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Guiding the conversation: A study of PR practitioner expectations for nonnominated employees’ social media use

Justin Walden (Department of Communication, North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 24 May 2018

Issue publication date: 19 June 2018




The purpose of this paper is to investigate how public relations practitioners view their role in guiding their organizations’ frontline (nonnominated) employees’ social media use and the tensions that organizations must navigate when they interact with their employees online.


This study utilizes in-depth interviews with 24 PR practitioners in the USA. Data were analyzed via grounded theory’s approach to open, axial, and select coding.


PR practitioners engage in three activities to guide employees’ social media use: serving as a reactive-technical resource; supporting employee communities; and responding to incidental monitoring of social media posts.

Research limitations/implications

The study extends stakeholder theory by describing the normative expectations that are placed on employees when it comes to discussing the organization online.

Practical implications

Recommendations are offered for PR practitioners regarding the boundary-respecting management of nonnominated employees’ social media use.

Social implications

Findings point to a greater understanding about frontline workers’ roles in supporting their organizations and the need for organizations to carefully explain social media policies.


Scholars have not fully explored the challenges that firms face when they seek to influence employees’ personal social networking activities. There is new insight about the ways in which organization can ethically engage with employees in digitally mediated spaces.



Walden wishes to acknowledge the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication for a Legacy Scholars grant that supported this project.


Walden, J. (2018), "Guiding the conversation: A study of PR practitioner expectations for nonnominated employees’ social media use", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 23 No. 3, pp. 423-437.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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