Book announcement: Social media in the public sector

Jossey-Bass/Wiley will be publishing my first book titled “Social Media in the Public Sector: A Guide to Participation, Collaboration, and Transparency in the Networked World” this fall. The book is available for preorder on Amazon.com or directly on the publisher’s website:

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.

A compendium field guide for practitioners will be published a month later. I co-authored the field guide with Bill Greeves and it is also available for preorder on Amazon.com.

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.

New IBM report: Working the Network – A Manager’s Guide for Using #Twitter in Government

Here is the executive summary of the report:

Twitter—a microblogging service that allows for short updates of 140 characters—has grown to over 540 million registered accounts as of early 2012.News organizations, corporations, and the U.S. government have adopted this new practice as an innovative form of interaction with their stakeholders. Many government agencies maintain at least one Twitter account, and even multiple accounts, based on their operational needs and their diverse audiences .It can be unclear to government Twitter users what the best strategies are for interacting with the public on Twitter, and how an agency can use Twitter in a meaningful way to support its organizational mission.

Twitter updates are seen as public conversations and are increasing not only transparency and potentially accountability, but can also—when used appropriately—lead to increased inclu­sion of public opinion in policy formulation through information aggregation processes. Twitter can be used effectively to involve a large number of citizens and create conversations with an engaged, networked public. The outcome of these conversations can be new insights and even innovations in the public sector including suggestions on how to make government more effec­tive, or rapidly accelerating emergency responses that help to improve public safety.

This report is based on insights gained from discussions with social media directors in U.S. federal government agencies and observations of their daily Twitter tactics. Part I provides an overview of current strategies for using Twitter to interact with citizens. Four main strategies are identified:

• Push

• Pull

• Networking

• Customer service

In addition, hands-on best practices are presented for both public managers and social media administrators.

Twitter is still a relatively new tool. The platform frequently changes and features are added or moved, so government organizations need to be flexible and react to the changes. Suggestions on how to overcome both the technological and behavioral challenges are provided, and examples of best practices show how agencies have overcome these hurdles.

It will be important for the future use of social media in the public sector to show how invest­ments in content curating and online interactions affect a government organization. Current measurement techniques are provided to help social media managers create a business case for the effective use of social media.

What a Twitter map can and cannot tell: The Gates Foundation Twitter network

The Twitter network below was created by Marc Smith, Social Media Research Foundation. He used it in a recent workshop on Social Media Network Analysis that I organized here at Syracuse University on January 19-20.  I picked it up and posted it here on my Social Media in the Public Sector blog, because it relates to the Global Health Advocacy and Policy Project (GHAPP), PI Jeremy Shiffman (American University). It is a Gates-funded project I’m involved in to study the global public health issue networks. From the project website:

The team is investigating six global health policy communities — networks of individuals and organizations linked by a shared concern for a public health issue. The aim is to develop generalizable knowledge concerning why some networks are more effective than others in generating resources and attention, facilitating national policy adoption and supporting the scale-up of interventions. 

This specific Twitter network was created by Marc Smith tracking the keyword “gatesfoundation” among Twitter users on January [Please visit Marc Smith’s Flickr page with a full description of the process and statistic]. It shows Twitter users who have actively chosen “gatesfoundation” either as a hashtag in their tweets, retweeted a message from the @gatesfoundation Twitter account or mentioned other users’ messages. In our workshop, Marc used the Gates Foundation Twitter network as a way to contrast two different types of networks: brand networks vs. broadcasting networks.

The brand network, where many Twitter users are over and over using and re-using the same keyword independent of each other, results in a tight knit community around a specific hashtag. As an example, Coca Cola or Nike have become brand networks.

The Twitter network that resulted in the attached graph is clearly a broadcasting network originating from the official @gatesfoundation account. Messages and connection radiate in a star formation out to other Twitter users.

