If you needed information about your city, it makes sense to head over to the metropolitan website to begin figuring out what's what. A research study by Cleveland State's Leo Jeffres and UConn's Carolyn Lin appears in Indiana University's Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. The study examines how the websites of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the US represented their cities and how well their websites communicated with the public, both residents and visitors, through their sites. The researchers found that while some websites offer quite a lot of useful information, they still have a ways to go to be perfectly useful, especially since the Internet is recognized as a superior platform for democraticizing society and fostering community. 

Jeffres and Lin are, in their investigation, asking a larger question, of whether or not the internet can (and has so  far) help(ed) build and support community and engagement in civic life for a variety of stakeholders, not limited to current and prospective residents, business owners and tourists. In this study, they directly ask whether or not the sample of 50 major metropolitan websites offer the kind of diverse information/content one would consider of great importance to the abovementioned stakeholders.

They point out that the local governments' have the opportunity to "position" themselves through the website. "Metropolitan websites also may be viewed as an extension of the city and how its leadership sees itself." The website can easily portray the city as a "provider of civic services", "a developer" which uses the site as a platform to drive economic development or a "civic mobilizer", which attempts to get residents involved with the city government and its development.

Jeffres and Lin ask the following questions in their study:

1. To what extent are mass communications functions served by municipal website through the provision of surveillance, coordination (whether one aspect of society knows what the other is doing), socialization (passing on the culture from one generation to the next) and entertainment information?

2. To what extent do municipal websites facilitate citizen access to other local media outlets?

3. To what extent do municipal websites exercise their institutional communication functions by presenting their cities as local government, provider of public services and as economic developer?

4. To what extent do municipal websites speak to residents as members of neighborhoods and communities and to what depth must one navigate for the function?

5. To what extent do municipal websites assume the role of community mobilizer to help strengthen community ties to better the community's economic and social development?


Surveillance Features on the websites

  • 94% Had information about city garbage collection, environment programs/services
  • 68% Had current news stories about the city
  • 80% Had a calendar of city events
  • 80% Had information about city social service programs
  • 82% Had information about schools/education programs, services
  • 82% Had information about city health programs,services 


  • 90% Provided information for contacting city council reps
  • 68% Provides map and/or list of wards, council reps
  • 80% Solicits citizen initiatives to report problems online
  • 78% Provides feedback link for contacting mayor online
  • 82% Information on where, hotw to atten, speak at council meetings


  • 72% Provides statistics about the city
  • 46% Provides information about lodging in the city for tourists/visitors
  • 20% Provides visual tour of city for visitors


  • 90% Have photos of city or gallery pics

Mass Communications

  • 38% Provide links to local metro newspapers
  • 28% Provides links to local television stations
  • 20% Provides links to local radio stations

You can see some overlap with the institutional communications function, as the city uses the website to provide public services information, local government information, and city service related contact information.With regard to economic development, it is obviously important that any metropolitan area take the promotion of growth in both these areas seriously, yet very few actually do an exceptional job of informing the interested party.

Economic Development

  • 90% Provide information about doing business with city
  • 6% Solicits investments in city, promotes city for development
  • 60% Provides online services/forms for business permits, licenses.

One of the key takeaways readers of this study ought to remember is that cities who have the improvement of their area as a part of their agenda, must understand how to serve relevant information easily to their constituents and all of their stakeholders. Jeffres and Lin conclude that, "cities with declining resources must learn to service their constituents in a variety of roles while communication with a variety of other stakeholders and persuading them to visit, invest in, or consider the city as a potential home. This social phenomenon implies that municipalities need to adopt an effect online communication strategy that will help them maintain and sustain their local identity while serving residents by shifting municipal functions to a relatively cost-efficient 'virtual' environment."

Taking it one step further, they offer a way of building that strategy.

1. Ensure usefulness and usability of the metropolitan website

2. Widely promote the use of the website to all potential visitors, including internal and external stakeholders, to better serve constituents.

3. Regulary measure the number of constituents reached and served.

4. Periodically assess the communication effectiveness of their websites by surveying residents on their use and satisfaction with the services and information provided online and by surveying city departments and personnel for the feedback theur receive concerning the website.

Find the full study here.