Calgary Police’s Twitter account displays #SMEM best practices during #yycflood

During the floods in Calgary, Canada, this weekend, the social media manager of Calgary’s police did a fantastic job answering questions, diffusing rumors, using social media to pull in additional information from citizens, point people to volunteer opportunities, and to activate officers to work extra shifts via Twitter. It was important to get information into the social awareness streams, where citizens were looking for information they were not able to get access to through regular government communication channels (like the emergency phone numbers). The Calgary Police added the Twitter hashtag #yycflood to every tweet they sent.

And then a remarkable thing happened, that I haven’t seen in any other context so far: After sending out hundreds of tweets, the police has reached the tweet limit per day and had to stop updating the public.  They had to work with Canada’s Twitter representatives to expand the rate limit:

The news spread rapidly and was labelled by some as a major fail in emergency management, which indicates the reliance on resilient communication infrastructures that people trust and turn to in crisis situations.

In a pretty genius stroke, the police redirected their official communication through the Twitter account of their own Digital Communications Officer, Jeremy Shaw, who took over tweeting from his personal Twitter account on behalf of the official police Twitter account:

After a few hours the account was restored:

Responding, directing, informing, calming down, diffusing rumors:

Recent social media experiences of first responders and utility companies have shown, that citizens need to know that they are heard, that their issues are taken care of and that help is on the way during a crisis. Cst. Jeremy Shaw tweeted with them through two long night shifts and did a fantastic job handling repeated requests for information in a very calm and polite way.

Here are some of the tasks the Calgary Police Twitter account was able to fulfill using Twitter as a parallel and resilient communication infrastructure, while the formal communication channels were used for live-threatening situations and to direct first responders to the scenes.

1. Dealing with volunteers

In a very polite way, volunteers were informed that the police did not want to put them in danger and prevented them from showing up on the scene:

2. People were pointed to alternative information sources, such as the city’s frequent blog updates:

Or the utility company’s updates:

And also that other reliable sources people had trusted were temporarily not available:

3. Assuring people that officials are listening, that they are being heard

It looks to me as if every single citizen tweet was responded to, either by directly answering a question about the flooding situation in a specific area or even just to thank people for their feedback. An important direct lifeline, when all other channels are overwhelmed.

4. Asking officers to work extra shifts:

Off-duty officers were asked to work additional shifts and were asked to check in:

5. Asking citizens to verify updates on the ground

I was also happy to see that the police was open for citizen first responder reports and updates, however I only saw one tweet of this sort. The potential is obviously enormous: Some of the reporting responsibility can be distributed across the shoulders of citizens who are observing impact first hand. It’s impossible for one social media manager to fullfill all these different roles. I believe what the Calgary Police did was smart: They focused on direct feedback and on providing the lifeline that obviously many citizens needed at this point. They also served as a connector among many different first responders and different information sources. Adding on the task of pulling in citizen reports to this role is almost impossible: The sheer volume of incoming information needs to be automatically processed and directed. For future purposes, they could use other types of reporting platforms such as SeeClickFix to monitor impact or automatically analyze impact similar to USGS’ Internet Intensity Map.

6. Diffusing rumors to avoid panics, lower anxiety

Here is an example of promptly responding to the rumor that a dam broke, but I also saw a few updates in response to concerned citizens who were worried about a rumor that the zoo had to kill its animals:

Or diffuse rumors about looting:

New article: Social media adoption and resulting tactics in the U.S. federal government (GIQ)

Cover by inesmergel
Cover, a photo by inesmergel on Flickr.

Government Information Quarterly just published one of my articles on the adoption decisions of federal departments to use social media and how the decision making processes lead to online tactics.

Abstract:
In 2009, the departments in the executive branch of the U.S. federal government received the presidential marching order to “harness new technologies” in order to become more transparent, collaborative and participatory. Given this mandate, this article sets out to provide insights from qualitative interviews with social media directors to understand the factors that influence internal adoption decisions to use social media applications, such as Facebook, Twitter, or blogs. Three distinct factors influence the adoption decisions of social media directors: information about best practices in their informal network of peers, passive observations of perceived best practices in the public and private sector, and “market-driven” citizen behavior. The resulting adoption tactics include: (1) representation, (2) engagement, and (3) networking. The findings point to the need for higher degrees of formalized knowledge sharing when it comes to disruptive technology innovations such as social media use in highly bureaucratic communication environments. Recommendations based on the lessons learned are provided for practitioners and social media researchers to develop social media tactics for different organizational purposes in government.

