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EGPA conference
Permanent Study Group 1: Information and Communications Technology in Public Administration

Social media for public engagement: a measurement model

Deborah Agostino
Politecnico di Milano
Via Lambruschini 4b
20156, Milano
Phone: +393485450135


Social media have been increasing adopted by government and local administrations all around the
world to increase interaction and dialogue with citizens. The continuous diffusion of these social
technologies in public administrations is also associated with the need to evaluate how social media
contribute to engage citizens, either fostering a one way or two-ways communication process. This
paper develops a preliminary measurement model to evaluate the contribution of social media to
public engagement, starting from extant literature in the field. The model is first theoretically
developed and then empirically applied in Italian municipalities, providing also a snapshot on social
media diffusion in the Italian context. Through the empirical application, this study proposes a
social media evaluation matrix to measure social media activity and the contribution of social
applications to public communication and participation.


1. Introduction

Social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, represent tools that rely on web 2.0 technologies to
establish interactive and real time relationships between multiple parties. In the last years the
diffusion of these instruments have exploded all over the world with an impressive number of
people using social media daily (Nielsen, 2012). This trend has affected also public administrations
and in particular local authorities, which have been increasingly adopting social media as a potential
powerful tool to support public engagement, intended as the establishment of relationships between
government and citizens based on information sharing and dialogue (Rowe and Frewer, 2005).
This is especially visible in the U.S., where the Open Government Initiative by the Obama
administration has prompted the adoption of social media applications to increase the transparency
and openness of the government (Snead, 2013). Even without any government directive, there is
evidence on social media adoption from administrations in South America, Europe and East
countries, noticeable from the growing number of contributions from both practitioners
(Queennsland Government, 2010; State of Washington, 2010; City of Philadelphia, 2013) and
academics (Bonsn et al., 2012; Picazo-vela et al, 2012; Yi et Al, 2013).
At the academic level, the interest on social media in government is mainly directed to understand
social media use by administrations (e.g. Bertot et al., 2012; Snead, 2013). It is widely claimed that
social media are used to facilitate interaction with citizens (OECD, 2009; Chun and Luna-Reyes,
2012; Linders, 2012), but at the same time there is few evidence on the impact of these technologies
on public engagement. An exception is the study by Bonsn et al (2012) that provides a preliminary
evaluation on the level of corporate dialogue achieved by European local administrations. This is an
important issue given that social applications do not automatically translate into citizens
engagement (Kamal, 2009; OECD, 2009; Panagiotopoulos et al., 2011), further highlighting the
importance to measure the social media activity of public administrations and the contribution of
these technologies to public engagement.
To enhance the study of social media for public engagement, this paper aims at providing a
preliminary measurement model to evaluate the social media activity and the contribution of social
applications to citizens engagement. The following research question is here addressed: how can the
social media contribution to public engagement be measured? The model has been first theoretically
developed starting from social media measures proposed by the marketing literature (Hoffman and
Fodor, 2010) which have been revised following the public sector perspective of public engagement
(Rowe and Frewer, 2005). Then the model has been empirically applied to the Italian context of
local administrations. The web sites of all Italian municipalities, in total 119, have been analyzed

tracing their social presences on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Results discuss first the
theoretical development of the model and then its empirical application to the Italian context, that
allows, among the other findings, to provide also a snapshot on social media diffusion in Italian
local administrations.
The paper is structured as follows: next section provides a review of extant studies on social media
in governments, with a specific focus on local administrations. Then, the dimensions of the model
are discussed starting from the theoretical contributions on public engagement (Rowe and Frewer,
2005), and on the measurement dimensions of awareness and engagement (Hoffmand and Fodor,
2010). The method section describes the phases of the study with particular reference to the
approach adopted in the empirical application of the model. The result section analyzes the findings,
providing details on the measurement model and discussing implications deriving from its
application in Italian municipalities. Finally, the discussion section describes the social media
evaluation matrix as a model that can be adopt to position administrations with respect to the social
media use for public engagement and concludes with theoretical and practical contributions of this

2. Social media in governments
Social media represent web based technologies that deliver interactive platforms through which
individuals connect with each other, share comments and co-create information (Kietzmann et al,
2011; Chun and Luna-Reyes, 2012). They are defined as a set of online tools that are designed for
and centered around social interaction (Bertot et al., 2012: 30). Social media is a broad term which
includes several applications that varies in scope and functionalities; they comprise social
networking sites like Facebook, micro-blogging services such as Twitter, blogs, photo-sharing and
video-sharing such as YouTube or Flickr (Gilfoil, 2012). Albeit the differences in the type of
service provided, all web sites based on real time communication and interactions enter the
umbrella term of social media.
Three main features differentiate social media from traditional media: user generated content, real
time communication and multiple interactions. The first distinctive characteristics is the possibility
for users to be active creators of content rather than passively receive information. Social media
applications are based on Web 2.0, also referred to as the Read-Write Web (Price, 2006;
Richardson, 2006) as it enables members of the general public to actively contribute and shape the
content. The typical example is Wikipedia, which is based on the notion that any user can
participate in creating content becoming prosumers (both consumers and producers). The second
distinctive elements concerns the real time communication between parties that moves the dialogue

