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Many public officials and government agencies are facing increased pressure to utilize social media as a crisis communications tool. However, significant questions remain unanswered regarding how social media can be best leveraged to facilitate effective communication efforts under crisis conditions. These questions are often more challenging for local government agencies, where unsupportive culture and a lack of resources tend to discourage the active use of social media in governing. In an effort to better inform these discussions, this article examines the use of Twitter by federal, state, and local government actors during the 2015–2016 Zika virus outbreak in the United States. The findings show that local governments have smaller network sizes, on average, than their state and federal counterparts. In contrast, federal-level agencies tend to enjoy larger network sizes, which they frequently leverage as a tool for disseminating information. Elected office holders, in general, managed large networks and leveraged their popularity during the crisis. This analysis offers insight for both scholars and practitioners in the areas of emergency management and public administration, as it helps to deepen our understanding of how government agencies and political leaders across various levels of government engage with the public during times of crisis.

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Digital Government: Research and Practice, v. 1, issue 2, p. 1-21

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