Forschungsprojekt der Professur für Organisationskommunikation

Why do politicians use social networking sites? Media behavior of Swiss National Council and Council of States Parliamentarians.

In the field of social media public relations (PR), most existing research focuses on the use of social networking sites (SNS) by political parties or candidates during election campaigning. Furthermore, a substantial amount of studies investigate the use of SNS by governments and local authorities for crisis communication. However, we are facing a lack of research on the reasons why SNS are used in political communication on an everyday basis.

In our qualitative study, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 31 politicians from the Swiss national council and the council of state to gain insight into the usage motives of Swiss politicians to include SNS in their everyday political communication, i.e. political PR.

We applied the theoretic perspectives of uses-and-gratifications and social cognitive theory (SCT, Bandura, 1986) as a combined approach to investigate politicians’ incentives for SNS use among the eight incentive dimensions of SCT. In addition, we analyzed politicians’ motives in regard to three types of web 2.0 usage, i.e. consumption, participation and production, to uncover the behavioral incentives for SNS use.

The main results of our study show that among the three SNS applications investigated, Facebook and Twitter are most heavily used among Swiss politicians. YouTube seems not to be important for political PR at this point in time. Facebook is used most heavily to target messages to the broad public and to interact with potential voters in an online environment. Twitter, on the contrary, is predominantly used to target the mass media. Production reasons are the main drivers for SNS use, followed by participation and consumption reasons. The dominant motives for producing, sharing or rating content (participation) are reflected in the social and status dimensions of SCT, which aim at increasing a politician’s image/standing among the public by interacting with them. Novel incentives, such as reading and sharing news, furthermore determine politicians’ participation and consumption on Facebook and Twitter alike.

In conclusion, our results suggest that the politicians interviewed expressed fairly little motives to share existing information on a SNS if this information was not thematically connected to their own personality or party. Therefore, the often expressed notion of politicians using SNS for personal campaigning seems to hold true for all applications investigated in this study.

Prof. Diana Ingenhoff

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