Understanding user satisfaction with Chinese government social media platforms
Feng Yang, Shan Zhao, Wenyong Li, Richard Evans, and Wei Zhang
Introduction. The purpose of this paper is to understand government social media from the perspective of user satisfaction and to evaluate it in the context of presentation, content and utility of the government affairs' microblogs in China.
Method. Based on the comprehensive information theory, this study will generalise descriptions about the factors affecting the user satisfaction in the existing research.
Analysis. Taking Chinese government affairs microblogs as examples, the paper utilises structural equation modelling to analyse an online survey study.
Results. Its result indicates that presentation, content and utility have a positive influence on user satisfaction with Chinese government social media platforms.
Conclusions. This study gets rid of the oversimplified description of the application of government social media, and could provide policy reference for subsequent adoption strategies of government social media.
As the adoption of social media rises exponentially across the world, national governments are increasing their use of social media and developing their digital practices, while citizens are now becoming digital citizens. Existing literature has recognised that social media have become powerful communication tools, allowing governments around the world to become more transparent and open while increasing interaction and engagement with communities and citizens (Elvira et al., 2014; Zhang et al., 2016). In recent years, we have witnessed the increasing use of social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Sina microblogs, WeChat, inter alia, which contain textual conversations, pictures, videos and other forms of information provided by governments for various public relations purposes ( Hong, 2013; Chen et al., 2016). It is an indisputable fact that governments are increasing their digital communication and engagement with citizens (Levenshus, 2016), and government social media could effectively improve citizens' political participation and activity level (Silva, et al., 2019). In fact, social media as a valuable tool that citizens rely upon, provide a way of instruction, communication, and collaboration for governments (Sonnenberg, in press).
Social media are changing the way citizens communicate with and participate in government (Gintova, 2019). A United Nations e-government survey, published in 2016, emphasised that governments should actively engage with the opportunities presented by social media. Today, as many as 152 out of 193 national governments provide official social media accounts on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Sina Weibo (in China) and Odnoklassniki/VK in Russian-speaking countries (United Nations, 2016). With the largest number of Internet users in the world, China has made a particular effort to leverage the Internet and online services for public management and service. Data from China's Internet Network Information Centre showed that the number of Internet users in China reached 904 million, while the total number of mobile phone users was 897 million by the end of March 2020. China's Internet penetration has grown by 64.5% increase since the end of 2018 (an increase of 4.9%) (China Internet Network..., 2020). Given such a large user base, the impact of social media on the dissemination of information cannot be ignored. Due to its openness, dialogue and participation, social media has a significant advantage in providing synchronization and interactive communication between the government and citizens (Bonsón et al., 2019). With the deep penetration and advancements in social media platforms, benefits to governments are not limited to individual and private sector organizations (Hao et al., 2016). The Chinese government has started to embrace this new era and is now regarded as an active social media user for governance purposes.
The State Council of China issued a report in 2018 entitled 'Opinion on promoting the healthy and orderly development of new media in Government affairs' (China..., 2018). It stressed that the government new media is an important channel for the party and the government to contact, serve and unite the masses in the era of mobile Internet. It is also a critical path to exploring new modes of social governance and improving the ability of social governance. At the end of December 2019, the number of active accounts on Chinese government microblogs on the Sina microblog platform reached 139,000 (China Internet Network..., 2020).
This paper will examine government social media from the perspective of user satisfaction. It will review the literature about users of government social media, social media in Chinese governments and user satisfaction with the Chinese governments' social media. Then, it summarises descriptions of the factors affecting user satisfaction from the existing research. Based on the comprehensive information theory, it uses presentation, content and utility to generalise these factors, which will be regarded as indexes to evaluate efficiency of Chinese government social media with the perspective of user satisfaction. Then, it will find out the effects of presentation, content and utility on Chinese government social media. Finally, we discuss these three factors in social media in government and present conclusions. The findings of this research may help to gain continuous insights on how to promote government social media and provide policy reference for the follow-up strategy of government social media.