Full reference: Mergel, I., Social media adoption and resulting tactics in the U.S. federal government, Government Information Quarterly (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.giq.2012.12.004

Please email me if your library does not have a subscription for the article.

PA Times article on the use of social media during the 2012 election

I wrote up a short piece about the impact of social media in the 2012 election. It will come out in print this month and I wanted to share it here as well.

New book: “Social media in the public sector field guide”

Today, my co-author Bill Greeves and I received our first copies of the “Social media in the public sector field guide” we wrote for all newcomers to the productive and professional use of social media in government. We started to work on this project in 2011 to capture the legal, procedural, and contextual challenges that are waiting for those brave innovators in government who are willing to venture out and make new technologies and the accompanying behavioral changes work. The book includes several case studies written by our colleagues in government who have been innovators for a long time and are providing their insights into the use of social media in their own agencies. They include: Bill Schrier, Dustin Haisler, Steve Ressler, Pam Broviak, Kristy Fifelski, Chris Moore, and Stephanie Slater.

In 2012, my co-author Bill Greeves, CIO Wake County, NC, was named the most social CIO in the U.S. by the Public CIO magazine. Congratulations, Bill!

Here is the blurb and the endorsements we received:

This hands-on practical guide (and companion to the Social Media in the Public Sector) offers a ready-to-use reference to help readers move smoothly through the development and deployment of effective new media strategies and policies within their own organizations. The book is filled with illustrative examples, screenshots, diagrams and graphics. Written to be engaging and accessible, the guide has minimal technical jargon, acronyms or “govspeak”. The guidebook includes case studies in the words of those who have implemented new media strategies and an accompanying community-driven website with links to the authors’ blogs and practitioner social networks.

Endorsements

“As the poet LL Cool J once said, there is a difference between doing it and doing it well. Same is true with the use of social media in government – there can be a stark divide between agencies dabbling in it and those agencies executing well. 10,000 fans/followers vs. 100. 15 comments and RTs vs. an empty ghost town. Driving real mission results vs. being a gimmick. If you ask most senior leaders in government, they understand they need to be in social media but they don’t know how to do it well. Instead they leave it to an intern and end up with an unsuccessful program. Every day on GovLoop.com, our network of 60,000 government leaders, people share best practices and ask questions of social media in government. I’ve often been asked by members of a good reference book to get going for their federal, state, or local government social media programs. I never had an answer – now I do: This field guide is the go-to resource to ensure your social media programs deliver real mission results. Ines and Bill are experts in the field – a blend of research and real-world experience to get you to where you need to go.” — Steve Ressler, Founder and President of GovLoop.com

“In the local government sector there seem to be three schools of thought regarding social media: “I’ve got a Facebook page – let’s jump right in!” – “Not happening on my watch!” and “Who cares?” this field guide is perfect for any of the above, as it provides practical applications and rationale for why local government needs to connect with people where they are – which is on the internet. Our association of nearly 500 innovative local governments knows that Bill Greeves and Ines Mergel are the perfect authors for this must have tutorial. Bill collaborates with us as a top notch trainer and both of these authors know the topic very well.” – Karen Thoreson, President & Chief Operating Officer, Alliance for Innovation

“Bill Greeves and Ines Mergel are expert users of Facebook, Second Life, Twitter and other social media to help local governments better interact with real people. In this book they distill that knowledge into a practical guide for government officials and employees. Twitter and Facebook and Blogs, Oh My! In this bewildering new field of social media, Bill Greeves and Ines Mergel expertly provide practical advice for governments to harness the power of these new online services.” — Bill Schrier, Deputy Director, Center for Digital Government, eRepublic.com; Former CTO (CIO) City of Seattle

“This is simply a must-read book for anyone interested or involved with social media in the public sector. The authors take a refreshing and original approach supported by excellent examples regarding the evolving role social media is playing and can play in government. Having worked and known both Bill and Ines, I cannot think of two better-experienced authors to help guide us through the new realities of social media in government.” – Dr. Alan R. Shark, Executive Director, Public Technology Institute and Assistant Professor Rutgers University School of Public Affairs & Administration

Available online at Amazon or Jossey-Bass/Wiley.

