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

Barack Obama, Election 2012, Government 2.0, Politicians on social networking sites, President, Presidential campaign, Presidential Elections, Social media tactics

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.

Election Night Watch Party at the Maxwell School (2012)

Election 2012, Presidential campaign, Presidential Elections, social media

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

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

Election 2012, Government 2.0, Social Media Policy, Social media roles, Social media strategy, Social media tactics, Social Networks, technology, Web 2.0, Wiki, Wikis in Government

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.


“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, 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

“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,; 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

Election 2012, Government 2.0, social media, Social media tactics

[originally posted on]

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 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 and, 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

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

Adoption of new technology, Book, Diffusion of innovation, Election 2012, Government 2.0, Open Government Initiative, Public Management, public sector, social media, Social Media Policy, Social Media Registry, Social media roles, Social media strategy, Social media tactics, Social Networks, Social Software

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.


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.


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

Using social media as an elected official

citizen participation, Election 2012, SeeClickFix

On September 19, 2012, Bonner Gaylord, City Council Member, City of Raleigh, NC, shared his insights on his use of social media during his two election campaigns and his tenure as a city council member.

Mr. Gaylord focused on innovative tools such as Twitter and the issue reporting site to reach out to citizens and interact with them. He mentioned that digital interactions are saving him time and making him more connected to his constituents.

Mr. Gaylord can be reached on Twitter. Here is the video of the Skype conversation I had with him in class:

#SocialCongress: Brad Fitch, CEO, Congressional Management Foundation reviews social media use by Members of Congress

Election 2012, Government 2.0, Members of Congress

Bradford Fitch, CEO and President of the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), joined the “Social media and the 2012 election” class earlier this semester to share insights from a new report on the use of social media by Members of Congress.

Mr. Bradford talked about the many different channels offices are using to respond to their constituents in their home districts. A remarkable take-away from the talk: about 80% of the communication volume is generated by what Mr. Fitch calls “roaring lions”, large professional organizations that are interacting with Members of Congress.

Here are the two videos of Mr. Fitch’s presentation and conversation with the students:

Finding the “Real Romney” on social media

Election 2012

The task for this week’s assignment was a social media analysis of the online channels, the content, types of message the Romney campaign is using. The students had to evaluate what insights they can gain from the observed social media interactions. A key question was: Does the use of social media create a social connection to the candidate. One of the take-aways was that the campaign site focuses mostly on mainstream social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook (at the top of the page), and lists other social media accounts hidden at the bottom of the page.

The messages are mostly “me, me, me”-messages pointing to appearances, overshadowed by opposing issue statements directly attacking Barack Obama: There are more tweets starting with .@barackobama than regular tweets and there are almost no interactions with other users. Highly focused on the mission and a very coherent message. Overall however the students did not feel connected to the candidate himself.

Until one of the students pointed to Romney’s Pinterest account that include behind the scenes videos posted by his family, talking about Romney – but never featuring himself. A big social media misstep and missed opportunity by the campaign.

Author and biographer, Michael Kranish, Boston Globe, points to this radio show recorded in 2007 in his book “The Real Romney“. While the book does not supply the URL to the video, it has made the rounds online.

I showed the video in class today – perfect timing after the #47Percent video was leaked earlier this week by Mother Jones and the class assignment to understand the “Real Romney”. Besides the content, it is remarkable how Romney changes to a PR pro from one second to another – and the viewers can only get a glimpse of his personality when he thinks he is off the record:

Will the ‘Real Romney’ please stand up?!

Election 2012

Tonight, Maxwell School’s Campbell Institute hosted journalist Michael Kranish, The Boston Globe, and author of “Real Romney” as part of the State of Democracy lecture series.

The expectation of many audience members was to get a behind-the-scene view of presidential candidate Romney by an insider who has researched and covered him for over 18 years for The Boston Globe.

Kranish is a great story teller, a diligent researcher: For this book, he and his coauthor followed Romney’s career during the last 18 years, interviewed his business partners to understand how the candidate’s environment, upbringing, religious context, business experience at Bain Capital have shaped his political decision making.

After his introductory lecture, Kranish was asked several times – in different ways – who the real Mitt Romney is, how his status in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the local “bishop” will shape his decision making as a potential president. Kranish did not provide a response directly to the question, instead quoted Romney with: “I want to be a Mormon who runs for presidency, and not a mormon president.” Earlier although he did hint at the fact that Romney had said several times, that his faith has shaped who he is today and that it is a large part of himself as a person.