Users of government social media
Governments usually adopt social media to promote interaction and collaboration between them and their citizens (Criado and Villodre, in press). Increased interactions are a worthwhile and effective means to improve citizen perceptions of government transparency and their trust in governments, which helps combat the perception of corruption (Song and Lee, 2016). As Mergel (2017) said, it’s easy for government to observe behavioural changes by interacting with users through social media platforms. During this process, some scholars have found that political interests, the demographic characteristics of users, specific technological or organizational factors of social media and the culture of bi-directional communication with citizens can affect the impact of social media in government (Klischewski, 2014; Johnson and Kaye, 2015; Sharif et al., 2016). In addition, the number of users may impact the effects of government use of social media (Mainka et al., 2014), so governments have to consider establishing procedures and bespoke systems to provide better and more accessible services to reach the greatest number of citizens (Al-Wahaibi et al., 2015). Additionally, citizens' experiences of social media are seen to have a positive effect on their trust of governments; for example, if a leading official provides direct responses and takes responsibility for citizens' requests, they will display greater trust in governments' social media accounts (Hong, 2013; Park et al., 2016).
Social media in Chinese governments
Social media's convenient and effective method of information exchange makes them an important tool for disseminating information to the public. They also provides a convenient way for the public to participate in public affairs and interact with the government. With the development and application of the Internet and new media, social media have become the most important platform for crisis communication and government affairs (Xie et al., 2017). They provides an important basis for government management departments to understand and grasp the needs of the public, receive government social media services in a timely manner, rationally allocate various governments' public information resources, promote innovation in network governance and improve the quality and standards of the information service. It is true that the Chinese cultural and political circumstances foster social media use (Shao and Wang, 2017). However, its goal might not be to establish a good relationship with users and to understand their needs, but to collect reliable information about them or to spread propaganda information to stabilised social discontents (King et al., 2017). Regardless, the effective use of social media in government affairs has received strong attention from the Chinese government.
Despite the strong influence of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, social media are still the stage for public opinion competition (Shi-Kupfer, 2019). Therefore, the Chinese government pays more and more attention to social media. In October 2013, the report, Opinion on further strengthening government information disclosure, responding to public concerns, and enhancing government credibility, by the State Council (China..., 2013) stated, ‘focusing on building new channels of government information dissemination and interaction with users based on new media’. All regions and departments should actively explore the use of the government affairs microblogs, WeChat, and other new media to release all kinds of authoritative government information in a timely manner. In January 2017, the General Office of the State Council’s report, Notice on printing and distributing the 'Internet + government services' technical system construction guide, stated that:
by the end of 2017, governments of various provinces (autonomous regions/municipalities) and relevant departments of the State Council have generally established online government service platforms. By the end of 2020, we will establish a technology and service system with departmental coordination, provincial-level coordination, and Internet-based 'Internet + government services' to achieve standardization, precision, convenience, and coordination of government services. (China..., 2017)
The government service has been significantly optimised, the service formats have become more diversified, the service channels have become more open and the satisfaction of the people has increased significantly. In Chinese governments, it is commonly known that microblogging, as a communication platform, facilitates the dissemination of information and attracts users' attention successfully (Tong and Zuo, 2014). Chinese regional governments have to use social media extensively to promote long-term political stability and encourage the public to actively participate in social management (Zhang and Han, 2015).
User satisfaction with Chinese governments' social media
The new model of service-oriented government has been the subject of government reforms around the world. In the case of China, the central government began to think rationally about the position of its own functions as early as the government reform in 1998, which explicitly proposed the public service functions of the government. The report of the Nineteenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (2017) clearly stated that it was necessary to build a service-oriented government that is satisfactory to the people as the goal of reform. The construction of a service-oriented government is inevitably based on the premise and goal of the public's satisfaction. Therefore, whether people are satisfied is the final measure of the quality of service-oriented government construction. Based on China's specific national conditions, government social media serve as a way for the service-oriented government to handle government affairs. It plays an important role in the various contradictions that emerged in the development of China, like public opinion towards the social network and the spread of the crisis communications. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to measure the work of service-oriented government social media from the perspective of scientific and objective public satisfaction.
The interaction and communication between citizens and government social media has significantly affected the engagement of citizens (Wang and Yang, 2020). However, the use of social media by Chinese governments is in a phase of rapid growth, but with low interaction levels among citizens (Lu et al., 2016). For example, when citizens express their opinions or participate in discussions on public affairs on microblogging platforms, the Chinese government often performs inadequately, improperly or with undue delay (Zheng, 2013). For governments, citizens' concerns and needs will significantly influence their online information dissemination behaviours (Xie et al., 2017). Nowadays, Internet users like to share their opinions of an idea, service or policy on social media websites. It is important for governments to collect feedback from citizens (Hao et al., 2016). Therefore, a government's immediate feedback and dialogue with users, combined with clearly stated goals and action-oriented engagement have a significant effect on user feelings (Brandtzaeg et al., 2016). The efficiency of social media in government relies not only on the structural characteristics of the whole network but also those of the individual microblog (Rong and Song, 2013). As Ji et al. (2019) and Rahim et al. (2019) said, pictures and videos increased the number of comments received and improved users’ engagement rates. Therefore, it is critical for governments to understand user needs, behaviours and expectations to promote their social media usage (Bertot et al., 2010). Governments should interact more actively and pay continuous attention to their online public voice to obtain a win-win result (Liu and Liu, 2016).
