Reinventing the rattling tin: explaining the dynamics of social networking site fundraising
, PhD thesis, University of Salford.
Recent social media fundraising success stories like the No Make-up Selfie and Ice Bucket Challenge campaigns, which raised millions of pounds for charities in just days, have been hailed as a new method of fundraising in a new, networked society. They also, at a first glance, appear to support claims by various scholars that social capital is on the rise because of the pervasiveness of online social networking sites (SNSs). However, SNS fundraising is still at its infancy and few professionals in the sector understand why and how it works, while guidance from academic research studies has hitherto been scarce.
Inspired by a twin interest in the dynamics of communication on social networking sites and philanthropy, this study employs a multi-disciplinary approach in analysing how good will is accumulated and mobilised in support of a charitable cause in an SNS environment – an area that has been hugely neglected in computer-mediated communication (CMC) research. Drawing on social capital theory, and the concepts of mass interpersonal persuasion and online collective action, it generates a refined framework that aims to produce a rich and insightful analysis of a type of communication that is largely unexplored.
A case study approach is used to collect both qualitative and quantitative data, in order to examine the dynamics of charitable asking in an SNS environment and provide a precise theoretical explanation of the ways in which social capital, as redefined by this thesis, is manifest in this context. By examining what works and why in SNS fundraising, this study is also designed to produce results that can help charities mobilise their online communities more effectively in fundraising, making a practical, as well as a theoretical contribution to knowledge.
Finally, Reinventing the Rattling Tin lays claim to a few methodological innovations. It is the first UK study, for example, to use web content analysis to code the content of charity Facebook pages, and the first to devise and use a ‘shareability’ metric to measure the success of fundraising posts. It also uses a novel technique of recruiting participants for the online survey, treating online social networking as a methodological tool, as well as a research topic.
This thesis finds that social capital does accrue to charities as institutional actors via their investment in SNS-mediated relationships with supporters. It presents evidence that charities invest in social capital by fostering trust, obligations, identification and social interaction, thus strengthening relationships with supporters; and mobilise social capital mainly by tapping into social influence dynamics and by reducing the cost of taking action. The most common outcome of this investment process is public endorsement of charities’ fundraising posts via sharing, and this outcome can be converted to economic capital using easy giving mechanisms like mobile text to donate codes. The four-stage process of investment-mobilisation-outcome realisation-conversion is proposed as a revised social capital framework for the study of SNS-mediated communication.
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