Government finding a measured voice on social media

[originally posted on NextGov.com]

Social media is here to stay. There is no question about that, especially after Facebook reached 1 billion users and Twitter surpassed the 500 million-account mark. What is less clear, however, is how government organizations can respond to the changing communication demands of citizens who want government to use social media in a meaningful, interactive and engaging fashion.

Agencies face a tough challenge: Citizens demand participation and responsiveness via social media – otherwise they complain or even mock government. But organizational missions and standard operating procedures do not allow for the fast and furious back-and-forth conversations on social networking sites. Instead, they mostly see social media as an additional channel for providing information to an audience that prefers to receive news and updates in a newsfeed. After all, government organizations are not in the business of competing for followers, fans, or to create peaks and spikes in their online communication. They are also not looking for volunteers, donors, or new customers whose interest they must spark over and over again to keep them coming back and buying their products.

In general, government missions are much simpler and focus on providing a trustworthy public service upon which citizens can rely. The existing information and communication paradigm is highly hierarchical with standard operating procedures that don’t necessarily support the 140-character news cycle. Instead, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter updates have to be carefully crafted to avoid confusion, rumors, and misinformation. There is rarely an update that goes out without revisions and explicit approval after carefully considering the potential impact or consequences. In this risk-averse communication environment, social media constitutes a departure from the existing standards.

Agencies’ current approach to using social media focuses on broadcasting pre-existing information. They don’t use social media channels to replace traditional media, instead they add social media channels to the mix and to share content that is also available through other channels, such as websites or mailings. Rarely do agencies and departments venture out to actively interact and engage in a conversational style in their newsfeeds on social media. A colloquial tone, sarcasm or jokes — the Internet’s fuel — can be misinterpreted or may even lead to misunderstandings. Many social media innovations develop as government officials experiment with different tactics, gain more experience, learn what tactics work and what should be avoided in the future.

In this new problem space, in which regulations and rules follow the changes in observed online behavior of citizens, it is necessary to create functions and standard operating procedures that help government agencies interact online. GSA has taken a first step and provides guidance on HowTo.gov: The social media registry was launched earlier this year. The tool allows government users to register their official social media accounts, so that journalists and researchers can verify their authenticity. This increases confidence in the nature of the account.

Similarly, internal workflows for crafting, reviewing, revising, and scheduling social media messages need to be designed to reduce the risks associated with the professional use of social media. An example is the recently launched “Measured Voice” social media workflow tool. Jed Sundwall, who presented the tool at the “Code for America Summit” in San Francisco in October, describes measured voice:

Government needs to be thoughtful about their social media postings. Agencies can’t post in real time answers to Facebook’s ‘What is happening?’. Instead, they have to be measured, reliable and accessible. They don’t have to draw attention to themselves.

Sundwall, a contractor working on USA.gov and gobiernoUSA.gov, noticed early on that government agencies need a tool to organize their collaborative workflow in a distraction free environment to craft social media messages. The “Measured Voice” platform allows editorial teams to go back and forth during the editing process. Each team can define different roles: For example, writers craft the initial message, editors then rewrite and approve before the final messages are posted to an agency’s social media platform. The platform — kept simple outside of Facebook and Twitter to avoid distractions — helps to schedule updates: A feature that is especially important to avoid distractions from other important tasks government has to perform, for example emergency management situations or face-to-face interactions with citizens:

Source: Screenshot provided by Jed Sundwall, Measured Voice

Social media updates – fit into 140 characters on Twitter, or a few lines on Facebook — absorb more time than a press release that allows more space for longer explanations. Sundwall points to a recent FBI update on Twitter that was carefully crafted and provided all the necessary information to diffuse the rumor that computers were stolen:

As citizens and government experts become more social media savvy they will focus their activities more on networking opportunities that citizens demand and social media platforms support. Government organizations will also invest more in understanding if they are truly reaching the right audiences. Measuring the impact of social media interactions is therefore a core task that every agency should carefully consider. All social media interactions need to serve one purpose: to fulfill the mission of the organization. Only if online interactions are designed to support the mission will they provide both tangible and intangible benefits for government and its diverse audiences. Government agencies are just now starting to think about metrics that go beyond the quantitatively measurable insights, such as the number of retweets a Twitter update receives, or the number of Facebook comments citizens are willing to leave. There is, however, more: Social media engagement can be measured on different levels of an engagement scale.

