Date of Award

Summer 8-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism



Committee Chair

Jae-Hwa Shin

Committee Chair Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 2

David Davies

Committee Member 2 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 3

Cheryl Jenkins

Committee Member 3 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 4

Kim M. LeDuff

Committee Member 4 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 5

Fei Xue

Committee Member 5 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


Colleges and universities throughout this world are realizing the importance of engaging in and building mutually-beneficial relationships with their key publics through social media. The introduction of the microblogging tool known as Twitter extends the use of social media in higher education, beyond the classroom, and into the realm of public relations where it can be just as effective. Now, colleges and universities are capitalizing off of its potential as a public relations tool. Twitter allows colleges and universities to better connect with their technology-consumed publics trough dialogic and interactive two-way communication. This study examines how 155 colleges and universities use Twitter as a relationship-building and communication tool.

Grounded in Kent and Taylor’s (1998) dialogic principles and Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) four models of public relations, this dissertation is based on a content analysis that examined higher education use of Twitter as a means of communication. This study analyzed the individual tweets (N = 1,550) of 155 colleges and universities during a two-week sampling period.

The data revealed that 38.5% of the tweets aligned with the dialogic principle of Conservation of Return Visitors, while 49.7% of the tweets aligned with the Press Agentry/Publicity model of public relations. Medium interactivity was featured in the majority of the tweets. In addition, the general community was the most targeted public of the tweets, while self-promotion was the most featured theme of the tweets. When analyzing the individual tweets, it was confirmed that many colleges and universities are not following the most-commonly accepted relationship-building strategies, such as dialogic and two-way communication.

As one of the first studies of its kind, this dissertation offers insight into how colleges and universities are using Twitter to communicate and build relationships with their key publics. It extends upon the existing knowledge of how social media, such as Twitter, can be used in a dialogic public relations context. Furthermore, it offers insight into how Twitter can be used in collaboration with traditional public relations theories, such as the four models of public relations. It concludes with implications of how colleges and universities can use Twitter to build and maintain mutually-beneficial relationships.