Social media platforms have become important over the last decade for nonprofit organizations to communicate with stakeholders, engage with community, and connect with donors. Despite the significance, there is a wide gap in the research on social media adoption and use among community-based nonprofits. To fill this gap, this dissertation examines the diffusion of two popular social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) among community-based nonprofit organizations affiliated with the United Way of America in Florida. The United Way is the largest federated organization of nonprofits and its primary focus is on education, income, and health.
Two questions guide this study: (i) What are the principal determinants of the adoption and use of social media in nonprofit organizations? and (ii) How do nonprofits use social media? The conceptual framework for the analysis comprises of three dimensions: technological, environmental, and organizational. These dimensions respectively draw upon three theories: diffusion of innovation theory, resource dependence theory, and institutional theory. As such, the hypothesis is that the adoption and use of social media is influenced by technological, environmental, and internal institutional factors. For the first question, I conducted a survey of nonprofits affiliated with United Way chapters in Florida, and then analyzed the results using multivariate regression analysis. For the second question, I scraped the Facebook pages of United Way chapters and conducted a content analysis of the posts. I also interviewed key officials in these organizations.
The regression analysis shows that technological indicators were significant for the adoption of social media, but were not so for social media use. The findings suggest that factors affecting the adoption and use of social media are distinctive. The content analysis shows that nonprofits predominantly use social media to organize and promote events and to collaborate with other organizations. The events and collaboration enhance the organizations’ legitimacy and help with fundraising for targeted purposes. The study’s policy implication is that nonprofits should engage social media specialists to enhance adoption and train the leaders about benefits of social media use. A federated organization like United Way could adopt best practices in encouraging the use of social media.