The literature has shown that the ultimate goal of establishing government social media is to provide the public with more complete and convenient services, so it is more important to assess the level of government social media from the user’s perspective. Therefore, observing government social media through user satisfaction is an effective way to research government social media.
Theoretical background and hypotheses
The comprehensive information theory is intended to ‘provide an approach to the mathematical description of the form, the logical meaning, and the utility of the object's state/manner with respect to the subject’ (Zhong, 1992). In Zhong’s view, information is the state of motion of things and the way they change, so comprehensive information has three levels: syntactic, semantic and pragmatic. These three levels respectively concern the form meaning and utility of the state. In other words, the user has comprehensive information when they know the state of things and the meaning and utility of this state. Only under this circumstance can the user form a comprehensive understanding, make correct decisions, exercise reasonable control, form an optimised system, complete the information process and achieve the intended purpose.
The comprehensive information theory believes that people are perceptive and can feel the external presentation of the information. Secondly, people also have ability to understand the content of the information and can judge the utility of information to attain a certain goal. When people perceive things, they can make judgments by perceiving their presentation, content and utility. In terms of online platform applications, comprehensive information theory has been used in intelligent tutoring system (Jin, 2008) and community question-answering system (Sun, 2014).
Therefore, the comprehensive information theory provides theoretical support for handling and resolving the problem of user satisfaction with government social media. Syntactic semantic and pragmatic information involved in comprehensive information theory correspond to the presentation, content and utility of social media platforms. We introduce the presentation, content and utility of governments' social media, from the perspective of the users, to consider the impact of government social media on user satisfaction in this paper. These three aspects are used to generalise factors affecting user satisfaction in the existing research.
The presentation of social media
The presentation of social media represents what users can experience directly when they browse social media, such as information formats and language expression. Users also can find whether the information format matches the function of the government. Because of developments in the technology, users can now receive an abundance of information in different forms, such as text, images and video (Charalabidis and Loukis, 2015). A government's social media platform should be easy to use and designed so that the interface matches its function (Díaz-Díaz and Pérez-González, 2016). For instance, the background music, account name, image, biographic information, etc. of a government affairs microblog should match the purpose of the government body. Thus, a well-designed interface can enchance a user's trust in and ability to access information on government activities. In addition, language expression on the platform may influence users' feelings, in a similar way to how the friendliness of a person when speaking has a direct impact on building a user's trust in government (Park et al., 2016). Through these ideas, we propose that the presentation has a positive effect on user satisfaction.
H1: Effective presentation of social media has a positive effect on user satisfaction.
The content of social media
The content of social media mainly refers to the information itself, the accuracy of content expression, the updating of content and its relevance to the government function. Content factors can be managed to improve the interactivity between users and government (Hao et al., 2016). Updating the content of the platform should be a direct means of communication with users (Liu et al., 2012). Therefore, many scholars suggest that the use of social media platforms as informational newsfeeds provides instant notification of new information and online reports to users (Ellison and Hardey, 2014). Apart from this, the provision of government information should be more detailed for users to recognise its completeness (Gelders, 2005).
However, completeness is not enough as any error in information provided by a government can lead to a loss of credibility and an increase in distrust. Therefore, social media platforms should provide normative content, based on its veracity (Park et al., 2016). In addition, we find that government platforms sometimes include weather forecasts or other unrelated topics. Some scholars argue that social media should only provide relevant, appropriately summarised information to users in order to gain their trust (Elvira et al., 2014; Panagiotopoulos and Bowen, 2015). If users become overwhelmed with the information displayed on social media platforms, they may feel fatigued and tend to shy away from the platform (Bright et al., 2015). Thus, the quantity of posts uploaded should be moderate. We, therefore, hypothesise that content has a positive impact on user satisfaction.