This can have many different reasons:

  1. Gates is mainly seen in an authoritative role: broadcasting studies, press releases, etc., but nonprofits, advocates, policy makers, etc. are choosing not to actively interact with the Foundation’s Twitter account online.
  2. The mission of Gates is to promote global public health and so they might want to use Twitter solely to educate their audience and are part of issue network conversations in other types of contexts or through other channels.
  3. Another possible interpretation is that Gates does not see itself as an integral part of the global health community – instead it relatively passively pushes out content without being part of follow-up conversations in local issue network.

What this network can tell:

  1. The overall structure of the network can potentially tell how an organization’s communication strategy is aligned with its mission fulfillment: Does the organization reach into the diverse audiences it is trying to access? Do audiences have the right information an organization aims to provide?
  2. The network also tells a story of how connected or disconnected an organization is online: If no one pays attention to the messages the Gates Foundation is promoting, the foundation needs to carefully think about its engagement strategy and effectiveness in reaching into diverse audiences.

What this network map cannot tell:

  1. This one-time snapshot of a very short period of just one day of tweets among a limited amount of Twitter users can’t make any generalized statements about the overall communication strategy or even the Gates Foundation’s overall Twitter strategy. Recreating the map on a daily basis including world events, crisis situtions, large funding announcements, etc., will provide a more comprehensive picture over time.
  2. The Gates Foundation keyword might also be used in combination with other keywords highlighting the global health priority targets Gates is working on, such as diarrhea, new born survival, maternal health, obesity, tuberculosis, etc. The network might look very different and in fact might reveal insights into how Gates engages online in specific issue networks.
  3.  This snapshot of Twitter messages cannot make any statements about the content of the tweets. Do retweeted messages show endorsement – based on the mere fact that people were willing to share? Or do they retweet and add their own negative/positive comments to the original message? A deep dive with the help of natural language processing or other types of content analysis are necessary to make a statement about the sentiments within different parts of the overall network is necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog post was picked up by:

1. Geekwire: “Gates Foundation’s Tweets reveal passive, insular global health community“, 02/01/2012

2. KPLU 88.5, NPR affialiate:” Gates Fdn’s Tweets reveal passive, insular global health community, 02/01/2012″

Facebook is taking over the world…

Take a look at the graphics by Vincenzo Cosenza published on the TechCrunch blog:

Social networking services and their worldwide adoption in 2009 and Facebook’s explosion by 2011:

(Images embedded from http://www.vincos.it/ via Techcrunch blog)

My “Government 2.0 Revisited” article wins 2010 H. George Frederickson Best Article Award

My “Gov 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector” article won the PA Times’ 2010 H. George Frederickson Best Article Award.

Here is what I submitted as the acceptance note for the January/February 2011 PA Times issue:

“I am very honored to accept the PA TIMES Best Article Award for 2010, and would like to thank the award committee for their hard work in reviewing what were undoubtedly a large group of high quality submissions.

Government 2.0 is not only a hot topic at the moment, it is an important one. I believe that the use of social media applications is at a tipping point, moving from early innovators toward broader acceptance among government professionals. These technologies often challenge the way that public employees conduct their work, but as the use of Government 2.0 grows we will observe more changes in the way information is organized and distributed, as well as in the way information is co-created by citizens and absorbed by government.

In this early stage of Government 2.0, the use of social media in the public sector is often labeled as the “Wild West of e-Government.” However, we are beginning to move into a convergence phase–where the reality of government operations merges with the new reality of social networking services: both will have to adapt to these new challenges. What is missing is clear guidance on best practices and acceptable strategies for effectively using social media applications to support the missions and practices of government organizations. The interviews I conducted with current social media directors for this PA TIMES article highlight not only challenges and hurdles, but also the positive impacts so social media can have in the public sector. Government is already part of the public conversations that are happening on social networking sites; therefore, public managers need to understand where and how these conversations evolve–and become a part of them.

I believe that both researchers and government practitioners have a lot of interesting ground to cover in the next few years. And, I for one, am excited to be a part of that. Thank you again for recognizing the importance of this fascinating and growing area of public administration practice and research.”