between the parties from an offline communication to an online and instantaneous communication
between people. The third key feature is the many to many interaction approach (Porter, 2008) that
allows several users to simultaneously discuss and share information facilitating the creation of a
network of relationships. The possibility to create content and communicate in real time support the
creation of community of users, that share knowledge and ideas. These many to many interactions
within community networks blur differences between users: within the social space there is no
central authority and in the virtual community of users, all of them has the same role and
collaboratively contribute to the creation of content (Antoniadis and Grand, 2009; Buchegger and
Datta, 2009). Given these potentialities, social media have become a widely adopted instrument in a
variety of fields, such as libraries (Rutherford, 2008), private companies (Bughin and Manyika
2007), universities (Bryant, 2006; McAllister, 2012) and nonprofit organizations (Waters et al.,
Public administrations are also adopting social technologies, in particular to increase the
involvement of citizens in public decisions and life (Queennsland Government, 2010; State of
Washington, 2010; City of Philadelphia, 2013). This escalation in use has stimulated a lively debate
also at the academic level (e.g. Axelson et al., 2010; Hughes, 2011; Saebo et al., 2011; Meijer et al.,
2012; Vesnic-Aleujevic, 2012). Studies on social media use can be divided in two main categories
following the two main applications of social technologies: interaction with citizens and
transparency on government data (Bertot et al., 2012; Chun and Luna-Reyes, 2012). The first
category of studies evidences that local administrations and national bodies are engaging with social
media in order to strengthen the relationship with citizens by disseminating information or
collecting feedback from them. Empirical studies from this field are mainly based in the U.S.
(Bertot et al., 2012; Mergel, 2013; Snead, 2013), but there are some evidence also from Mexico
(Picazo-Vela et al., 2012) East countries (Yi et al, 2013) and Europe (Bonsn et al. 2012). The more
recent U.S. studies investigated the social media adoption process and tactics (Mergel, 2013) with a
specific reference to federal government. Snead (2013) instead explored the ability of American
executive branch in using social media to establish participations, proposing guidelines for social
media adoption. Focusing on the East countries experience, Yi et al. (2013) compared the social
media use between U.S. and Korean governments highlighting the different policies between the
two countries. Picazo-Vela et al. (2012) explored the main risks and benefits associated with the
social media adoption by analyzing the experience of public servants in Mexico. Bonsn et
al.(2012) instead compared the social media diffusion among European local administrations with
the purpose to understand whether social media promote eParticipation. Their results showed that
the most diffused social media in the sample of the European local administrations is Twitter,

followed by YouTube and Facebook. Furthermore, they developed a Sophistication Index to rank
local administrations on the basis of their level of social media usage, showing that the local
administrations in the Netherlands are in the first position of this ranking, which is closed by
The second category of studies investigates social media with the specific focus on their role to
increase the transparency of information towards citizens (Bertot et al, 2012; Snead, 2013). The
Open Government Initiative issued in January 2009 by the Obama Administration speeded up this
process in the U.S. (Snead, 2013), justifying the huge amount of studies from this area. The
document required agencies to establish a system of transparency and public participation,
favouring the adoption of social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook of YouTube to accomplish
this requirement (Snead, 2013). Starting from the role of ICT in government organizations, Bertot et
al. (2012), discussed the opportunities of social media to favour transparency. According to the
author, social media foster new culture of openness both by giving governments new tools to
promote transparency and reduce corruptions and by empowering members of the public to
collectively take part in monitoring the activities of their governments (Bertot et al., 2012: 86).
These contributions suggest that social media can foster citizens participation, but they do not
automatically translate into the engagement of citizens in public administration (OECD, 2009;
Panagiotopoulos et al., 2011). With a specific focus on eParticipation, Kamal (2009) pointed out
that ICT solutions are not the answer to citizens involvement in government processes, nor that
exist a best platform that provides a directly participation of citizens. This means that it is necessary
to plan which social media to use, how to use it and how to measure the progress towards the
achievement of citizens engagement.
In summary, research to date provides useful insights on how government use social media by
analyzing the type of social media adopted, policies and impacts of these tools. However, measures
to evaluate social media activity and their contribution to public engagement are mainly neglected,
providing the rational for this research. The goal of this study is to provide a preliminary
measurement model to evaluate social media activities of local administrations by quantifying their
ability to share information and to interact with citizens. This research question is here addressed:
how can the social media contribution to public engagement be measured? The answer to these
questions has been first theoretically developed starting from extant contribution on public
engagement and social media measurement.


3. Public engagement and the contribution of social media: dimensions of analysis

In order to develop a measurement model to evaluate social media contribution to public
engagement, the two main dimensions of analysis have been theoretically investigated: public
engagement and social media measurement.
The first element of the model is represented by the dimension of public engagement, that is
broadly defined as the involvement of citizens in public affairs (Rowe and Frewer, 2005). Since the
mid-1990s the traditional bureaucratic model of public administration has been questioned, and
business-like techniques have been introduced (Hood, 1991; 1995). A citizen-centric model (Butt
and Persuad, 2005; Kolsaker and Lee-Kelly, 2006), in which citizens are involved in all government
activities from policy formation and implementation to coproduction of services (Bovaird, 2007), is
an example of this type of model. The aim of public engagement is to establish a relationship
between public administrations and citizens which goes beyond the simple exchange of
information; the objective is to support public interaction and participation.
Different levels of citizen engagement as well as different tools to favour relations with citizens can
be found in literature. As far as the levels of engagement are concerned, the seminal paper by
Arnstein (1969) identified a ladder of citizen participation based on eight rungs, differentiated on
the basis of the extent of the citizens power. This framework was then customized and reshaped by
several authors over the years (e.g. Connor, 1988; Potapchuck, 1991; IAP2, 2000), each of them
emphasizing different aspects, such as the degree of government intervention or the level of
regulation of the interaction. Rowe and Frewer (2000) criticized these approaches for being too
broad leaving to variable interpretations of the phenomenon. With the purpose of simplifying the
classification of public engagement, they reorganized the previous ladders into two main categories,
public communication and public consultation, on the basis of the information flow.
Public communication is characterized by an unidirectional flow of information from the
government to citizens. It represents the lowest level of engagement because it entails a top-down
communication, in which citizens simply receive the information. Public participation instead
implies a two-way communication process between public administrations and citizens. It
represents the highest level of engagement, because it is based on dialogue and therefore on the
active role of citizens, with the final aim of collecting feedback from citizens and interacting with
them. Public communication and public participation represent the two elements that have been
here adopted to conceptualize public engagement.
The second element of the model is represented by social media measurement. The dimensions of
awareness and engagement (Hoffman and Fodor, 2010), have been introduced to evaluate the