H2: The relevance of the content presented on social media has a positive effect on user satisfaction.
The utility of social media
The utility of social media refers to users' feelings towards the interaction between them and the government and what value users get by using social media. Furthermore, it relates to studying whether the information they get is useful to them. Whether the interface is easy to operate will directly affect the user's feeling towards the platform, so we should focus on the interface's convenience and operability (Zhu and Zhang, 2014). Functional use, especially information acquisition and participation are significant predictors (Jia et al., 2019); of whether users can get information from the government affairs microblog and whether this information contributes to the users' daily work and life. Therefore, social media platforms must be convenient for users to search and find information (Chen et al., 2020). Governments must put users first and ensure consistent interaction (Zheng, 2012). Interaction on social media platforms creates high expectations. Replying instantly to queries, providing continuous updates on information and engaging with the public on emerging issues are included in these expectations (Panagiotopoulos et al., 2013). In considering this, we assume that utility has a positive impact on user satisfaction.
H3: Utility of social media has a positive impact on user satisfaction.
The above research hypotheses are designed for whether presentation, content and utility of social media platforms have a positive effect on user satisfaction. The presentation of social media pays attention to the external characteristics of government social media, which users can see directly on the platform. The content of social media mainly refers to the information itself. The utility of social media refers to users' feelings about their interaction with the government and the value they get when using social media. Personal satisfaction with social media often directly determines their subsequent use of social media. So, it is very important to focus on user satisfaction when determining if they will continue following government affairs microblogs.
Study and results
The new public management movement not only revisited and criticised traditional administrative theories, but built a new paradigm for the management of public departments. They should also be results-oriented, supplying high-quality public services and meeting the needs of citizens. This movement emphasised the importance of public satisfaction and established customer satisfaction as the benchmark for evaluating government work. Governments already use social media to track basic output metrics, such as number of messages posted, comments received, reports and retweets and followers gained. Even so, with social media becoming ever more prevalent in citizens' lives, whether presentation, content and utility of social media can gain users’ acceptance and satisfaction should be taken into account. User satisfaction with government information services is an on-going issue. More attention should also be paid to the value and the specific feelings of users. Only by doing so can they promote the modernization of the national governance system and governance capacity and reflect the high degree of interaction between user needs and government strategies.
Therefore, this part will explore the effects of presentation, content and utility on Chinese government social media from the perspective of user satisfaction. In order to better investigate user satisfaction with social media platforms, this study examines Chinese government affairs microblogs. As these are now being widely employed by governments, it exerts great influence on promoting openness and transparency of government to reduce corruption (Bertot et al., 2010). A questionnaire was designed to collect data, which largely depended on existing theoretical research. Table 1 shows the factors, items and theoretical sources used in this study. We use a five-point Likert scale to process the collected data.
|Presentation (X1)||Whether the background music, account name, image or background image of the interface conforms to the role of the government? X11||(Elvira et al., 2014; Díaz-Díaz and Pérez-González, 2016)|
|Is the expression and style of language used on the account friendly and/or acceptable to users? X12||(Park et al., 2016)|
|Are there various forms posted on the platform, e.g. images, video, etc.? X13||(Charalabidis and Loukis, 2015)|
|Content (X2)||Is the information contained on the platform complete or detailed enough to comprehend? X21||(Gelders, 2005)|
|Does the platform update its content frequently? X22||(Elvira et al., 2014; Liu et al., 2012; Ellison and Hardey, 2014)|
|Is the information posted on the platform relevant to the function of the government? X23||(Elvira et al., 2014; Panagiotopoulos and Bowen, 2015)|
|Are there any errors in formatting or wrongly written content on the platform? X24||(Park et al., 2016)|
|Utility(X3)||Is it easy to operate the interface of the government affairs microblog? X31||(Zhu and Zhang, 2014; Jia et al., 2019; Lollar, 2006)|
|Can government affairs microblog help you get the government information? X32||(Zheng, 2012)|
|Can the government affairs microblog help/affect you handle some problems in your work or life? X33||(Chen et al., 2016; Zhang et al., 2009)|
|Is there smooth interaction between users and government? i.e. does the government effectively answer user questions and/or provide feedback in time? X34||(Park et al., 2016; Panagiotopoulos and Bowen, 2015)|
|Satisfaction (SA)||Will you continue to follow the government affairs microblog? SA1||(Deng et al., 2010)|
|In the process of following the government affairs microblog, have you obtained anything? SA2|
|Overall, your feeling to the government affairs microblog is satisfactory? SA3|
Data sample and collection method
Sichuan, as a medium-size, developing province, has a positive attitude towards information development. According to the Government Index Microblog Influence Report, the Sichuan government's microblog competitiveness ranked No.1 for the strongest comprehensive application ability and the strongest application effect (People's Daily, 2019). Hence, this study chose to concentrate on the government affairs microblog of the Sichuan provincial departments as a specific case (Table 2). This study starts with a more advanced province, in the hope of enlightening other provinces in China. Through the observation of users employing the government affairs microblog, experience in terms of presentation, content and utility can illustrate the effects of using government affairs microblogs.