Article reference:
Mergel, I. (2010): Government 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector, in: PA Times, American Society for Public Administration, Vol. 33, No. 3, p. 7 & 10.

My other related publications on Government 2.0 topics:

Mergel, I. Web 2.0 in the Public Sector, with Schweik, C., in: Public Service, and Web 2.0 Technologies: Future Trends in Social Media (under review)

Mergel, I.: Measuring the effectiveness of social media tools in the public sector, in: Public Service, and Web 2.0 Technologies: Future Trends in Social Media (under review)

Mergel, I. (accepted for publication): Government networks, in: Encyclopedia of Social Networking, Editors: Barnett, George, Golson, J. Geoffrey, Sage Publications.

Mergel, I. (2010): The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government, in: O’Leary, R., Kim, S. and Van Slyke, D. M. (Editors): The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective, Georgetown University Press, pp. 177-187.

Mergel, I., Gardner, M., Broviak, P., Greeves, B.: MuniGov20, A New Residency Requirement: Local Government Professionals in Second Life, in: Journal of Virtual World Research, Special Issue: Virtual Worlds and Government (accepted for publication in 2011)

Bretschneider, S. I., Mergel, I. (2010): Technology and Public Management Information Systems: Where have we been and where are we going, in: Menzel, D.C., White, H. J.: The State of Public Administration: Issues, Problems and Challenges, M.E. Sharpe Inc., New York, pp. 187-203.

Analysis of social media policies & strategies in the public sector

I reviewed social media policies and strategies of public sector organizations that are freely available on the web or were distributed during the last two years on Twitter (see hashtag #gov20). Especially after GSA has published the Terms of Service Agreements with most major SNS, I have observed a major uptake in formal written statements outlining why, how and for what purposes agencies and departments are using new media. I included local, state and federal level public sector organizations in my analysis.

Even though it seems as if a legal framework was created by GSA’s Office of Citizen Services, I observe a wide range of different documents and statements as a result.

A handful of documents is labeled “Handbooks” (such as the Navy Command Social Media Handbook), Toolkit, Social Media Computing Guidelines, or Business Uses of Social Networking Services. These types of documents usually describe best practices and recommendation on how to use different tools such as Twitter or Facebook. They are usually very lengthy, true handbook-style documents.

In addition, 1-page policy-style memos come in the form of directives, “rules of engagement”, use policies or even “Social Media Law”.

Only one organization actually wrote a social media strategy document that looked at how the new channels fit into the existing communication strategy and how they can support the mission or public service delivery.

I have extracted the major themes that the public sector organization I analyzed covered and will post my preferred content of a social media policy/strategy document in the next post.

Academic networking & social media

I recently presented my ideas on why academics should tweet and blog too at a symposium at Syracuse University called “Tenure Track Dream Team”. A little over 140 students who are currently on the job market attended the day – about 8-10 were actively using Twitter and 2-3 tweeted during the conference.

I focused my talk not so much on the technology (“You have to use it!”), instead I decided to think about what kind of networking ties academics need in early stages of their career and what usually drives human interaction. My advice for the students was to get out of their comfort zone: They need diverse network ties, so that they will hear about job opportunities (Granovetter’s research on weak & strong ties); they also need to maintain their local ties for future collaborations, but reach out into their global network, so that people are aware of their work and thereby bridge different parts of their network (Watt’s idea of creating small networks and reach across your local, dense ties).

I suggested to them that social networking services are a way to create, maintain and nurture their academic ties. I am using Twitter to understand who belongs to the network of people writing and talking about my research field. I tap into ongoing conversations and contribute when I have something to say. Twitter is a great resource to test and promote early findings or generally hear about hot and new topics. I also use it to understand how practitioners in my field talk about the issues. I started conversations and consequently was able to invite guest speakers to my classes. Moreover, Twitter is a great tool if you can’t attend a conference – someone will always tweet about what is going on or in which room the best presentations are going on.

In addition, I suggested to the students that blogs are a great way to bridge the 140 letters limitation of Twitter and point people to longer posts and links to publications. I suggested to think about individual blogs or content-area blogs that can be easily maintained by several people who are all working on similar topics. The latter lowers the individual publishing/writing pressure and the workload can easily be divided among several people.

