Ways and means: How think tanks use social media to influence public policy

Daisung Jang, John Bechara, William Bottom*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientific


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, their targets have been elite actors such as legislators and executive branch agencies through 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).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContemporary trends in conflict and communication
Subtitle of host publicationTechnology and social media​
EditorsJ.K. Jameson, M.F. Hannah
PublisherDe Gruyter
ISBN (Electronic)9783110687262
ISBN (Print)978-3110687217
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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