|Government departments in Sichuan Province||Microblog Websites|
|Development and Reform Commission||http://weibo.com/u/3655154174|
|Economic and Information Commission||http://weibo.com/u/3750707244|
|Science and Technology Department||http://weibo.com/scskjt|
|Ethnic and Religious Affairs Commission||http://weibo.com/u/3747003345|
|Public Security Department||http://weibo.com/scgongan|
|Department of Civil Affairs||http://e.t.qq.com/scmzheng|
|Department of Justice||http://weibo.com/scssft|
|Human Resources and Social Security Department||http://weibo.com/u/2133851382|
|Land and Resources Department||http://t.qq.com/scsgtzyt|
|Department of Housing and Urban-Rural||http://t.home.news.cn/scjst|
|Department of Transportation||http://weibo.com/scjtys|
|Water Resources Department||http://weibo.com/scslt|
|Department of Agricultural||http://weibo.com/scagri|
|Department of Forestry||http://weibo.com/u/3703667675|
|Department of Commerce||http://weibo.com/u/3648720994|
|Department of Culture||http://weibo.com/u/3707564093|
|Health and Family Planning Commission||http://e.weibo.com/u/3754192351|
|Department of Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs||http://weibo.com/sichuanwaishiqiaowu|
|Tourism Development Committee||http://weibo.com/sichuanlvyou?is_hot=1|
An online survey method was used to collect data from Sichuan government's microblog. Firstly, the questionnaire was published on the World Wide Web. Some statistical studies suggested that the ratio of sample size to the number of independent variables should fall from five to ten (Barlett et al., 2001; Horn and Salvendy, 2006). Considering that there are twenty measurement items in this study, the final number of questionnaires should be at least 200. We did a preliminary survey and found the feedback ratio reaching 25%. According to this calculation, at least 800 questionnaire requests must be sent. Meanwhile, to avoid followers showing bias towards the microblog they used and to treat each government affairs microblog more equitably, fifty followers of each Sichuan provincial department microblog were chosen at random to receive the questionnaire and a request to participate in the survey to evaluate government affairs. This survey had already recorded every ID of the followers to ensure that each follower evaluated only one government microblog. The questionnaire only requires the respondent to comment on the microblog they followed. Ultimately, a total of 323 questionnaires were collected from the investigation. By recording which government affairs microblog each respondent comes from, it can be found that the distribution of respondents in twenty-three microblogs is relatively balanced. The descriptive statistics of the sample are listed in Table 3.
|Education level||High school or below||44||13.6|
|Master’s degree or above||53||16.4|
|Monthly income||≤2000 yuan*||65||20.1|
|Public institution employee||48||14.9|
|Years using microblog||<2 years||80||24.8|
|* 1000 yuan = €123.60 (July, 2020)|
Evaluation of measurement models
For this study, the structural equation modelling software SmartPLS 3.0 was used to test the theoretical model and research hypothesis. Cronbach's Alpha was used to test the intrinsic consistency or reliability of the scale. According to the view of most scholars, if Cronbach's Alpha is greater than 0.7, reliability may be considered relatively high. In this study, Cronbach's Alpha value of the scale is 0.913. Cronbach’s Alpha values of each latent variable are all above 0.7, indicating that the scale has good internal consistency. The load factor of each latent variable and observable variable are above 0.7 and reach the significance level (P<0.01) except that one item is 0.669, so it signifies that the model has good convergent validity (Table 4).