RSS feeds as an integral part of blogs, but also all kind of other frequently updated parts on a website, are a great way for academics to sign up for table of content updates of their favorite journals.

We also had a good conversation about publishing cycles, open commons and publishing rights. Syracuse University has just started an “open commons” for working papers called “SURFACE” that shapes up to be a great vehicle to publish early results.

Here are my slides:

Update: Link to the video with my keynote address titled “Social Media for Prospective Faculty: Why Academics Should Blog and Tweet, Too!

Social media: Digital divide, digital access and digital literacy

Today, I taught a class on digital divide, digital access and digital literacy in my New Media Management class in Maxwell’s MPA program. The goal was to make the students aware of the traditional viewpoint of the dichotomous value of digital divide (you either have access or you don’t) and the difference to continuous digital access. Access in the US has mostly to do with convenience, such as the time, location and speed of access: instead of working on your own laptop, people might have to to go to a community center or library to get access; they have a dial-up connection instead of a convenient T1 connection; or access is limited based on their agencies’ or department’s rules of access to their private social networking accounts.

I decided to start the class today with glasses: Each student received a pair of plastic glasses that can be found in the birthday isle at Target (or any other department store – thanks to Steve Sawyer at SU’s ischool) for this idea. I gave them Qtips and Vaseline to smear the front of their glasses and asked them to read what was recently posted on our class Facebook group. While this felt like a kid’s birthday party to them at the beginning, it seemed as if they were stunned when I asked them what they were able to read. Answer: Nothing. Then I asked them where the button is on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube to help them read or hear the content. Answer: Don’t know? Is there one? The point I was trying to make was that none of the most popular social networking sites seems to be compliant with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act to give people with disabilities equal access to digital information that government is posting online.

To drive my point home, I gave the students a short article about my former student Alexander Williams to read, who is studying in the Disability Studies program at Syracuse University. He was recently featured in a campus publication telling his story and work he is doing in Ghana. You can watch the video about him here:

A Light In the Dark from Christine Mehta on Vimeo.

Alexander came to the New Media Management class today to talk about how he is using Web 2.0 tools to connect teachers in his organization who are teaching blind kids to use technology. He was inspired by the topics we talked about last semester in my Government 2.0 class and created a Ning platform to bring the teachers in Ghana together on a joint platform. Alexander is a true champion lobbying for acceptance and equal opportunities to include disability access into the considerations of public managers early on. One of the points my students made was, that governments usually operate with limited resources and do whatever they can to cater to the majority of citizens and that unfortunately there might not be enough resources to find solutions for minorities. A true “developing country” perspective. Alexander was kind enough to patiently point out that it will take much longer (and is more costly) to close the gap if we leave people behind instead of working together to go through the process step by step. And of course: Resources will always be scarce.

Then the question about numbers came up – “So how many people are we talking about here” – which is completely irrelevant in the U.S. context at least, because the Rehabilitation Act says specifically that federal employees and members of the public have the right to equal access of digital information.

The main take-away from this course section was:

a) Most of the popular social networking sites that are promoted in government right now are not compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and it is extremely difficult for screen readers and other aids to navigate Facebook (Twitter is an exception because it’s solely text-based).

b) What seems to be highly convenient for students on University campuses (24/7 free wireless access), is not the reality for most citizens.

c) Social networking sites might increase the digital divide, leaving people behind who could hugely benefit from tapping into networks that can help them connect to government, help themselves and share information.

Please leave your feedback: Did I hit the mark? Is anything missing? Did I interpret the law and the reality correctly?

Price Floyd discusses DOD social media strategy

DoD has launched a new social media strategy in February via the Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-026 – Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities.

He spoke at the Ogilvy Exchange about the changes on the Defense.gov website last year:

Part I and Part II

And on May 22, 2010 on Government 2.0 BlogTalk Radio with Adriel Hampton and Steve Lunceford.