contribution of social technologies on public communication and public participation. These
concepts are widely diffused in the marketing field to evaluate the relationship between the brand of
a company and its customers (e.g. Andzulis et al, 2012; Gilfoil and Jobs, 2012; Smith et al., 2012).
In a similar manner, they are here used to evaluate the ability of public administrations to establish
relationships with citizens.
Awareness, in marketing, represents the exposure of the brand; it is defined as the rudimentary
level of brand knowledge involving, at least, the recognition of the brand name (Hoyer and Brown,
1990). The evaluation of the level of awareness represents an important objective in a social media
strategy because it allows to assess the ability of a company to achieve a critical mass of audience
(Murdough, 2009; Briggs, 2010). It is measured considering the number of users reached by social
media, with the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of the company to capture the attention of
users through information provision. Public communication has the same purpose in the public
sector: to increase the number of citizens reached by governmental information. Like brand
awareness, information in public communication also flows from public entities (analogous of
companies) towards citizens (analogous of customers). Accordingly, the higher the number of
people reached, the higher the social media awareness and the dissemination of public information.
In the same way as for the measurement of brand awareness, the evaluation of public
communication is based on the number of citizens reached by the social media.
Engagement, in marketing, is defined as the level of a customers cognitive, emotional and
behavioral investment in specific brand interactions(Hollebeek, 2011: 565). It is associated with
the objective of establishing an interactive relationship with customers on the basis of motivational
issues that go beyond purchase (van Doorn et al., 2010). Public participation entails the same
purpose: to establish and strengthen the relationship between a public administration and its
citizens. Evaluating engagement implies to consider the depth of the relationship between public
entities (companies) and its citizens (customers), by monitoring to what extent interactions on social
media are active. The purpose of this evaluation is to examine consumers propensity to include
important brands as part of how they view themselves (Sprott et al., 2009), by considering their
feedback and opinion. In this case, the information is conveyed from the customer to the company.
In a similar vein, public participation is characterized by the transfer of the flow from citizens to
public administrations. In the same way as for the measurement of brand engagement, the
evaluation of public participation is based on the level of interaction on the social media.
The measurement of awareness and engagement allows to identify the different ladders of public
engagement, namely public communication and participation (Figure 1)


Figure 1: Dimensions of the model

4. Method

The definition of the social media measurement model consisted of an initial theoretical analysis
aimed at developing a preliminary model and an empirical application of the model to the Italian
context of local administrations. The theoretical development of the model has been achieved
through a literature review of extant studies on social media in governments and social media
measurement, which is presented in the first section of results. The application of the model instead
has been empirically conducted through a website analysis of social media pages of Italian
municipalities, given the extensive utilization of social instruments by Italian people. Recent studies
have classified Italians the fifth most active population in the world on social media (Nielsen,
2011). The reason behind the decision to investigate municipalities lies in the fact that the most
important interactions between citizens and government happen at the local level (Sandoval-
Almazan and Gil-Garcia, 2012: S72) and therefore this category of government agency can be
particularly fruitful to investigate public engagement.
The research was focused on 119 municipalities that are the capitals of, and give name to, the
Provinces. Among the wide array of social media tools, the analysis was concentrated on Facebook,
Twitter and YouTube, since they are the most well-known and used technologies in the Italian and
European context (Cosenza, 2012; Bonsn et al., 2012).The research was longitudinal in nature,
performing the same analysis in 2012 and 2013 in order to analyze the evolution of social media
activity and citizens engagement over time. In both time frames, the approach of the analysis was
the same and consisted of two main phases. The first phase was aimed at preparing data to measure
Traditional dimensions of Public Engagement

Dimension of Public Engagement through social media

Public communication Public participation
Social media awarness Social media engagement

the social media activity of local administrations. This phase entailed data collection, data
preparation and a preliminary data analysis.
The data collection required to register the presence of municipalities on Facebook, Twitter and
YouTube. This phase lasted three months and was followed by a data preparation step which had
the purpose of distinguishing between official and unofficial presences. Indeed, the search of the
municipality by means of the social media revealed the presence of several other accounts created
by communities of citizens or unknown users, which led us to differentiate between official and
unofficial pages. The preliminary data analysis allowed to build a picture on the social media
diffusion among Italian administrations, following official presences only.
The second phase aimed at specifically measuring the social media activity of each municipality,
through the application of the measures of awareness and engagement. As in the previous stage, the
first data collection step was followed by a second data analysis step. Data collection required the
gathering of information in order to evaluate the level of awareness and of engagement. Public
communication was evaluated measuring the level of awareness, while public participation was
judged on the basis of the measurement on the level of engagement. These dimensions were
operationalized for each social media, according to the framework proposed by Hoffman and Fodor

Dimensions of
Facebook Twitter YouTube
No. of like/no.
No. of followers/no.
of citizens
No. of channel view/no. of
No. of talking
about/no. of like
No. of tweets/no.
of citizens
No. of subscribers/no. of
Table 1: operationalization of the measures of awareness and engagement