|Satisfaction - SA||SA1||0.839 (0.000)||0.799||0.882||0.731|
|Presentation - X1||X11||0.824 (0.000)||0.777||0.870||0.691|
|Content - X2||X21||0.781 (0.000)||0.778||0.857||0.600|
|Utility - X3||X31||0.669 (0.000)||0.755||0.845||0.579|
|* AVE = Average variance extracted|
Validity is a factor to examine whether the scale items can measure the variable truly, objectively and accurately. In this study, the average variance extracted values of all the latent variables are greater than 0.5, and the combination reliability is greater than 0.8; thus, the scale has better convergence validity. The square root of the average variance extracted values of all the latent variables X1, X2, X3 is put into the correlation matrix to make a comparison, which is greater than the absolute values of the latent variables in the row and column where they are located, indicating that the scale has better discriminant validity (Table 5). The validity of the study may be considered as good and the scale is suitable to be set as the standard to evaluate the social media platform.
Structure model evaluation
The study concentrates on user satisfaction from the perspective of presentation, content, and utility when using the government affairs microblog. The PLS 3.0 structural equation model for confirmatory factor analysis shows that R2 is 0.539, indicating that the intrinsic potential variables can be explained by 53.9%, which means that the overall fit of the model is good. The results of the multi-collinearity analysis showed that the VIF values of X1, X2 and X3 were 1.942, 2.577 and 2.155, which were all less than 5, indicating that there is no multi-collinearity among the independent variables X1, X2, and X3 (Farrar and Glauber, 1967).
The influence levels of exogenous latent variables X1 (presentation), X2 (content), and X3 (utility) on endogenous variables are 0.116, 0.033, and 0.099, which are all greater than the minimum standard 0.02. The result of the blindfolding method (omission distance is set as 7) shows that Q2=0.356>0, indicating the model has predictive correlation.
The direct effect test (Table 6) shows that the path coefficients are positive and reach a significant level. The presentation, content and utility of social media all have a positive effect on user satisfaction. Specifically, though the path coefficient value of presentation is 0.008 more than utility, they have almost same effect on user satisfaction with government social media. Among these three, content has the least effect on user satisfaction with government social media. Its path coefficient value is lower than presentation and utility of social media. In a word, the case analysis of Chinese government microblogs shows that presentation, content and utility affect user satisfaction of government social media.
|Hypothesis||Path Relationship||Path Coefficient||P value||Result|
In recent years, the Chinese government has made special efforts to use the Internet and online services to provide public services and has started to use social media to communicate with users, providing guidance where necessary. Policies relating to the government affairs microblog, at the provincial level, have been introduced on a regular basis. For example, in 2013, Sichuan Province issued a regulation named Strengthening the application of the government affairs microblog (Sichuan..., 2013), and in 2016, Anhui Province issued a Notice on further strengthening the construction of the government affairs microblog, WeChat (Anhui..., 2016). They both stressed that greater attention should be paid to opening and regulating the application of government affairs microblogs in a pro-active manner. These policies propose the introduction of government affairs microblogs through the establishment of special operation and maintenance teams. Implementation leaders have specific duties and a clear division of responsibilities to ensure that government affairs microblogs have established norms and operate successfully. In particular, increasing user satisfaction has become increasingly important for government social media.
This study shows that the presentation, content and utility of social media all have a positive effect on user satisfaction. In relation to the presentation of social media, we know that policies at all levels of Chinese government promote the standardised construction of government affairs microblogs. Accordingly, there are strict requirements for presentation and other aspects relating to information expression. This contributes to institutionalised and standardised work practices. These encourage current government departments to observe social conditions and listen to citizens' opinions.
At the same time, studies have discovered that, because of a lack of funds and operational teams, government affairs microblogs tend to be abandoned over time (Picazo-Vela et al., 2012). Therefore, almost all policies relating to social media usage by Chinese governments have identified that all departments should provide the necessary staff and employee training to operate successfully (Chen et al., 2016). Given these circumstances, the presentation of government affairs microblogs is all standardised, which allows users to distinguish more clearly whether such sites are true and the microblogs may be considered more trustworthy. Hence, they have more confidence in this level of presentation. For these reasons, the presentation of social media does exert a positive influence on users' satisfaction. Besides, various formats posted on the platform cause users to become more interested in the information. As one user said, they are so grateful there is no longer only words posted on the platform. Indeed, all kinds of formats like image, video, and GIF make the experience more vivid. This combination of standardisation and flexibility results in the presentation of social media having a positive impact on the user satisfaction.
