing possible additional predictors that may be especially relevant for online engagement including perceived benefits of participation and the strength of a participant’s social ties to the issue.
A random sample of 491 U.S. citizens was contacted through Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing tool from Amazon. Participants responded to a survey that included a fictitious Facebook page designed to recruit supporters for an online campaign about animal welfare and protection. Results showed that an individual’s situational awareness about the issue and perceived participation benefits were significant predictors of willingness to engage in the online social campaign through activities such as sharing information, signing a petition, and donating.
The study also found that influence from social ties moderates the relationship between situational awareness and willingness to participate. Respondents with strong social ties to the issue through family and friends expressed more willingness to participate compared to respondents with only weak ties to the issue characterized by awareness gleaned from celebrities or authority figures who support the cause. However, in instances of high situational awareness, even weak ties can motivate participation. These results suggest that professional communicators should include strong appeals about participation benefits in their online campaign strategy as well as understand the potentially powerful influence of a participant’s social ties to the issue.