i. Twitter use in Italian Municipalities


Interaction type Government – Public -Government
Trigger event
Domain New dataset creation named “Observatory of Twitter profiles in Italian municipalities”.
Organisation Ladest Lab, University of Siena (Italy).
Actors University (UNISI); Twitter Italia; Anci (Associazione Comuni Italiani).
Data sets New dataset creation including Twitter profiles’ names, Twitter metrics (Tweets, followers, following, activation date) and integration with other datasets.
Process Data were collected manually for each of the 7.981 (ISTAT, 2017) Italian municipalities; then integrated with official Census population data (ISTAT)  by municipality code and with Large Urban Zones (Eurostat) to develop Twitter profiles’ performance analysis.
Feedback Official presentation of the results in public meetings; International publications.
Goal Analysis of the municipalities performance on the social platform to foster larger participation and efficient use.
Side effects More municipalities activated the twitter profile; creation of an on official Forum #pasocial (pa = public administration); definition of dedicated professional skills to deal with social platforms in public administration.
Contact point Cristina Capineri, cristina.capineri[at]unisi.it & Antonello Romano romano.antonello[at]gmail.com.


The University of Siena in collaboration with Twitter-Italia and Anci (Associazione Nazionale Comuni Italiani) started a research project in 2013 to investigate the adoption of Twitter profiles by the Italian municipalities. After the first survey, other updates have taken place in 2015 and early 2016 in order to analyze the spatial and temporal diffusion process.

The adoption of social media by public institutions is particularly relevant for improving communications, mutual trust between public institutions and citizens, the institution’s responsiveness on several issues (governance, environmental management, natural disasters, service supply, etc.). The research investigating the Twitter profiles of Italian municipalities identified that, at the time of the first survey (November 2013), only 461 of the 8047 Italian municipalities had Twitter profiles, approximately 6%; three years later (early 2016) the number of profiles had reached 881 municipalities (approx 11% of total municipalities) showing a rapid increase of institutions joining the social platform. The profiles’activity is also increasing as demostrated by Twitter metrics: + 49% Tweets sent in 2015 compared to the previous year;  +73% followers; +20% following.

The geography of municipal Twitter profiles in Italy seems to reflect the urban structure of the country, which is mostly made up of many small and medium sized cities. The research highlighted that 5% of the profiles has been activated by large towns with >100.000 inhab. (note that large municipalities resepresents only 1% of the total);  40 %  by small to medium municipalities; while 55% had been activated by municipalities with less than 10,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, if the larger municipalities attract most of the followers (66%), the small and medium municipalities are the most active (77% of the Tweets). This demonstrates that reduced population size is not a barrier to the spread of social applications but may in fact be an advantage or a driver; besides small municipalities seem to have built a tweeting atmosphere thanks to their external economies based on social proximity or on a stronger sense of place if compared to the high metropolitan fragmentation. The first and most active (in terms of tweets sent and followers) municipalities on Twitter are those which started with the activation of “civic networks” (municipality websites) in the late 1990s, showing the relationship between the adoption of these kinds of  technologies. It is interesting to observe the case of 11 neighbouring  municipalities that are sharing the same profile thus creating a sort of “tweeting district” which benefits from the common management of the social communication.

The survey analyzed the types of messages sent, since the activity profiles must be assessed not only in relation to the amount of Tweets and followers but also with respect to the quality and type of information sent. The latter relate to different fields, which include simple messages for informational purposes up to more complex messages addressing planning and territorial management. The research team classified the hashtags used by most municipal profiles into several categories and the most widely represented information related to culture and tourism, followed by geographical information, utilities and weather forecasts. More recently several profiles have introduced news about open data. Messages about governance are still quite limited except in some cases, demonstrating that the potential of Twitter as a collector and distributor of information on complex issues around which to initiate debates and discussions has not been realized. Only a few municipalities have used Twitter for emergency and risk management, such as Emilia Romagna and Abruzzo (earthquake) and some municipalities in Sardinia and Liguria (flooding). Nevertheless it is worth noting that the news about L’Aquila’s severe earthquake of 2009 was first announced through Twitter before other media. For institutions the complex challenge that remains is to collect these contributions produced by the community and to filter and validate them with the purpose of improving governance. These tools therefore provide an important opportunity to establish and consolidate good governance based on efficiency, transparency, simplification and on the development of collaborative solutions for critical issues.

Main Lessons

  • The research identified a growing interest towards the use of social media by the institutions since 2013. The percentage has been almost dublicated within three years.
  • The geography of municipal Twitter profiles in Italy seems to reflect the urban structure of the country, however for small places this is not a barrier. On the contrary, “civic networks” have been developed.
  • Most of the tweets have to do with cultural and touristic aspects, however, twitter is the first social platform which spread L’Aquila’s severe earthquake of 2009.municipalities on twitter.jpg