The above-mentioned results have shown that the content of social media has a positive effect on user satisfaction. Yet among the three elements, content has the least effect. For instance, many government departments create government affairs microblogs only in response to pressure from above. This results in microblog production being seen as a routine chore resulting from performance-related targets such as stating ‘good weather today’, ‘a good mood every day’ and so on. Although information should be fast moving, these posts are obviously irrelevant and do not satisfy users' information requirements. Hence, some local governments have begun to publish regulations concerning the provision of content on government affairs microblogs. For instance, given a situation where sixteen districts and counties in Beijing often delivered similar information like ‘in the fall, reduce the usage of foam cleanser’, ‘the bigger breakfast is, the more effective weight loss can be’, ‘which plants have the best effect on cleaning indoor air’, the Beijing government insisted that at least 60% of the total output of posts each day should be based on information related to government affairs.
In addition, some users reported that ‘the government affairs microblog I followed rarely update information and I can't believe even sometimes there are some errors in formatting or wrongly written.’ From this criticism, it is easy to determine that correct, frequently updated content will satisfy users. On the other hand, with the rapid pace of life, people are more prone to neglect the content of social media. They only focus on the information they need or want and glance over content So, some errors or incorrect content may not be clear enough to draw their attention. This may be the reason that content has the least effect on user satisfaction. Apart from the presentation and the content of social media, the utility of social media also has a positive impact on user satisfaction. First of all, it’s key for easy access to information. In addition, whether users can get government information and whether it is helpful to their life or work play a part in user satisfaction.
For example, @peace Harbin had a microblog that caused general concern and discussion among users on the content of the microblog. The microblog related to a fire incident in Harbin and comprised a total of 585 words, of which 258 words mentioned ‘leader attaches great importance on it’. To some extent, in the opinion of users, the information content of this post was deemed useless. This meant that the amount of information relating to the specific event, which users wanted to learn about, was insufficient. The communication channels of government affairs microblogs are often filled with irrelevant information that users do not care about, which results in users failing to access useful government information. One user stated in the survey that they usually cannot get what they need and what the microblog posts is not useful and meaningful for their work and life.
On the other hand, these government departments do not really care about the actual activity and level of management provided to service the microblog. Therefore, creating a government affairs microblog is not a voluntary choice for many government departments. It is usually in order to meet the demands of those more senior within government or to comply with a work plan. The management of government affairs microblogs, therefore, becomes a mere formality and may even be considered an inferior version of the government's official website, with little consideration being given to the effect of information dissemination. As one user said, ‘I always comment on the government information, while no one interacts with me on the comment zone, especially when I have some questions, no one helps me handle it online.’
As a tool for information dissemination, the government affairs microblog should release authoritative information in a timely fashion to align the focus and needs of the users with all government work. Its goal is to fulfil the role of communication and convenience effectively. The information effect of government affairs microblogs strongly depends on its users, as they are highly autonomous and selective in their access to information. Hence, the utility of social media has a positive impact on user satisfaction.
In summary, although there are still some problems with government social media platforms, in order to achieve the goal of the user service, the Chinese government social platforms should better understand the positive roles in presentation, content and utility.
According to layer-by-layer analysis based on three questions, this paper summarises the factors affecting user satisfaction in the existing research and uses presentation, content and utility to generalise them based on the comprehensive information theory. It evaluates government social media from the perspective of user satisfaction in the context of presentation, content and utility of the government affairs' microblogs in China. Through China’s case, it is finally found that presentation and utility have almost same effect on user satisfaction with government social media and content has the least effect. On the basis of the results, relevant reasons why and how they produce these effects have been provided. The combination of standardization and flexibility results in presentation of social media having a positive impact on the user satisfaction.
In addition, an easy to handle interface, helpful information for life or work and effective interaction between users and government social media can all have an effect on the user satisfaction. This means that the utility of government affairs microblogs strongly depends on its users, as they are highly autonomous and selective in their access to information. Hence, the utility of social media has the same positive impact as the presentation of social media on user satisfaction. Whether the content delivered by the government affairs microblogs is relevant, updated or wrongly written is the key to influence user satisfaction. In conclusion, the presentation, content and utility of social media all have a positive effect on user satisfaction. This can provide a reference for Chinese government departments when enhancing their use of social media.
This study offers several implications for research. First, observing government social media from the perspective of user satisfaction is essential to understanding government social media platforms, as the ultimate goal of these platforms is to provide the public with more complete and convenient services. As the new public administration says, the government is no longer the authoritative bureaucracy to issue orders, but a people-oriented service provider. The government public administration is no longer a governance administration but a service administration. Users are customers who enjoy public services. Government's administrative power and administrative behaviour subordinate and service the satisfaction of these customers.
