Purdue University Graduate School
Dissertation_Devin_T_Knighton.pdf (1.49 MB)

Tapping the Untapped Potential of Big Data to Assess the Type of Organization-Stakeholder Relationship on Social Media

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posted on 2019-08-14, 17:32 authored by Devin T KnightonDevin T Knighton
Social media is impacting the practice of public relations inmany different ways, but the focus of this dissertation is on the power of big data from social media to identify and assess the relationship that stakeholders have with the organization. Social media analytics have tended to measure reactions to messages, rather than the strength of the relationship, even though public relations is responsible for building strong relationships with the organization’s stakeholders. Yet, social media provides insight into the conversations that stakeholders have with other stakeholders about the organization and thus can reveal insight into the quality of the relationship they have with the organization.

This dissertation takes a networked approach to understandthe strength of the relationship that the organization has with its stakeholders, meaning it acknowledges that the relationships two entities have with each other are influenced by the relationships those entities have with others in common. In this case, the relationship that a stakeholder has with the organizationis influenced by the relationship the stakeholder has with other stakeholders. Thus, one way to study the relationship that a stakeholder has with the organization is to look at the conversation and the postings on social media among the various stakeholders. The ultimate aim of the dissertation is to show how the relationship can be assessed, so the organization can create strategies that develop mutually beneficial relationships over time.

The context for the study is based on two major events where companies deliberately gather together their stakeholders to interact in person and onsocial media about issues and products related to the organization’sfuture. The first event is Adobe Creative Max, which Adobe hosts each year for creative professionals. The second context for the study is Dreamforce, which is hosted by Salesforce.com and includes so many attendees that the company has to bring in cruise ships to dock in the San Francisco Bay during the event since all the hotels in the area sell out far in advance. These two events provide a specific situation where stakeholders interact with other stakeholders outside of a crisis, which represents the majority of day-to-day public relations practice. Twitter data was collected during for each week of each conference, and all company tweets were filtered out of the data sample. Atext-mining approach was then used to examine the conversations among the stakeholders at the events.

Findings indicate that the strongest relationship was developed by Salesforce.com with its stakeholders at the Dreamforce 2018 event in large part because ofthe CEO’s keynote andthe organizational commitment to social justice and sustainability. Granted, Salesforce hadalready worked to develop a culture among employees and customers based on the concept, “family,”or “Ohana.” However, the text of the conversations reveal that the focus at this conference was on societal issues presented by the CEO. In contrast, the findings from the Adobe conference suggest the organization has a transactional relationship with its stakeholders, in part because the CEO keynote focused heavily on products and technology. The implications of these findings indicate that big data from social media can be used to assess relationships, especially when social media data represents conversations and interactions among stakeholders. The findings also show the influence of CEO communications on the relationship and the vital role that public relations practitioners play in setting that CEO communications agenda.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Communication

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Brian G. Smith

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Natalie J. Lambert

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Patrice M. Buzzanell

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Nathalie Duval-Couetil