Date of Award



Patricia A. Stokowski, PhD

David P. Massell, PhD

Walter F. Kuentzel, PhD

Monika M. Derrien, PhD

Document Type



Public communication is one of the most important aspects of a natural resource manager’s job, and social media has opened new channels of communication between agencies and their audiences. Not only do most agencies now maintain an overall social media presence, but units within agencies typically create unique social media pages. This is true for the National Park Service (NPS) in the U.S., where over 400 individual parks have a social media presence. Many of these use Facebook for social media communication; Facebook is currently the largest social media platform, with over 2.8 billion monthly users. Drawing from prior research about natural resource-based national parks (Marcotte & Stokowski, 2021), and using framing theory, we studied how different types of national parks (monuments, historic sites, natural resource areas, and others) used social media to “frame” emotion in their Facebook posts, and whether/how social media followers expressed emotional responses in response to agency posts. The sample included 20 national park units in the Northeastern region of the U.S., included national historic sites, national monuments, and national recreation areas, among others. From each NPS unit’s Facebook pages, we collected all the agency texts and images, and user comments posted during six monthly windows in 2021 and 2022 (accounting for seasonal changes and pandemic closures). One researcher collected data, then two researchers conducted the qualitative analysis to assure dependability and confirmability. In total, we collected 1,161 Facebook text posts and over 8,000 comments. An initial content analysis was used to identify examples of emotions across the agency and follower posts, then analysis methods suggested by Roberts et al. (2019) were used to evaluate emotion in texts as positive, negative or neutral. About two-thirds of all agency posts were judged as neutral, with others mostly positive. Following Plutchik’s (1991) classification scheme, fourteen unique emotions were identified in agency texts and fifteen unique emotions were found in follower comments. Joy was presented the most frequently in NPS texts. Analysis shows that emotional tone and content is visible especially in agencies’ uses of positive emotional cues, in followers’ reports of positive personal experiences, and in negative reviews about the managerial efforts of local park managers. Comparison across park types revealed that similar choices were being made across units. Overall, this research focuses attention on modern electronic forms of agency public communication – an understudied area of natural, cultural, and historic resource management. In practical terms, this study draws attention to the role of social media as a central component of agency management, and as a tool reflecting an agency’s institutional culture and identity. This work thus links theory and practice, as well as agencies and their audiences.

Available for download on Sunday, April 14, 2024