Social media as public sphere: a stakeholder perspective

Marius Rohde Johannessen (Department of Business and Management, Buskerud and Vestfold University College, Kongsberg, Norway)
Øystein Sæbø (Department of Information Systems, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway)
Leif Skiftenes Flak (Department of Information Systems, University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway)

Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy

ISSN: 1750-6166

Publication date: 16 May 2016



This paper aims to examine major stakeholders’ communication preferences in eParticipation initiatives and discuss how this affects the public sphere. Despite the potential of social media, it has proven difficult to get people actively involved in the decision-making processes. There is a need for more research on how stakeholders manage and use social media to communicate.


The study was conducted as a qualitative case study. Data sources include interviews, social media content, document analysis and field notes.


Communication preferences of stakeholders vary according to their salience level. Stakeholders with higher salience are less likely to participate in social media, whereas those who are less salient will use every available medium to gain influence. This challenges the opportunity to create a traditional public sphere in social media.

Research limitations/implications

The authors contribute to a better understanding of who participates in social media and why. Stakeholder salience analysis shows that in the case of citizen-initiated eParticipation, social media cannot be seen as a Habermasian public sphere.

Practical implications

The authors suggest two approaches for government officials’ handling of social media: to treat social media as a channel for input and knowledge about the concerns of citizen groups and to integrate social media in the formal processes of decision making to develop consultative statements on specific policy issues.

Social implications

The study shows that power and urgency are the most important salience attributes. These findings indicate that social media may not be as inclusive as early research indicates, and less active social media users may have power and influence through other channels.


The findings extend current knowledge of the public sphere by adding the stakeholder perspective in addition to existing evaluative models of the public sphere.



Johannessen, M.R., Sæbø, Ø. and Flak, L.S. (2016), "Social media as public sphere: a stakeholder perspective", Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 212-238.

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