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Chapter 1 Ways and Means: How Think Tanks Use Social Media to Influence Public Policy

From the book Volume I Contemporary Trends in Conflict and Communication

  • Daisung Jang , John Bechara and William P. Bottom


Think tanks organize at the nexus of business, government, and academia to influence public policy. These organizations take three distinct working forms that utilize different research and communication styles to target different audiences as routes to influence. Traditionally they targeted elite actors such as legislators and executive branch agencies with lengthy scholarly treatises. But with the advent of social media, they can readily extend their reach directly to the voting public. In this chapter, we compare data on the research output and social media footprint of the prototypical organizations that inspired mimesis for each form - the Brookings Institution (a “university without students”), the RAND Corporation (a “contract organization”), and the Heritage Foundation (an “advocacy organization”). We examine their distributions of research output as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter activity. Heritage attracts large numbers of followers for postings across platforms. RAND lagged in timing and frequency of platform use. All three increasingly utilize these media with rapidly expanding reach. Content analysis of tweets using the Linguistic Inquiry Word Count (LIWC) reveals different routes to persuasion. The results are consistent with our hypothesis that the newer forms of advocacy organization rely more on peripheral routes to influence while the two traditional forms stress central routes to persuasion grounded in a logical argument. Systematic differences in social media use indicate the need for additional research directed at fully understanding the impact of emotion- driven communications in facilitating the rapid formation of highly energized social movements (e.g. COVID-19 anti-shutdown protests and Black Lives Matter).

© 2022 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston
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