The information collected for Facebook concerned the number of likes on a municipality fan
and the number of people talking about. The total likes represents the number of
individuals who liked the municipality page, while People talking about indicates how many
people had actually talked about the municipality to their friends. This number includes all those
who liked the page, liked, commented on or shared a page post, answered a question, responded to
an event, mentioned the page or tagged the municipality in a photo (Facebook, 2011). The
information considered for Twitter pertained to the number of followers and the numbers of

A Facebook Fan page is a web page for businesses, organizations and brands to share their stories and connect with
people. Like timelines, Pages can be customized by adding apps, posting stories, hosting events and more. People who
like a certain Fan Page will receive updates in their News Feeds (source: , 2012)

tweets. Tweets are messages that are typed into the web box using 140 characters or less, while
followers are those people that subscribe to receive municipality updates. Finally, the number of
channel view for YouTube and the number of subscribers of the municipality channel were
collected. All these data were divided by the number of citizens of each municipality in order to
have comparable data between local administrations.
Data from each social media website were collected in the same month of two different years, May
2012 and May 2013 in order to analyze the trend of social media activity and public engagement
over time.
The second step of data analysis was related to the positioning of each municipality with respect to
the measures of awareness and engagement with respect to each social applications adopted. These
measures of awareness and engagement allowed the contribution of each social media to public
communication and public participation to be identified. Table 2 summarizes the steps and
operative activities of each of the two phases, while the next section provides details on the results
of this analysis.

Phases Steps Operative activities
Phase 1
Data collection
119 municipality webpages
Facebook search
Twitter search
YouTube search
Data preparation Distinction between official and unofficial presences
Data analysis Descriptive statistics on social media diffusion
Phase 2
Data collection
Data collection from Facebook pages
Data collection from Twitter pages
Data collection from YouTube pages
Data analysis
Evaluation of awareness
Evaluation of engagement
Table 2: description of research phases

5. Results
Results are divided into two main sections. The first section presents the measurement model to
evaluate social media contribution to public engagement derived from literature analysis. The
second section shows the empirical application of this model on Italian municipalities that also
provide evidence on the level of social media diffusion in the Italian landscape.

5.1 Social media and public engagement: a measurement model
The first area of results is related to the discussion of the measurement model to evaluate social
media contribution to public engagement (Figure 2). The model consists of two main phases: a web

site analysis of the institutional home page and a social media analysis aimed at collecting analytics
from social media that allows to define the value of awareness and engagement.

Figure 2: preliminary measurement model

The first phase consists of the analysis of the institutional website of the public administration with
the purpose to identify the existence of links to social media from the home page. The adoption of
social media is usually sponsored at the top of the institutional website home page (Snead, 2013).
The presence of a link to the social media directly on the home page of the institutional website is
usually a preliminary evidence of the care on social activity by the public administration, given that
at the bottom of web pages are usually included not important information (Nielsen and Loranger,
2006). However, a public administration can be found on social media even when there a no links
on the institutional page. This requires a distinction between official and unofficial pages. Slover-
Linett and Stoner (2011) and McAllister (2012), defined social media presence as official when
there is direct linkage to Facebook, Twitter or Youtube from the homepage of the municipality,
while the presence is defined unofficial when there are no linkages. Accordingly, official pages only
are to be considered in order to increase the reliability of data provided through social applications.
The second phase concerns the collection of analytics from the social media pages, that allow to
calculate the measures of awareness and engagement. Data that need to be collected vary according

to the specific social media under analysis given the distinctive characteristics of each of them.
Following, social media analytics are discussed for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Facebook is a general social networking site founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with the initial
purpose to stay in touch with his friends at Harvard University. It soon developed all over the world
becoming one of the most diffused social platform worldwide with 1 billion of users a month (Kiss,
2012). As a social network, it allows users to create a profile and connect with friends with similar
interests. This community favours interactions given the possibility to posts status or ideas and
comments to others posts.
Public communication is evaluated using the measure of awareness, that for Facebook is quantified
as the number of like with respect to the population of the municipality. The like on the
municipality page by a user implies to receive directly updates from the municipality on the
Facebook home page. Accordingly, the higher the number of like, the higher the users that
receive updates from the municipality. Public participation is evaluated using the measure of
engagement, that is quantified as the number of talking about with respect to the number of
people who like the municipality Facebook page. This number suggests the level of interactivity of
the social page given that it counts post, comments sharing of posts considering as a time horizon
the last seven days.

Twitter is a social media that enters the category of micro-blogging sites. It has been defined as the
greatest relational and communicative phenomenon that has developed on the Internet in recent
years (Xifra and Grau, 2010: 171), that is continuously diffusing not only among private
companies, but also in the nonprofit sector (Waters and Jamal, 2011).
Twitter allows subscribers to post messages, called Tweet, in less than 140 characters and to
receive updates from profiles of interest becoming included in the following list. Accordingly, the
Followers of a profile are continuously updated on the tweets published by the profile itself.
The measure of awareness for Twitter is quantified considering the ratio between the Followers and
the population. The higher the number of Followers of the municipality profile, the higher the
number of citizens that receive updates from the municipality. The measure of engagement is
calculated as the number of tweets with respect to the population. Tweets are considered as a proxy
of the level of interactivity of the municipality on this social media, which implies that an
increasing number of the measure of engagement corresponds to an higher number of tweets and
also of the interactivity of the social media page.

