Toward a typology of government social media communication: Democratic goals, symbolic acts and self-presentation


Work data:

ISSN: 0740-624X

Alternate URL:
003 file

Type of work: Article (academic)


e-Government & e-Administration


Social media have provided new environments for both individuals and organizations to communicate. The literature on government use of social media has noted that these platforms provide a variety of democratic functions for government institutions, in their ability to increase transparency and citizen participation. However, there is less recognition and understanding in this context about the symbolic and presentational content governments communicate on social media. This is the case despite the fact that social media are tools for self-presentation, the exchange of symbolic content, and marketing. We have conducted a literature review from diverse sources, including e-government, business, human-computer interaction, social psychology and human communication to develop a typology of government communication on social media. We present a classification scheme with 12 specific categories and discuss the potential purposes of these various types of communication. Via empirical content analysis, we code a total of 2893 Facebook posts of local governments across the U.S., in a pilot and in a confirmatory study. This analysis allows us to better understand the categories of communication and the extent of their presence. Although we find that most content on local government Facebook pages falls into the category of democratic information provision, almost half of all messages refer to symbolic and presentational types of information exchanges. We illustrate our results with examples, and present a discussion of these findings with implications for practitioners and future research.



  • We develop a typology of government communication on social media.
  • We conduct a content analysis of 2893 Facebook posts of distinct local government departments across the United States.
  • We find that much of government social media communication belongs to a sphere of symbolic and presentational exchanges.
  • We discuss the purpose for these types of communication and point to implications for governments and citizens.

Summary of definition and coding rules for each type of communication

  • Information provision
    • Public service announcements
    • Operations & events
    • Social sharing
  • Input seeking
    • Citizen information
    • Fundraising
  • Online dialogue, offline interaction
    • Online dialogue
    • Offline discussion
    • Offline collaboration
  • Symbolic representation
    • Favorable presentation
    • Political positioning
    • Symbolic act
    • Marketing