Warming the Cockles of Supporters' Hearts: A Critical Examination of Brand-Fan Relationship Development on Facebook in the UK Charity Sector

  • Zuzanna Cejmer

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis examines the current use of Facebook amongst UK charities who are most effective in social media strategy implementation. This unique sector, recently under pressure due to decrease in funding and public trust, has been continuously criticised by scholars for its inability to engage supporters on social media and, consequently, develop meaningful relationships. This study presents a social media framework of best practice, intended for strengthening the rapport between charities and their audiences.

This research, rooted in pragmatism, has employed a mixed method approach to investigate relationship development from three perspectives: charity brands, their supporters, and the social media platforms on which relationships are formed. Five expert interviews with social media managers of the most successful UK charities were initially conducted to explore strategy development and management. The following stage (Stage B) of this research analysed brand generated content posted by 27 charity organisations on Facebook with the aim of investigating how these charities communicate with the public and how the public reacts to their approaches. Stage C of the study utilised a survey designed for Facebook users which examined the motivations of followers for engaging with charities on social media.

This research found that the twenty-seven sampled UK charities, which gathered the largest audiences on Facebook, are taking advantage of two-way communication, providing supporters with interactive and engaging content. The tactics used to develop follower rapport and tight-knit communities online arise from the organisational values and social missions that these charities commit to achieve. This research found that charity supporters primarily seek information and engage with such organisations to enforce their excellence, while the antecedents of their motivations embody perceived credibility of these organisations, community identification, and parasocial interaction.

As a result of these findings, this thesis proposes a framework of best practice that outlines a step-by-step process in strategy development, implementation, and expected outcomes. Furthermore, this research adds to the existing theory in the field by proposing new categories of messages that charities post to communicate with the public.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorNoreen Siddiqui (Supervisor), Irene Garcia Medina (Supervisor) & Lindsey Carey (Supervisor)

Cite this