YouTube is a media-sharing platform that allows to share videos, serving over 100 million videos
per day (Kaplan and Haenlein, 2010). The distinctive feature of YouTube with respect to Facebook
and Twitter is that videos can be accessed also from non-subscribers, while comments are allowed
only to people registered to the platform. Municipalities have their own channel that is used to
upload videos, mainly about the administrative life. Channel view is the measured provided by
YouTube to count the number of visits received by the channel page, while subscribers represent
the number of people who registered to the channel of the municipality in order to be informed on
the new videos uploaded by the administration.
Awareness for YouTube is calculated as the number of channel views with respect to the population
as it represents a proxy on the level of diffusion of the social media page among citizens.
Engagement is calculated as the number of subscribers to the channel page with respect to the
population to indicate the interest by citizens, not only to watch the video, but also to comment the
video and directly receive updates.

5.2 Social media measurement model: application in Italian municipalities
The second area of result is related to the application of the proposed model to the Italian context of
municipalities, that provided two main findings: a snapshot of the social media diffusion in Italian
municipalities and the level of awareness and engagement associated with each social media.
The first finding is related to the social media diffusion in Italian local administrations (Table 3).
Web sites analysis showed that in 2013 as well as in 2012 the most diffused social media is
Facebook, followed by YouTube and Twitter. With a specific focus on 2013, Facebook is adopted
by the 45% (54/119) of the sample, YouTube by the 34% (41/119) of the sample while Twitter is
used by the 32% (38/119) of the administrations. This result further specified the picture provided
that Bensn et al (2012) that identified Twitter as the most diffused social media in European
countries. However, the adoption of social media is heterogeneous among local administrations:
22% (26/119) of the administrations in the sample are active on all the three social applications,
14% (17/119) on two social media, while the 18% (21/119) of the administrations is adopting one
social media only. Even though the non-users represent the 46% of the administrations in the
sample, the trend is positive passing from 2012 to 2013, with an increasing number of
administrations that have started adopting Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The level of Facebook

adoption has increased by 18%, followed by Twitter with an increase of 18% and YouTube, that has
registered 15% more municipalities with respect to 2012.

Facebook Twitter YouTube No social media
2012 26% 14% 19% 68%
2013 45% 32% 34%
Table 3: level of social media diffusion

These data are specifically related to the official presences on social media, which means that the
link to the social media is provided in the home page of the institutional web site. Considering
unofficial presences, 92% of Italian municipalities result having a Facebook profile, 63% a Twitter
profile and 45% have a YouTube account. The difference between official and unofficial presences
is particularly relevant for Facebook and it provides evidence on the proliferation of public
administration profiles that are not formally recognized. The uncertainty about the reliability of
unofficial presences justifies the decision to focus only on official pages for the remaining analysis
(hereafter referred to as the social media without specifying official).
The second finding is related to the measurement of awareness and engagement per each social
media. Results show a different average level of awareness and engagement over time and between
social applications (see Table 4).

Facebook Twitter YouTube
Awareness Engagement Awareness Engagement Awareness Engagement
2012 3.03% 4.19% 1.23% 0.97% 70.52% 0.06%
2013 4.67% 3.66% 2.74% 2.29% 110.24% 0.11%
Delta + 1.64% - 0.54% +1.51% +1.33% +39.71% +0.05%
Table 4: average values of awareness and engagement

Considering average values of all the municipalities, it emerges that Facebook is characterized by a
level of awareness of 4.67%, Twitter has a value of 2.74%, while YouTube has a level of awareness
of 110.24%. These data signify that 4.67% of the citizens are aware of the presence of its
municipality on Facebook; 2.74% of them are aware of the presence on Twitter, while 110.24% of
the citizens are aware of the existence of an official YouTube account. These results suggest that
those local administrations that aims at communicating with citizens using the social media are
more willing to adopt YouTube than other social media.
The analysis of the average level of engagement has revealed that Facebook is the social media that
scored the highest value, followed by Twitter and YouTube. On average, of all the citizens that
like the municipality page, 4.19% of them are also active on the municipality Facebook page.

Considering Twitter, the analysis has revealed that there is a level of engagement between the
municipalities and citizens that is 2.29%. Finally, with respect to YouTube, 0.11% of the citizens
are subscribers to the official municipal page on this social media. The analysis of these average
data suggests that Facebook is more willing to support engagement purposes.
Considering the trend of awareness and engagement between 2012 and 2013, it resulted that
awareness and engagement has improved in municipalities with the exception of the engagement
level of Facebook, that registered a decrease of 0.54% from one year to another.
Further insights can be obtained from to the analysis of the social media activity of each
municipality. Table 5 provides the details related to Facebook (data on Twitter and YouTube are in
the annex), where data on 2012 are compared with those of 2013. Some municipalities are
characterized by a high level of awareness and a low level of engagement or vice versa. This is the
case of Frosinone or Bologna and it suggests that local administrations can deliberatively decide
how to use social media, either to foster communication or participation. Some other municipalities
showed significant variations in both awareness and engagement from one year to another, either a
positive or a negative variation. For example, Belluno has decreased it level of engagement by 34%
from one year to another, while, on the contrary, some municipalities that did not use Facebook for
engaging purposes in 2012 (such as Imperia or Gorizia) has started using it with participation
In summary, the general guidelines that derive from the analysis of data on social media in Italian
municipalities are the following: it is important to communicate citizens the official presence on
social media providing the link to the social media page directly on the home page of the
institutional web site; on average Facebook is suggested to support public participation while
YouTube is more willing to support public communication. Next section further enlarges the
general contribution of this study.


