012: Volume 5, Issue 2, pp. 41-56

Social Media’s Function in Organizations: 
A Functional Analysis Approach

Amy Reitz



System theorists believe that organizations that function as an open system have a greater chance of survival than organizations that function as a closed system due to the exchange of inputs and outputs between the organization and its publics. Public relations researchers have proposed adopting a dialogic approach to public relations where interaction between the organization and its publics are mutual, which is the underpinning to an open systems approach. This paper posits that organizations can function within an open systems approach to public relations by employing social media. Adoption of a functional approach is a fruitful way to look at the social functions various social media serve in the system of organizations and their publics. Research has considered the gratifications publics receive from social media; however, limited research has considered what social media do for the organization-public relationship system. It has been argued that organizations also have psychological and social motivations; therefore, applying a functional analysis approach might be a good of way determining what functions social media serve in the organization-public relationship system. Four functions are proposed in which social media may serve the system: maintenance of organizational identity, opportunity to build relationships with publics, ability to control issues management, and the chance to promote social corporate responsibility. Understanding social media’s role in the system can help practitioners identify the functions that may contribute to an open systems approach to public relations and ultimately an organization’s survival.



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