  • The number of retweets a Twitter update receives is an important indicator of short-term attention paid to a specific update or event and are mostly context-relevant.
  • The number of followers and “likes” can indicate long-term community building and the degree to which citizens will actively follow updates — an indication of continuing interest in government updates.
  • Leaving comments or actively asking questions shows even more engagement – and at times even concern for mission-related issues.

Attracting too much attention, however, is not in the interest of most agencies (except emergency management agencies that are involved in ongoing disaster relief and prevention). Instead, for most agencies a continuous attention curve without many spikes and peaks is the best indicator that they are providing a reliable information flow to their audiences.

As Sundwall notes “Government agencies are not out to advertise for ‘The best driver’s license in town’-attraction and don’t need to draw attention to their operations.” Measured Voice therefore looks at the 100-message average in attention and provides feedback to its users in the form of smileys. But don’t make them smile too much; there might be too much good or bad press waiting for you!

Metrics have become an invaluable source of real-time information for government — when they measure the right type of engagement. Moreover, measuring for the sake of data accumulation will not help social media managers make their case. Instead, data needs to be carefully interpreted. Based on the insights government agencies should adjust their social media tactics.

Government users can sign up for the private beta of Measured Voice at http://measuredvoice.com/govbeta

New book published: “Social Media in the Public Sector”

I am excited to announce the release of my first sole-authored book: “Social media in the public sector“. It will be officially introduced to the public at the annual NASPAA conference in Austin, TX, on October 18, 2012.

The book is based on my research that started about three years ago. My initial interest started with the success of  Obama’s Internet strategy to reach audiences via social media who are unlikely to interact with politicians or government in general. As the open government initiative developed in the U.S. federal government, I started to interview public managers to understand how they are (re)organizing their standard operating procedures to use social media for regular governing operations in support of the mission of their organizations. The book provides insights into the strategic, managerial, and administrative aspects of social media adoption in the public sector.

The publisher’s book page includes resources for professors who would like to use the book in their e-government classes, including week-by-week Powerpoint slides and an article published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education that outlines my teaching approach and learning experiences.

The book went through a thorough double-blind peer-review process and I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback.

Next month an accompanying field guide will be released.

Here is a link to the instructor resources on Jossey-Bass/Wiley’s website.

Blurb:

In today’s networked world, the public sector is tapping into new media applications to increase government organizations’ participation, transparency and collaboration. The book contains a review of the current state of the public administration literature and shows how Government 2.0 activities can potentially challenge or change the existing paradigms. It includes an overview of each of the tools used to increase participation, transparency and collaboration. The book also highlights case examples at the local, state, federal and international levels. The author offers recommendations for the implementation processes at the end of each chapter and includes suggested readings and references.

Endorsements

Comprehensive and compelling, Social Media in the Public Sector makes the case that to achieve Government 2.0, agencies must first adopt Web 2.0 social technologies. Ines Mergel explains both how and why in this contemporary study of traditional institutions adopting and adapting to new technologies.
Beth Simone Noveck, United States Deputy Chief Technology Officer (2009-2011)

Ines Mergel moves beyond the hype with detailed, comprehensive research on social media technologies, use, management and policies in government. This book should be required reading for researchers and public managers alike.
Jane Fountain, Professor and Director, National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Professor Mergel has produced a foundational work that combines the best kind of scholarship with shoe-leather reporting and anthropology that highlights the debates that government agencies are struggling to resolve and the fruits of their efforts as they embrace the social media revolution. Social Media in the Public Sector is a first and sets a high standard against which subsequent analysis will be measured.
Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

Dr. Mergel is an award-winning author who again wields her story skills in this book. She excels in explaining in concrete, practical terms how government managers can use social media to serve the public. Her book puts years of research into one handy guide. It’s practical. It’s readable. And it’s an essential read.
John M. Kamensky, Senior Fellow, IBM Center for The Business of Government