2012 2013 VARIATION
Belluno 0,26% 43,16% 4,05% 9,10% 3,79% -34,05%
Bologna 1,22% 9,33% 2,11% 9,85% 0,90% 0,53%
Cremona 0,35% 7,09% 0,78% 2,84% 0,43% -4,25%
Cuneo 1,26% 3,83% 3,21% 4,19% 1,95% 0,36%
Ferrara 5,55% 5,36% 7,91% 0,60% 2,36% -4,75%
Firenze 1,45% 9,20% 3,10% 2,76% 1,65% -6,44%
Forl 2,55% 4,11% 3,07% 2,42% 0,52% -1,69%
Frosinone 6,16% 0,51% 9,23% 1,87% 3,07% 1,37%
Genova 1,88% 1,19% 2,31% 4,86% 0,42% 3,67%
Gorizia 5,85% 0,00% 11,24% 1,68% 5,39% 1,68%
Imperia 11,62% 0,00% 11,83% 9,64% 0,21% 9,64%
Lecce 0,24% 3,00% 0,88% 0,76% 0,64% -2,24%
Lodi 4,07% 1,16% 4,81% 5,07% 0,74% 3,91%
Lucca 5,49% 0,77% 6,54% 1,48% 1,05% 0,71%
Macerata 6,40% 1,78% 8,14% 3,51% 1,74% 1,73%
Milano 0,73% 1,33% 0,76% 4,59% 0,03% 3,26%
Modena 6,00% 3,74% 8,08% 8,76% 2,09% 5,03%
Monza 2,49% 3,66% 3,83% 1,56% 1,34% -2,10%
Napoli 0,44% 5,09% 0,74% 3,61% 0,30% -1,48%
Padova 0,70% 1,94% 1,14% 2,29% 0,44% 0,35%
Perugia 1,95% 4,86% 2,44% 1,21% 0,49% -3,65%
Pisa 1,22% 2,33% 1,92% 0,54% 0,71% -1,79%
Reggio Emilia 5,12% 1,71% 7,69% 4,05% 2,57% 2,34%
Rimini 5,02% 1,69% 8,22% 7,87% 3,20% 6,18%
Torino 2,28% 1,47% 2,90% 1,82% 0,62% 0,34%
Udine 1,53% 2,75% 2,08% 3,11% 0,55% 0,36%
Varese 3,76% 0,00% 6,25% 0,22% 2,49% 0,22%
Venezia 1,93% 0,61% 2,96% 2,06% 1,03% 1,45%
Verbania 0,28% 2,27% 2,72% 5,70% 2,44% 3,42%
Vicenza 2,02% 5,13% 9,28% 1,63% 7,26% -3,50%
AVERAGE 3,03% 4,19% 4,67% 3,66% 1,64% -0,54%
Table 5: awareness and engagement for Italian municipalities on Facebook

Discussion and Conclusion
This research aimed at developing a model to evaluate social media contribution to public
engagement, followed by a specific application in Italian municipalities.
The empirical application of the model, and more specifically the calculation of the measures of
engagement and awareness, gave the possibility to refine the initial model adding a last phase: the
positioning of the administration in a four by four matrix, called social media evaluation matrix, in
order to directly analyze the contribution of the social media activity to public communication and
public participation.
The matrix (Figure 3) is defined starting from the evaluation of awareness and engagement on a
sample of observations. On the horizontal axe the level of awareness is represented, while the

vertical dimension include the level of engagement. Positioning the axes in the average values of
the observations (i.e. average value of awareness and engagement considering all the municipalities
adopting that specific social media), four quadrants can be identified corresponding to different
levels of social media activities and therefore different contributions to public engagement: ghost,
chatterbox, engagers and stars. Figure 3 represents the model applied to the Facebook analysis in
Italian municipalities.

Figure 3: social media evaluation matrix

Ghost is the bottom-left quadrant that includes municipalities characterized by a low level of
awareness and engagement. This means that a few people know the social media page of the
municipality, as underlined by the measure of awareness, and a few people talk about it, visible
from the engagement measure. This position underlines a current limited activity on the social
media, albeit the registered official presence of the municipality on this social application, and a
very low interactivity on the social page. This can be the situation of administrations that registered
to the social media because of fashion reasons, but then are not interested or unable to use and
communicate through this channel. Administrations in this bottom-left area of the matrix, should
ask themselves: is it relevant to stay social? If the answer is yes, then a substantial revision of the
social media activity is required to increase the interactions with citizens. If the answer is no, then it
is better to abandon the social media application.

Chatterbox is the bottom-right quadrant of the matrix characterized by municipalities with a high
level of awareness and a low level of engagement. This means that a lot of people know about the
social page and like it, therefore receiving updates from the municipality, but the level of
interactivity of the social page is low. Accordingly, the current social activity favours public
communication, but not public participation given the low score on the dimension of engagement.
This is a signal the current social media activity can be improved because the public administration
is able to disseminate information, but not to involve and interact with citizens. A potential
approach to improve interactions through social media can be the change of the content of the
communication or the language trough which contents are communicated in order to stimulate
dialogue and discussions.
Engagers is the upper-left side of the matrix and it includes municipalities with a high level of
awareness but a low level of engagement. This means that the local administration is able to
intensively interact with citizens using social media, but interactions are limited to a small portion
of citizens because a few people know about the social page, as highlighted by the measurement of
awareness. Administrations in this area should understand if this position is the result of a
deliberative choice to intensively talk with a few people or not. If the answer is yes, then the public
administration can maintain this level of activity, otherwise it is necessary to increase the exposure
of the social media page.
Star is the upper-right side of the matrix and it includes municipalities with both high level of
awareness and engagement, which means that a lot of people know about the social media page and
they are also intensively interacting with the municipality. This is the best situation because it
provides evidence that the current social media activity is successful in both supporting public
communication and public participation.
The social media evaluation matrix is useful to evaluate the current ability of administrations to
share information and interact with citizens, but it also allows to monitor the evolution of the social
media contribution to public engagement overtime. Each individual administration can position
itself and compare its position with respect to other municipalities and repeat this activity overtime
in order to understand how its measures of awareness and engagement have varied overtime. The
decision to position axes in the average value of the observations is justified by the need to identify
a reference value to distinguish between high and low level of awareness and engagement; a
comparable benchmark value has been found in the average value of administrations in the sample
in order to provide a feasible target.
This practical application of the model to the Italian contest provides also contributions at the
academic level. The first contribution of this study refers to the adoption of the awareness and

