Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to identify the extent to which social media are perceived by local government communicators as an opportunity to facilitate dialogue with communities, and the barriers that prevent dialogue occurring.Design/methodology/approach: In-depth qualitative interviews were held with 11 communication practitioners and managers from eight metropolitan and one regional council in South Australia who actively used social media. Findings: Social media are used and valued more for transmission of information and promotion than engaging in dialogue. Limited understanding of social media by risk averse councillors and management, practitioner competencies in interactive technologies, and lack of guidance for meeting mandatory record-keeping through social media were key factors inhibiting its use for dialogue.Research limitations/implications: The South Australian sample limits generalisability to other locations. However, the findings generally accord with previous, mostly quantitative, studies, and enrich understanding of beliefs and perceptions that limit dialogic use of Web 2.0 technology.Practical implications ' Work needs to be done to align the law, community expectations, and policy guidance for local government in their use of social media communication and data storage.Achievement of the dialogic potential for social media requires an investment in people and training and updating of communication record policies. Originality/value: This paper broadens discussions about social media and dialogue in organisational communication by focusing on local government and articulating communicator, organisational culture, policy, and legal considerations.