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Rhetorical construction of political leadership in social media

Jenny Madestam (Department of the Academy of Public Administration, Samhällsvetenskapliga Institutionen, Södertörn University, Huddinge, Sweden)
Lena Lid Falkman (The Stockholm School of Economics Institute for Research, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to analyze how political leaders can rhetorically use social media to construct their leadership, with a special focus on character – rhetorical ethos.


The authors used a qualitative case study which consisted of two political leaders’ activities on Twitter. The leaders were chosen on the basis of similarity – both foreign ministers in Scandinavian countries and early adapters to ICT. All tweets, including photos, for selected period were analyzed qualitatively with the classical rhetorical concept of ethos.


Social media is the virtual square for political leadership. The two political leaders studied use social media similarly for rhetorical means and aims, with ethos as rhetorical strategy. The rhetorical ethos they constructed differs radically though: busy diplomat vs a super-social Iron man. There is no single constructed ethos that political leaders aim for.

Research limitations/implications

Even though this is just one qualitative case study, it shows a variety of rhetorical means and constructs of ethos in political leadership.

Practical implications

The study shows a possibility for political leaders to construct their own image and character through social media, for a potentially large audience of voters, without being filtered by political parties or media.


This study contributes to the evolving area of rhetoric in leadership/management and it adds to knowledge about how political leaders use social media.



Authors wish to thank the Lars-Erik Lundberg Foundation and the Torsten Söderberg Foundation for funding this project. Thanks to Hampus Brynolf at Intellecta Corp for your help with data from Twittercensus. This paper forms part of a special section. The rhetoric and narratives in management research.


Madestam, J. and Falkman, L.L. (2017), "Rhetorical construction of political leadership in social media", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 30 No. 3, pp. 299-311.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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