engagement measures to evaluate the social media activity of local administrations. Potentialities
and benefits of social media have been widely claimed and studies on social media use in
governments has increasing (e.g. Bertot et al., 2012; Snead, 2013); however, the issue of the
evaluation of the social media activity is mainly neglected albeit widely recognized that social
media do not automatically translate into citizens engagement (Kamal, 2009; OECD, 2009;
Panagiotopoulos et al., 2011). This study suggests to adopt the measures of awareness and
engagement in order to evaluate the social media activity, whose specific metric varies depending
on the specific type of social media. These measures are, in turn, linked to public engagement:
awareness provides information on the ability to share information with citizens, while engagement
quantifies the level of interactions with citizens through the social page. These measures enlarges
current literature on social media use, proposing specific measures to evaluate social media
activities. Furthermore, suggestions are provided in terms of how Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
differently support awareness and engagement: Facebook has resulted favouring engagement and
therefore public participation, while YouTube has emerged particularly suitable for public
communication given the high level of awareness.
The second contribution of this study relates to the social media evaluation matrix, that defines a
measurement model to evaluate how social media support public engagement, distinguishing
between public communication and public participation. Advantages of this matrix are related to the
possibility of positioning local administrations with respect to other administrations and overtime.
First of all, the adoption of public available information to evaluate the axes of awareness and
engagement allows each administration to select which other administrations to include in the
comparison. This means that an Italian municipality, for example, can decide to evaluate itself with
respect to municipalities in other countries or with different type of governmental bodies. Second,
the possibility to repeat this measurement overtime allows to understand the effects of social media
activities adopted by the administration on awareness and engagement. Albeit the flexibility of the
measurement model, the main limitation of the matrix is related to the operationalization of the
measures of awareness and engagement. They are based on public available statistics provided by
the social media and therefore dependent on the time window of the analysis. Further research
should develop more stable measurement for these two variables that are less dependent on the
moment in which the analysis is performed.
Finally, this study enlarges the picture of social media adoption in public administrations (e.g.
Bonsn et al., 2012) with the specific snapshot of the Italian municipality landscape.
In summary, this study provides a first attempt to move forward the discussion on the type of social
media adopted, introducing the evaluation of the social media activity and its contribution to public

engagement. This model opens up further research on the measurement and evaluation of social
media activity by public administration, that represent a relevant issue given the importance for
public administration to plan a social media strategy (OECD, 2009). At the practitioner level, this
study provides a practical instruments social media managers can adopt to assess the level of
awareness and engagement of social media and the relative position with respect to other similar



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Annex 1
List of municipalities in the sample
Region Area Municipality Population
Emilia Romagna north Bologna 382,473
Emilia Romagna north Ferrara 135,476
Emilia Romagna north Forl 118,312
Emilia Romagna north Cesena 97,204
Emilia Romagna north Modena 184,822
Emilia Romagna north Parma 187,310
Emilia Romagna north Piacenza 103,399
Emilia Romagna north Ravenna 159,390
Emilia Romagna north Reggio Emilia 170,420
Emilia Romagna north Rimini 143,793
Friuli Venezia Giulia north Gorizia 35,765
Friuli Venezia Giulia north Pordenone 51,789
Friuli Venezia Giulia north Trieste 205,557
Friuli Venezia Giulia north Udine 99,756
Liguria north Genova 609,004
Liguria north Imperia 42,761
Liguria north La Spezia 95,341
Liguria north Savona 62,456
Lombardy north Bergamo 119,712
Lombardy north Brescia 194,283
Lombardy north Como 85,694
Lombardy north Cremona 71,995
Lombardy north Lecco 48,230
Lombardy north Lodi 44,453
Lombardy north Mantova 48,838
Lombardy north Milan 1,331,807
Lombardy north Monza 122,773
Lombardy north Pavia 71,189
Lombardy north Sondrio 22,334
Lombardy north Varese 81,751
Piedmont north Alessandria 95,009
Piedmont north Asti 76,719
Piedmont north Biella 45,660
Piedmont north Cuneo 55,783
Piedmont north Novara 105,078
Piedmont north Turin 909,179
Piedmont north Verbania 31,288
Piedmont north Vercelli 47,146
Trentino Alto Adige north Bolzano 104,278
Trentino Alto Adige north Trento 116,622
Veneto north Belluno 36,595
Veneto north Padua 214,601
Veneto north Rovigo 53,111

Region Area Municipality Population
Veneto north Treviso 83,163
Veneto north Venice 270,957
Veneto north Verona 264,545
Veneto north Vicenza 115,795
The Aosta Valley north Aosta 35,008
Latium center Frosinone 48,030
Latium center Latina 119,895
Latium center Rieti 47,996
Latium center Rome 2,768,415
Latium center Viterbo 63,899
Marche center Ancona 103,101
Marche center Ascoli Piceno 50,939
Marche center Fermo 37,994
Marche center Macerata 43,079
Marche center Pesaro 94,898
Marche center Urbino 15,636
Tuscany center Arezzo 100,455
Tuscany center Florence 372,168
Tuscany center Grosseto 82,230
Tuscany center Livorno 161,191
Tuscany center Lucca 85,249
Tuscany center Massa 70,973
Tuscany center Carrara 64,441
Tuscany center Pisa 88,069
Tuscany center Pistoia 90,286
Tuscany center Prato 188,591
Tuscany center Siena 54,664
Umbria center Perugia 169,108
Umbria center Terni 113,270
Umbria center Chieti 53,748
Umbria center L'Aquila 72,454
Umbria center Pescara 122,872
Umbria center Teramo 54,970
Basilicata south Matera 60,916
Basilicata south Potenza 68,312
Calabria south Catanzaro 93,167
Calabria south Cosenza 70,016
Calabria south Crotone 61,863
Calabria south Reggio Calabria 186,436
Calabria south Vibo Valentia 33,887
Campania south Avellino 56,135
Campania south Benevento 61,738
Campania south Caserta 78,680
Campania south Naples 959,279
Campania south Salerno 139,036
Molise south Campobasso 50,881
Molise south Isernia 22,149
Apulia south Bari 320,146
Puglia south Barletta 94,561

