Purpose – The need for universities to connect with local communities and to make research relevant to the public has been highlighted over recent years through the debate about public engagement. At the same time, the Internet and its applications have made it possible for universities and academics to engage with the public in an easier and more effective way. The objective of this study is to examine the factors that motivate academics to engage with the public online. Design/methodology/approach – The Decomposed Theory of Planned Behaviour and Uses and Gratifications Theory were used as a basis for the study's research model. An online survey was conducted and 250 valid responses were used for the data analysis (Structural Equation Modelling). Findings – The results indicate that although academics seem to use online technologies for public engagement, this use takes the form of a one-way communication as the most influential factors of attitude when it comes to engaging with the public are image and information seeking rather than networking. Originality/value – While there are some studies about the use of online technologies for teaching or for networking purposes within academia, little is known about academics' intentions to engage with the public online. The study attempts to fill this gap and help universities understand their staff’s motivation and needs, which could be useful when it comes to launching successful public engagement campaigns.