‘Well-Done, Mr. Mayor!': Linguistic Analysis of Municipal Facebook Pages

‘Well-Done, Mr. Mayor!': Linguistic Analysis of Municipal Facebook Pages

Nili Steinfeld, Azi Lev-On
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2015040102
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The increasing use of online social networks has given rise to a new kind of relations between residents and authorities at the municipal level, where residents can more easily than ever engage with administrators and representatives, participate in open discussions, and may have more direct involvement and influence on local affairs. The more direct democracy facilitated by social media tools fascinates communication and political science researchers. But while most of their attention is drawn to national politics, the municipal arena can be even more affected by these new means of direct communication. This paper focuses on municipal administration on Facebook, and analyzes the discourse that has developed between citizens and local administrators on municipal Facebook pages, using automatic digital tools. The contents of all formal municipal Facebook pages in Israel were extracted using digital tools, and all posts and comments published on these pages in a period of six months were analyzed using automatic linguistic analysis tools. The paper presents the prominent words and expressions, and terms networks and clusters in the formal municipal Facebook pages. The study discusses the findings, their implications, and the advantages and limitations of using digital tools to analyze texts in a digital research field.
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Social networks are used by people around the globe to engage with other people, groups, and organizations for diverse purposes. Among other themes, users discuss politics, make statements, promote causes and ideas, and try to influence agendas and decisions. These new means of communication enable citizens to directly contact representatives and officials in a simple and immediate manner.

This novel phenomenon creates a new field of research that attracts the attention of scholars of communication and political science. The interactions between citizen-users and government officials can be studied from a variety of perspectives to learn who takes part in these interactions, the content that is communicated, and its perceived impact. In the present study we focus on the content of conversations published on official city pages, and using digital linguistic analysis methods we look at the different themes that are manifested in these online municipal public spheres.

Municipal Government Online

While most research on the impact of social media on politics focuses on politics at the national level, local governance gets much less attention (Medaglia, 2012). Studies demonstrate that the scope and complexity of municipal Facebook usage are steadily improving, and Facebook is gradually becoming an essential medium for communication between municipalities and citizens in Europe and the US (Bonsón, Torres, Royo, & Flores, 2012; Norris & Reddick, 2013; Mossberger, 2013).

Still, the scope of diffusion of e-government, and specifically of media arenas initiated by local authorities, are not uniform: Local authorities have adopted e-government and social media at different times and have been using them on different scales and levels of sophistication. The most important predictor of diffusion of e-government (and specifically Facebook usage) has been found to be municipality size, which influences not only media adoption but also the scope of usage. Municipal websites and Facebook pages of large cities are established earlier, and attract significantly more activity than those of small cities (Ahn, 2011; Moon, 2002; Norris & Reddick, 2013). Among the additional variables that predict usage are population income and education levels (Reddick & Norris, 2013).

A recurrent finding in e-government studies is that municipality websites place greater weight on static contents, such as tenders and information on municipal activities, with much less emphasis on interactive contents (Mossberger, 2013; Musso, Weare & Hale, 2000; Norris & Reddick, 2013; Scott, 2006). The static character of municipality website communications is apparently reproduced in municipality Facebook pages, despite the inherently interactive character of Facebook. Municipalities tend to disregard the transactional potential of social media, choosing instead to post informational materials that also appear on other, more traditional, media (Graham & Avery, 2013; Lovari & Parisi, 2012; Oliveira & Welch, 2013). Several studies illustrate that municipalities rather than citizens are the dominant actors in uploading content to municipal websites (Graham & Avery, 2013; Hofmann, Beverungen, Räckers & Becker, 2013; Magnusson, Bellström & Thoren, 2012).

While most studies of municipal social media focus on mapping and characterizing which cities are more likely to embed online social media, engage with citizens, and promote e-participation, little research has been done on the content being posted on municipal administrations' social platforms. In the three studies familiar to us at the time of writing, Lovari & Parisi (2012) analyzed the text in the Facebook pages of four Italian provincial capitals (and found that the leading content categories were event promotions, information about public services and opportunities; alerts about emergencies and disservices; and calls for civic participation); Hand & Ching (2011) analyzed the text in the Facebook pages of nine cities in the Phoenix area (the leading content categories were administrative and community announcements, activity suggestions and more); and Magnusson et al.(2012) analyzed the text in the Facebook page of Karlstad, arguably a “Facebook leader” among Swedish municipalities (the leading content categories were self-promotion of the municipality, and promotion of events).

In spite of their significance, these studies well demonstrate the drawbacks of relying on manual content analysis methods, which are limited in terms of the volume of the data studied.

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