Social media network panel at #pmrc2011

On June 2-4, 2011, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University has hosted the biannual Public Management Research Conference. You can find full papers on the conference program page.

I was part of Panel 20 “Social Media Networks” together with Professors Jane Fountain (UMass Amherst) and David Landsbergen (Ohio State). Jane presented here theoretical framework on how technology can introduce change into government organizations: “Layering in Public Management: Stability and Change in Digitally Mediated Institutions“. It provided a great framework for the following papers (kudos to the program committee).

I presented my study with the title “A Mandate for Change”: Diffusion of Social Media Technologies Among Federal Departments and Agencies“. In this paper, I present first findings of my interviews with Social Media Directors from the Executive branch of the U.S. federal government. The aim in this paper is to understand how and why social media directors make the decision to adopt social media practices. The Open Government and Transparency memo provided the motivation for this question: The memo states explicitly that government has to become more participatory, transparent and collaborative – and to harness new technologies to accomplish this goal. The memo itself is a very broad mandate and in the first two years public managers had very little formal guidance to understand what best practices are, how to organize day-to-day practices, how to fit the use of social media into the existing mission and standard operating procedures when communicating information. Given this lack of formal guidance, I found that public managers are looking at their informal network and use what I call their passive attention network. They are looking at other agencies and departments and emulate practices from other agencies. Based on this finding, I was also able to tease out three different adoption pathways for the use of social media applications: 1) Representation and broadcasting (push); 2) Engagement (pull); and 3) Networking and mingling.

Open questions, that I will address in other papers will include: a) Measuring impact of social media activities; b) Organizational change for the use of social media practices; c) Necessary organizational capabilities for the use of social media applications. I have also collected data from social media directors in the non-profit sector and the corporate sector, so that I will be able to write a comparative study on the use of social media applications.

The last panelist, Professor David Landsbergen (Ohio State), presented a research and teaching project in which he analyzed social media policies of nine cities. What I observed – and received proof for with David’s presentation – was that while the federal government has now access to guidance, such as HowTo.gov or the Federal Web Managers Forum, local government officials are struggling immensely with the use of social media applications. There is no guidance, it is unclear to what extent the use of social media makes sense, what the right tools are for what kind of activities, etc.

We will keep the conversation going and are submitting another panel proposal to the upcoming ASPA 2012 conference in Las Vegas.

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About Ines Mergel

I am Full Professor of Public Administration at the Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz, Germany. Previously, I served as Assistant and then Associate Professor (with tenure) at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, NY. In my research, I focus on informal social networks in the public sector and the adoption and diffusion of digital service innovations in government organizations. I teach classes on social media management, digital government, public management, and social network analysis.

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