The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how upstream social marketing may benefit from social media citizen sourcing and improve understanding of community preferences and attitudes to policy. Using the case of shark management in New South Wales, Australia, this paper aims to understand community attitudes toward shark management policy-making and policymakers. Design/methodology/approach: In February 2017, more than 11,200 comments were sourced from Facebook and Twitter using Netvizz, a data extraction tool. To analyze these comments, the study used an abductive framework using social marketing, wildlife and coexistence and policy literature, to determine context, themes and sub-themes. This was combined with Appraisal, a systemic functional linguistics framework, advocating a social reference for coding and analyzing community attitudes and preference. Findings: Preferences for non-lethal measures over lethal or potentially lethal measures were noted, with new technologies highly favored. The online communities wanted a policy that was respectful of human and marine life and focused on patrolled or popular beaches. The main negative comments made related to perceived knee-jerk reactions and poor communication surrounding decision-making. People held little confidence in politicians’ skills and abilities to solve complex and multi-faceted problems, demanding less top-down decision-making and greater community input into policy formation. Practical implications: This approach could assist upstream social marketers better understand social and community attitudes and preferences toward policy. Originality/value: The study demonstrated that listening to community through digital channels can assist upstream social marketing understand community preferences and attitudes to policies and the policy-making process. Using abduction further broadens the perspective of the researchers in assigning meaning to commentary.