Information Week Review of our Social Media Field Guide

This week, David Carr from Information Week wrote a very comprehensive and thoughtful review of the Field Guide that he titled The Government Leader’s Guide To Social Media.

He did a great job of pulling out some of the core elements that we hope to get across to readers with regards to culture change, policy development and the creative uses of social media in government today.

Information Week might be for technology and IT in general, but it is evident that Mr. Carr gets the true value that social media brings to government when he closes his review with: “the very nature of media has changed, and government needs to change with it.”

Reblogged from Bill Greeves’ blog “The Social Government CIO“: Information Week Review of Field Guide.

New article “The social media innovation challenge in the public sector”, in: Information Polity

Albert Meijer, Frank Bannister and Marcel Thaens edited a special issue of “Information Polity” with the topic “ICT, Public Administration and Democracy in the Coming Decade”. They put together a tremendous group of international e-Government researchers and today the special issue was posted online. The articles included in the special issue include:

  1. ICT, Public Administration and Democracy in the Coming Decade, by Albert MeijerFrank Bannister and Marcel Thaens
  2. Forward to the past: Lessons for the future of e-government from the story so far, by Frank Bannister and Regina Connolly
  3. The Information Polity: Towards a two speed future? by John A. Taylor
  4. E-Government is dead: Long live Public Administration 2.0 by Miriam Lips
  5. Surveillance as X-ray by C. William R. Webster
  6. Towards a smart State? Inter-agency collaboration, information integration, and beyond by J. Ramon Gil-Garcia
  7. The social media innovation challenge in the public sector by Ines Mergel
  8. A good man but a bad wizard. About the limits and future of transparency of democratic governments by Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen
  9. The Do It Yourself State by Albert J. Meijer
  10. Five trends that matter: Challenges to 21st century electronic government by Hans Jochen Scholl
  11. Why does e-government looks as it does? looking beyond the explanatory emptiness of the e-government concept by Victor Bekkers
  12. Big questions of e-government research by Mete Yıldız

My own article focuses on the innovation challenges government agencies are facing when they are implementing social media:

Abstract: The use of social media applications has been widely accepted in the U.S. government. Many of the social media strategies and day-to-day tactics have also been adopted around the world as part of local Open Government Initiatives and the worldwide Open Government Partnership. Nevertheless, the acceptance and broader adoption of sophisticated tactics that go beyond information and education paradigm such as true engagement or networking strategies are still in its infancy. Rapid diffusion is challenged by informal bottom-up experimentation that meets institutional and organizational challenges hindering innovative tactics. Going forward governments and bureaucratic organizations are also facing the challenge to show the impact of their social media interactions. Each of these challenges is discussed in this article and extraordinary examples, that are not widely adopted yet, are provided to show how government organizations can potentially overcome these challenges.

Full reference: 

Mergel, I. (2012): The social media innovation challenge in the public sector, in: Information Polity,  Vol. 17, No. 3-4, pp. 281–292, DOI 10.3233/IP-2012-000281

Feel free to email me (ines_mergel (at) yahoo dot com) in case you can’t access a digital copy through your library!

New article out: “Connecting to Congress: The Use of Twitter by Members of Congress

Abstract:

How do political elites, such as the Members of the U.S. Congress, decide to use innovative forms of Information and Communication Technologies, such as social media applications? Communication between elected officials is guides by outdated rules and regulations that are focusing on paper mailings. The apparent lack of formal guidance and outdated rules are not reflecting the changing online landscape and the requirements on Members of Congress to interact with their constituents where they prefer to receive their information. New forms of highly interactive online communication tools, such as the microblogging service Twitter are challenging the existing information paradigm. Using the first year of tweets posted by Members of Congress in combination with qualitative interviews with congressional offices show that the Members are mainly using Twitter to complement their existing push communication style and automatically distribute vetted content via Twitter, using the Microblogging service as an additional communication channel for their individual appearances and issues. The awareness network among tweeting Members specifically shows that the potential for interactive conversations are not harnessed. Finally, Twitter’s potential as an innovative mode for future democratizing interactions is discussed.

Suggested citation:

Mergel, I. (2012): “Connecting to Congress”: Twitter use among Members of Congress, Zeitschrift fuer Politikberatung – Policy Advice and Political Consulting, 3/2012, pp. 108-114.

Link to the open access version on the journal’s homepage.

Election Night Watch Party at the Maxwell School (2012)

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As part of my “Social Media and the 2012 Election” I organized an “Election Night Watch Party” together with many student volunteers in the Strasser Commons at the Maxwell School. We had a great line up of speakers who provided insights into the main topics covered by the campaigns and commented on the first results when the polling stations closed at 8pm.

Here is a nice write-up in our campus newspaper The Daily Orange.

The program for the night included:

  • Welcome Remarks and Program Overview from Professor Ines Mergel and Professor Robert McClure
  • Short Speeches on Campaign Issues, hosted by students Emily Ruddock and Andrew McQuaide, featuring:
    • Professor Len Burman: Tax Policy
    • Associate Professor Margaret Thompson: Religious and Gender Issues
    • Billy Kluttz: Maxwell Pride on ballot issues
    • Professor Thomas Dennison: Health Policy
    • Professor Margaret Hermann: Political Personailities
    • Professor Robert McClure: American Leadership
    • Assistant Professor Ines Mergel: Social Media
  • Results
  • Analysis, hosted by Ruddock and McQuaide, featuring:
    • Associate Professor Thomas Keck, Chair, Department of Political Science
    • Professor Bill Smullen, Faculty Chair, National Security Program
  • Maxwell Polling Results

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

Social media and the 2012 election: Class syllabus online

My new class “Social media and the 2012 election” starts next week and I wanted to post my syllabus for public comment.

This is a class that I taught for the first time in 2008 during the Obama campaign. After the election the president was praised for his Internet strategy that complemented his traditional campaigning and many scholars have pointed out that he was able to motivate non-voters via social media to go to the polling booths.

Between 2009 and 2012 I spent a lot of time trying to understand how the lessons learned during the successful presidential campaign can be used for day-to-day governing activities. While the Open Government mandate pushed a lot of efforts in the U.S. federal agencies forward to invest time and resources into harnessing new technologies, government agencies are also facing many challenges when using social media. For that purpose, I observed and interview social media directors in the U.S. federal government to understand their strategic, managerial, and administrative decision making and the resulting social media tactics.

This class is therefore based on my research on social media in the public sector. It observes in real-time who the public, news organizations and the candidates are using social media until election day. It grounds the observations in theoretical sociological and information management concepts. The goal is to teach the underlying concepts and managerial skills future social media managers need – not only in government, but also in the nonprofit and corporate world. Guest speakers will complement lectures and class discussions.

Here is the syllabus. I would love to hear your comments and suggestions for improvements!