Region Area Municipality Population
Apulia south Andria 100,217
Apulia south Trani 53,950
Apulia south Brindisi 89,843
Apulia south Foggia 152,557
Apulia south Lecce 95,677
Apulia south Taranto 191,370
Sardinia south Cagliari 156,259
Sardinia south Carbonia 29,784
Sardinia south Iglesias 27,438
Sardinia south Nuoro 36,277
Sardinia south Olbia 56,363
Sardinia south Tempio Pausania 14,255
Sardinia south Oristano 31,963
Sardinia south Sanluri 8,527
Sardinia south Villacidro 14,446
Sardinia south Sassari 130,644
Sardinia south Lanusei 5,660
Sardinia south Tortol 10,888
Sicily south Agrigento 59,174
Sicily south Caltanissetta 60,283
Sicily south Catania 292,743
Sicily south Enna 27,895
Sicily south Messina 242,122
Sicily south Palermo 655,614
Sicily south Ragusa 73,734
Sicily south Siracusa 123,464
Sicily south Trapani 70,662


Annex 2
Detailed data on Twitter
2012 2013 DELTA
Belluno 0,71% 0,43% 2,79% 3,18% 2,07% 2,76%
Bologna 0,99% 3,81% 2,32% 6,93% 1,33% 3,11%
Cuneo 0,69% 0,80% 1,91% 1,92% 1,22% 1,12%
Firenze 1,34% 0,81% 4,14% 2,32% 2,80% 1,50%
Genova 0,70% 1,15% 1,16% 1,33% 0,46% 0,18%
Lodi 1,62% 1,66% 3,16% 2,85% 1,54% 1,18%
Matera 1,02% 1,19% 2,51% 2,25% 1,49% 1,06%
Milano 0,37% 0,17% 1,11% 0,23% 0,73% 0,07%
Modena 1,31% 0,85% 2,97% 2,80% 1,67% 1,94%
Napoli 1,01% 0,27% 1,97% 0,34% 0,96% 0,07%
Pistoia 1,11% 1,30% 2,69% 4,11% 1,57% 2,81%
Reggio Emilia 0,54% 0,10% 1,74% 1,16% 1,20% 1,05%
Rimini 1,71% 0,54% 3,40% 1,49% 1,70% 0,95%
Roma 0,05% 0,03% 0,60% 0,41% 0,54% 0,38%
Torino 4,57% 0,75% 7,86% 1,00% 3,29% 0,25%
Udine 1,93% 0,51% 3,63% 3,16% 1,69% 2,65%
Venezia 1,25% 2,04% 2,58% 3,53% 1,32% 1,49%
AVERAGE 1,23% 0,97% 2,74% 2,29% 1,51% 1,33%


Detailed data on YouTube
2012 2013 DELTA
Belluno 2,12% 0,03% 17,20% 0,14% 15,07% 0,11%
Bologna 12,73% 0,02% 16,27% 0,04% 3,54% 0,02%
Bolzano 0,90% 0,00% 9,69% 0,02% 8,79% 0,02%
Cremona 3,03% 0,02% 15,78% 0,04% 12,75% 0,02%
Cuneo 56,93% 0,05% 79,75% 0,09% 22,82% 0,04%
Firenze 1,05% 0,01% 3,80% 0,02% 2,75% 0,02%
Forl 17,27% 0,02% 29,94% 0,05% 12,67% 0,03%
Genova 470,19% 0,26% 623,90% 0,35% 153,71% 0,08%
Lodi 528,87% 0,33% 884,20% 0,70% 355,33% 0,37%
Milano 0,07% 0,00% 0,10% 0,00% 0,03% 0,00%
Modena 54,07% 0,08% 90,00% 0,16% 35,93% 0,08%
Monza 1,43% 0,01% 10,69% 0,03% 9,26% 0,03%
Napoli 49,10% 0,06% 93,21% 0,12% 44,11% 0,07%
Pavia 172,69% 0,10% 300,00% 0,19% 127,31% 0,09%
Perugia 7,28% 0,01% 16,12% 0,03% 8,84% 0,02%
Pisa 12,52% 0,04% 15,08% 0,05% 2,56% 0,01%
Pistoia 0,40% 0,00% 3,47% 0,01% 3,06% 0,01%
Ravenna 5,20% 0,02% 7,47% 0,02% 2,27% 0,01%
Reggio Emilia 71,39% 0,06% 108,39% 0,11% 37,00% 0,05%
Rimini 2,50% 0,00% 15,98% 0,03% 13,48% 0,03%
Torino 66,16% 0,09% 82,59% 0,11% 16,43% 0,03%
Trieste 20,26% 0,07% 28,52% 0,09% 8,26% 0,02%
Udine 65,86% 0,06% 83,31% 0,09% 17,45% 0,03%
MEDIA 70,52% 0,06% 110,24% 0,11% 39,71% 0,05%