Engaging the public: English local government organisations’ social media communications during the COVID‐19 pandemic

Love, Robbie, Erika Darics, and Rudi Palmieri.

Communication has played a critical role during the initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and communicators have had a particularly difficult task in persuading different types of audience to comply with ever-changing regulations. Local government organisations play a crucial role in recontextualising the national messaging for a local audience and encouraging the public to comply with regulations.

This paper investigates local government organisations’ (henceforth LGOs) engagement strategies in COVID-related posts on social media. In collaboration with LGOs in England, we examined their communication strategies on Twitter and Facebook during the second UK national lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic in November-December 2020. Using methods from corpus-assisted discourse studies, the paper analyses the occurrence and functions of selected interactive engagement markers, in this case personal pronouns, questions and hashtags. We find that such linguistic features function to encourage engagement by (a) helping to foster relatedness through ambiguity; (b) creating autonomy-supporting communication; and (c) making messages ‘stand out’.

Based on our corpus analysis, we discuss the initial response of the participating councils to our findings and outline future directions including the integration of multimodal approaches to studying the role of localised social media in national crisis management. We argue for more attention to be paid to the many local communicators who play an invaluable role in encouraging the public to comply with national measures in times of crisis.

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Public health campaigns; Local government organisations;Social media;Corpus-assisted; discourse analysis;Metadiscourse