Journal of the Association for Information Systems


We propose a research model based on media synchronicity theory (MST) and examine how the use of different symbol sets (e.g., images and text) is related to audience engagement on social media. We include uses and gratifications theory (UGT) in the model to identify task characteristics that are relevant to message recipients in the specific context of community policing. Based on our analyses of Facebook posts by five police departments, we find first that, consistent with MST, posts conveying information garner more responses when accompanied by more natural symbol sets, and more textual content is preferred to less, but responses differ depending on the type of engagement: intimacy (likes), interaction (comments), or influence (shares). Second, posts intended for meaning convergence gratify the audience’s socialization and assistance needs and are positively related to intimacy and interaction. Finally, the fit between symbol sets and task characteristics impacts different dimensions of audience engagement. These findings provide empirical support for relying on MST when studying social media and for integrating with UGT to capture contextual task characteristics. We conclude the paper with a discussion of the implications of its findings for theory and offer recommendations for practice.