Government and Social Media

“… social media tools in the public sector create opportunities to enhance transparency, communication, and collaboration in government…” (Mergel 2010).

 

worldguides.com

What are the drivers and inhibiters of social media implementation and adoption in government?

Engagement with the People

Social Media provides opportunities for the government to engage with the people. In the past, the perception by many was that we only heard from politicians when it was close to election time. Savvy use of Social Media by government can change that perception by providing regular communication to the people and providing a means for people to reply, feedback, and comment on that communication.

Social Media is a good platform to provide transparency about political processes and decisions. If the public can read information about decisions and directly ask questions, that ability to communicate promotes a sense that politicians are being accountable.

Build Relationships

Using Social Media, political parties and politicians can raise their profiles – engage with their constituents and be more accessible to the public. People tend to vote for politicians they feel a connection to or empathy towards. Faces on television debates or billboards don’t provide that. Social Media profiles and blogs can be a portal for politician’s personalities to be expressed.

Twitter, Facebook and other forms of Social Media give people the opportunity (or perception thereof) that they are communicating directly with their government/politicians. They feel more connected to them as people – which could in turn, result in their vote.   Social Media provides the ability to ask direct questions and get answers. It is a more informal channel of communication which is more comfortable for a lot of people.

Mainstream Media

The immediacy of Social Media provides the ability for the government to take back control of information – or more specifically rectify or intercept misinformation – from mainstream media. While mainstream media tends to focus on the negative aspects of the government’s actions, Social Media can be used to inform the public about the positive stories – by sharing stories which may not reach mainstream but will be of interest to particular groups. For example, this recent blog post from the New Zealand Trade & Enterprise website (www.nzte.govt.nz), describes the recent developments in E-commerce which should result in major trade opportunities for New Zealand exporters. This type of article may not necessarily make mainstream media headlines.

Risks associated with Social Media and Government

A robust Social Media strategy needs to be in place to address the following:

  • Who decides what is published on Social Media?
  • What policies in place to manage sensitive issues if raised via feedback posted online or in public forums?
  • If a feedback or public forum is provided, who will monitor and reply to questions raised in those forums in a timely manner.
  • How are negative or malicious posts managed?
  • Are the right people managing the Social Media pages?

As with small businesses and non-profits, Social Media information must be kept up to date and relevant. Not doing so could result in the loss of engagement with their audience.

“Public entities will get the most value from social media when they are clear about the purpose and the appropriateness of their involvement and have people using the technology wisely.”

Auditor-General’s overview – Learning from public entities’ use of social media. From http://www.oag.govt.nz/2013/social-media

Another completely different use: Social Media as a communication tool in Civil Emergencies

Earlier this year, massive Winter Storm Jonas, hit the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. There was plenty of warning of the storm’s approach and digital communication including Social Media, was used to relay messages from US Federal, State and Local government agencies to the people.

See the article below for more information about how Social Media was used as a communication tool via https://www.govdelivery.com/.


Earlier this year, massive Winter Storm Jonas, hit the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. There was plenty of warning of the storm’s approach and digital communication including Social Media, was used to relay messages from US Federal, State and Local government agencies to the people.

See the article below for more information about how Social Media was used as a communication tool via https://www.govdelivery.com/.

“Here are a few highlights of GovDelivery clients successfully communicating with their audience, throughout the massive and dangerous winter storm:

By the Numbers

  • Over 550 storm-related messages were sent over the weekend to millions of US residents, via email, text message, and social media posting.
  • DC contacted over 12,000 residents who had signed up to be snow shoveling volunteers using email and text messages in English and Spanish. The “DC Resident Snow Team” was then given shoveling assignments — matching volunteers with areas in need.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent 165 messages containing everything from “be careful with portable heaters and carbon monoxide poisoning…” to “find a shelter near you.”
  • Maryland Police sent 15 safety messages all on Friday to an audience of over 11,000 people.
  • Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority sent 351 public transportation snow route updates
  • Maryland Enterprise sent 66 storm-related messages

Attention Grabbing Headlines

  • Arlington, Virginia: “Blizzard Update – stay where you are”
  • Arlington, Virginia Police Department: “I’m out so you don’t have to be!” – K9 Duke.
  • FEMA: “Be safe! Dress warm, check on neighbors, & take it slow shoveling.”
  • FEMA:”Every second counts: keep hydrants clear of snow & ice”
  • DC: “Unless you’re a first responder, you should not be behind the wheel during the storm. So we are urging all residents and visitors to get off the road, find safe shelter, and stay there.”

We want to send special appreciation to the state of Maryland. They managed their proactive communications with grace and poise— sending out regular messages to residents as each phase of the state emergency plan was being implemented, including what each phase consists of — preparation, transportation, what to do if you lose power, stay off the road, get help, recovery, and more.

Email notifications are just one part of GovDelivery’s communications offerings that public sector organizations around the world use every day. Text messaging and polling features allow government organizations to collect vital data from residents like whether or not they have power, requesting photos of shoveled walks or fire hydrants, and more.”


References:

Mergel, I. (2010). The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government. Accepted for publication in Public Administration Review http://faculty.maxwell.syr.edu/iamergel/files/Mergel%20-%202010%20-%20Minnowbrook.pdf

https://www.govdelivery.com/blog/digital-outreach-2/

https://www.nzte.govt.nz/en/news-and-media/blogs-and-commentary/2016/4/5/e-commerce-expansion-opens-up-fresh-opportunities-for-food-and-beverage-in-china

http://www.oag.govt.nz/2013/social-media/supplementary-material/senior-management-survey/survey

 

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