Beyond a “spectator sport”: Social media for university engagement and community building

Jenny Zhengye Hou, Jim Macnamara


Compared with the burgeoning literature on social media use in business organisations, few studies have investigated how social media can aid non-profit organisations such as universities to achieve engagement objectives. Engagement and community building are important for universities in the context of student recruitment, retention, and satisfaction, as well as staff relations and public relations. To advance understanding of this under-studied area, this research examined the use of social media in a New Zealand university. Based on in-depth interviews and content analysis, this study explored the reported tension between the interactive participatory culture of social media and the promotional use for one-way information transmission and persuasion – in short, the shift from passive spectatorship to active co-production. Given the young and social media-savvy nature of universities’ key audience – students – this analysis argues that social media can play a facilitative role in university engagement and community building, but that a participatory co-production approach must be used rather than running social media as a ‘spectator sport’ platform for all but professional content production. 


social media; community building; engagement; universities; New Zealand

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