Besides the Mormon faith, Romney’s sense of the middle-class, or “the poor” were questioned, but not transcribed in the attached list of tweets: Kranish talked a lot about Romney’s success at Bain Capital, an investment firm created as a spin-off from Bain Consulting, that was created to invest rich investors’ money into companies and sell the companies at a profit. Kranish reports, that Romney personally must have made ~ $25-30 million in profits when he sold Staples after consolidating the company. The Boston Globe reviewed ~100 transactions during Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital and – you make the math – traced Romney’s share of the profits. Again, not a straight answer to the question wether Romney is able to understand those part of the society who are not able to make millions of dollars per year. Kranish pointed to the experiences that shape a politicians life which will provide the context in which he might most likely make decisions in the future.

Overall, many questions were unanswered, especially because Kranish’ did not draw any conclusions from his research and did not want to provide theories through his personal lens.

Here is a list of tweets transcribing and commenting on the author’s lecture in chronological order:

#GangnamStyle – Creating online audiences even-though they don’t understand a single word

Election 2012

How are messages going viral in today’s social media economy? Who picks up content and is willing to spread a video or a statement through their own social network?

This week, the Ellen Degeneres Show picked up a music video by the South Korean artist Psy and it is now quickly spreading in the U.S. The video has increased number of viewers overnight by 10 million views on YouTube (jumping from 144 million views to 153 million views).  The celebrity boost started weeks ago when Britney Spears tweeted that she wants to learn the outrageous dance style, Justin Bieber’s manager hired Psy for his own portege, many other celebrities chimed in.

This example shows that viral campaigns need the support of so-called network stars – nodes in a network with a very prominent position who are connected to many other nodes. The messages are snowballing through the network and repeated (or retweetd and shared) over and over again.

The video was posted on July 15, 2012, and within a short two months it went viral. It features South Korean musician and comedian Psy and picked up more than 153 million views. Gangnam is the Korean word for the southern part of Seoul.

The video – sung in Korean – itself shows many symbols that can only be interpreted and identified by South Korean audiences who followed the artist Psy during the last ten years, as Jason Lim, columnist for The Korean Times and a former student in my Social Network Analysis at the Kennedy School told me on Facebook:

  • Two very popular Korean comedians participate in the video (the yellow suit guy in the parking garage and the dancer in the elevator) are both rarely known outside of Korea.
  • The other symbols include references to Gangnam, a part of the nation’s capitol Seoul that is known for its upcoming new wealth. Previously one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city, it is now an area where you can get everything. As one of my former EMPA students tells me, there are more Mercedes Benz cars driving around than anywhere else in Korea: the video highlights expensive horse stables, high-rises, exclusive Yoga lessons, pools, and bold-colored sport cars as symbols for things you can only get access to in Gangnam.
  • “Gangnam style” therefore provokes two very different reactions among South Koreans: Either envy or pride.

For Koreans the symbols are easy to identify, everyone knows about Gangnam and Psy was already known for his witty and outrageous gigs, according to Jason Lim, a columnist at The Korea Times, who responded to my Facebook post of the video.

One of my former EMPA students, Sungyeol Shin, reflects on Psy’s background and fame in South Korea:

Psy himself is a Gangnam guy, a very typical Gangnam school dropout case whose family was super rich. At his high days, the only way to go to a decent college in Korea was got a high score in SAT and he could not make it because he was good at the other thing, hanging around with his friends on the dance floor. So his parents sent him to the US and he found his talent in music there.
When he made his debut around 2000, he was a very ‘abnormal’ figure because he talked about his story (which was a very shameful one most modest Koreans wanted to hide) without any hesitation. Later, he went to the military in his 30s because the prosecutor found a forgery on the his military examination paper which changed his military service into an alternative civil service. (That was also a very typical “Gangnam style military manipulation by bribing the doctor”) The reason his abnormal attitude and acts were accepted in the society was he looked so funny and talked it with a sense of humor. His face and posture completely betrays his background – a typical Gangnam guy. This song uses this contrasts very well. (A typical Gangnam things like Ferrari and skyscrapers are mixed with kitsches and cheap symbols like subway station and duck boats.)

The following video shows reactions of American teens who had never seen the video before and are filmed while they are trying to make sense of the dance style, the language and even the chorus “Gangnam style”. They do quickly identify it as K-pop (Korean pop), but can’t make sense of the title, the symbols in the video, and except for one will never want to hear and watch the video again:

With all successful online memes, the Gangnam style dance video was also used to mock presidential candidate Mitt Romney – giving him a more human character than most of his own speeches so far:

An addition to the Romney video added Obama’s dance move to the mix:

Mashable has put together a nice infographic about the anatomy of a viral video: