PurposeThe purpose of this paper is to conceptualize a meso-level (organizational) social capital theoretical approach to public relations. A theory and conceptualization of social capital as a resource- and exchange-based function of public relations is proposed. Here it is argued that public relations professionals serve as the managers of intangible resources on behalf of organizations. These intangibles serve as social capital for organizations and are managed through strategic, goal-directed communication behaviors. Social capital is conceptualized alongside other forms of capital that contribute to organizational advantage. The author proposes a conceptual social capital model of public relations and argues that the strategic management of intangible resources as social capital offers an ontology for public relations.Design/methodology/approachThe author employed a process of open-system theory building. Extensive research from multi-disciplinary areas of scholarship – namely, sociology, business, and public relations – formed the basis for the conceptualized model and propositions.FindingsPublic relations theory is narrowly defined and does not offer an adequate ontology. This paper extends and refines existing public relations scholarship surrounding social capital to focus on competitive advantages for the organization. This paper uses input from the larger fields of sociology and business, while contextualizing social capital within the public relations scholarship. The result is a resource- and exchange-based social capital model of public relations and propositions for further theory building and empirical analyses.Practical implicationsThe public relations discipline often struggles to demonstrate return-on-investment for organizations. The social capital model of public relations offers support for the capital generation and maintenance role of public relations for organizational advantage.Originality/valueThis paper represents one of the first comprehensive attempts at developing a meso-level social capital theory of public relations focused on intangible resource management for the organization.
Journal of Communication Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Nov 7, 2016
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