Furthermore, this study gets rid of the oversimplified description of the application of government social media, such as posting messages and acquiring followers. Instead, the study pays attention to whether government social media platforms can meet user recognition and satisfaction, which could provide theoretical support for subsequent adoption strategies of government social media. This paper not only enriches the interpretation of the content of satisfaction in social media platforms, but also provides a research framework of presentation, content and utility, which is a theoretical reference for the continuous improvement of government social media research.
Our work provides several implications for practice as well. The speed, breadth and depth of information dissemination have higher requirements for government social media. So, first of all, this study suggests that government agencies should pay more attention to whether users are satisfied with social media platforms. User-centred and user satisfaction-based government information service are the mainstream of current research. Focus should be shifted to users and to what users want (Dai et al., 2017). Exploring users’ behaviour and needs from the perspective of user satisfaction can help the government to provide targeted services, create a good service experience for the public and transformation into service-oriented government. Moreover, given that presentation, content and utility of social media platforms play an important role in shaping user satisfaction, so Chinese government affairs microblogs should reflect the combination between changes of user needs and government behavioural strategies. For example, various formats can be adopted to attract people when trying to publicise government affairs.
Governments can provide a centralised hub that delivers all government information on one platform, including public security, transportation, industry and commerce, quality supervision, environmental protection and other departmental information. In this way, information about weather, education, jobs, medical care, etc. can be provided to the public through one platform. These can represent the government's flat structure and enhance the quality of government affairs. Furthermore, a study shows that users allocate only a certain amount of time when interacting with microblogs (Kolowich, 2019); this measurement is a useful indicator for identifying the peak periods of user engagement and commenting, which will allow a synchronous release of information on government affairs microblogging websites. This will also allow optimal interaction with the users. Gradually, an inertia effect will be found in users’ psychology. Therefore, we should aim to maintain and expand the attractiveness and loyalty to government affairs microblogs.
Several limitations of this study are also worth noting. First, to ensure that every microblog has followers participating in the questionnaire, we released the same number of questionnaires to each microblog’s followers, but did not take into account the difference in total number of followers in each microblog. This study focuses on user satisfaction with social media accounts of the Chinese government and reports specifically on presentation, content and utility, but it does not evaluate the practical effect of government social media usage, such as using social media during an emergency. Moreover, because of the limitation of subjective and objective conditions, data collected in this research comes from a specific province in China and may not be fully representative of all provinces in China. However, our research methods should still be applicable. Further research should explore the differences in user satisfaction with the social media accounts central and local governments and a variety of local governments. Another research direction worth investigation is the differences in the focus of topics between public and government social media accounts, and whether user behaviour on social media has a significant impact on user satisfaction. In short, this paper still has some limitations, but we hope that the research results will help to better understand the user satisfaction of the Chinese government’s social media platforms.
The authors appreciate the editors and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and constructive suggestions. This study was supported by the Social Science Foundation of the Sichuan University (No. SKSYL201807), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 71964030), the Special Funds from the Central Finance to Support the Development of Local Universities (No. ZFYJY201902001), and the Soft Science Research Program of Tibet (No. RK20180014).
About the authors
Feng Yang is an Associate Professor at the School of Public Administration, Sichuan University in China. He received his PhD in Economics from Sichuan University. His research interests are the problems related to Internet governance and government information management. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shan Zhao is a postgraduate student at the School of Public Administration, Sichuan University in China. Her research interests are government information management and digital governance. She can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Wenyong Li is a Professor at the School of Business Administration, Southwestern University of Finance and Economic. He received his PhD in Management from Sichuan University. His research interests are the problems related to the on-line consuming behaviour. He can be contacted at: Liwy@swufe.edu.cn.
Richard Evans is a Senior Lecturer in Information Management at Westminster Business School, University of Westminster in the United Kingdom. He received his PhD in Knowledge Management for Collaborative Product Development from the University of Greenwich. His research interests focus on collaborative systems for knowledge intensive environments. He can be contacted at: R.Evans@westminster.ac.uk.
Wei Zhang is an Assistant Professor at the School of Medicine and Health Management, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China. He received his PhD in Management from Huazhong University of Science and Technology. His research interests are digital governance and medical informatics. He is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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