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How do nonprofit organizations (NPOs) effectively engage with the public on social media? Examining the effects of interactivity and emotion on Twitter

Yafei Zhang (School of Journalism and Communication, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)
Chuqing Dong (AD+PR Department, College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Yuan Cheng (Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 6 May 2022

Issue publication date: 14 April 2023




This study seeks to understand the communication factors associated with effective social media for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Specifically, the study investigated how interactive and emotional communication strategies influence public engagement in different ways, and how the effects differ by service-oriented and other types of NPOs.


Using computer-assisted textual and emotional analyses, the authors examined the functional interactivity, contingency interactivity and emotion elements of 301,559 tweets from the 100 largest US nonprofits. Negative binomial regression was applied to test the relationships among these elements and public engagement on Twitter (i.e. likes and retweets).


Findings revealed negative effects of functional interactivity on likes, negative effects of contingency interactivity on likes and retweets but a positive effect of functional interactivity on retweets. The findings also showed negative effects of emotion valence on likes and retweets but positive effects of emotion strength on likes and retweets. There were varying effects of interactivity and emotion on public engagement for service-oriented and other types of NPOs.


This study advances the nonprofit social media scholarship in several ways. First, this study suggests a clear yet largely ignored distinction in the effects of functional and contingency interactivity on public engagement. Second, this study is an early attempt to examine the role and impact of emotion elements in nonprofit social media success without downplaying the role of interactivity. Third, this study is one of the earliest attempts to include interaction effects for different types of NPOs. Last, this study contributes to the organizational social media use research by demonstrating the benefits of computer-assisted approaches in processing text data on social media. From a practical perspective, this study provides strategic guidelines for NPOs to design effective communication contents and improve their public engagement on social media.



Zhang, Y., Dong, C. and Cheng, Y. (2023), "How do nonprofit organizations (NPOs) effectively engage with the public on social media? Examining the effects of interactivity and emotion on Twitter", Internet Research, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 550-577.



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