Lovari, Alessandro, & Parisi, Lorenza (2015). Listening to digital publics. Investigating citizens’ voices and engagement within Italian municipalities’ Facebook pages. Public Relations Review, 41(2), 205-213.


This paper adopts a public-oriented perspective to investigate citizens’ voices and engagement within 10 Italian municipalities’ Facebook Pages. It investigates the motivations to become Facebook fan of a municipality, and the variety of digital practices carried out by citizens to communicate and relate with this type of public sector organizations. The study was carried out through the administration of an online survey of 35 questions to 1196 Facebook users. The research proposes an active digital public typology (likers, mono interaction users, multi-interaction users, full interaction users) based on the extension of the activities that citizens carry out on municipalities’ Facebook Pages. The thematic analysis of the digital publics’ opinions reveals that citizens ask for a tangible and actual two-way communication with local administrations on social media. Theoretical and practical implications for public sector institutions using social media are discussed.


The paper proposes a public-oriented perspective to study the use of social media by public sector. An online survey of 35 questions to 1196 Italian Municipalities’ Facebook Pages users has been carried out.

Key Findings

  • The paper provides a first description of the Italian municipalities’ Facebook fans (age, gender, education, occupation), the main motivations to become fan and the variety of digital practices carried out.
  • A ‘digital public’ typology based on the extension of social media activities is proposed.
  • There was a correlation between Facebook activities and civic engagement in the municipality life.
  • Digital publics asked for a two-way symmetrical public relation model on social media.

Implications for Practice

Public sector institutions should listen more systematically to the voices and needs of their digital publics in order to improve the quality and the effectiveness of their communication on social media. They should communicate with and not to citizens. At the same time official Municipalities Facebook Pages administrators should provide a communication approach that combines transparency, accountability, on time replies and the channeling and visualization of the users’ feedback. Moreover, according to digital publics’ voices, these Facebook Pages should adopt a language that reflects the informal social media environment and, at the same time, properly addresses different users’ needs.

Article Location

The full article is available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811114001854


Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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