Special issue “The Public Manager” on ‘Government Embraces New Social Media Tools’

Publications, Social Media Policy, Social media strategy, technology, Web 2.0

The Public Manager

“The Public Manager” has just published its Winter 2012 edition. The whole issue focuses on how government embraces new social media tools.

Contributors are among others:

  • Andrew Krzmarzick, who talks about how government embraces social media as new communication tools;
  • Scott Horvath (USGS), who presents an overview of the past, present and future of social media at USGS;
  • Joseph Porcelli, who provides insights into how FEMA drove 23,000 people to join its online community
  • and many more.

I contributed an article on how to design a social media strategy to fulfill government’s mission.

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

E-Government, Government 2.0, Information Management, Information Polity, New media, Public Management, public sector, social media, technology, Web 2.0

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 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 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.

Answers via GovFresh: What happened to Manor?

City of Manor, GovFresh.com, social media, sustainability, technology

Luke Fretwell over at GovFresh has picked up the question I asked in my recent blog post about the disappearing social media presence of the City of Manor, TX. He has allowed me to repost here on my blog. Thank you, Luke!

What happened to Manor?

Ines Mergel asks a great question about a government 2.0 icon emblematic of the potential local open government had in its nascent heyday way back two years ago:

What happened, Manor?

For those unfamiliar with Manor and its young gun superstar and former CIO Dustin Haisler, Manor was symbolic of the “small town startup” that could strategically leverage modern technology to better serve citizens and run more efficiently while still keeping IT costs to a minimum. Haisler leveraged QR codes, WordPress, Google Apps, engagement platforms and other experimental technologies that brought Manor into the digital 21st century.

Today, that Manor is gone.

Haisler eventually left for the real startup world, and it appears the baton was either not properly handed off or just dropped altogether.

I asked Haisler about this, and here’s his reply via email:

I think this shows the need for a few things:

(1) Forming a social norm around innovation and experimentation in government, which requires significant measurement and reporting in order to combat the risk that comes along with a change in administration.

(2) Government innovation programs should not be run solely from within City Hall. There should be controlling interests from community stakeholders (businesses, non-profits, academia, etc.)

(3) The need for education. Current and future leaders of government agencies need to be educated on the business value that comes from using participatory technologies within government.

This presents a unique opportunity to reinvent civic innovation within Manor (where I still live) from a truly grassroots perspective driven from the community.

Design is inherently subjective, so it’s difficult to argue whether the new site is prettier than the previous version, however, there are several non-aesthetic components now missing from Manor’s previous “beta city” vision that should be standard in all new government websites:

  • no integrated content management system (it appears they’re now using Google Blogspot to post site updates, but these are separate from the site’s primary pages)
  • less prominent social media accounts (previously, Manor had a Facebook, Twitter and Flickr presence, but now only Facebook is accessible, albeit hidden)
  • no commitment to open source (previous WordPress theme was developed and made freely available to any government)
  • no site search
  • no accessible email or online contact form
  • no open data portal
  • no open 311 reporting
  • URLs no longer mapped to cityofmanor.org domain
  • basic disregard of 508 compliance

I’m not familiar with Manor’s current operations and technological leadership but, judging by its new website, I concur with Mergel that “they apparently went back in time and put up a horrific website in a design that reminds me of the early days of the Internet.” (disclaimer: I helped set up and design the previous version)

Whatever the reason for the set-back, there’s a lesson to be learned in how to better transition an IT environment developed by a tech-savvy CIO to leadership that appears to be less informed on today’s technological standards.

Most importantly, it’s seems there’s an opportunity here for the Gov 2.0 community to come together and address how small towns manage IT sustainability and help those that are less tech-savvy better understand and implement strategic, experimental and open technologies.

How can we do this?



About Luke Fretwell:

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. Contact him at luke@govfresh.com or connect on LinkedIn or Twitter at@govfresh or @lukefretwell.

Government 2.0 class – students commenting on their own learning process

Adoption of new technology, Government 2.0, social media, Teaching, technology

I am teaching PPA730 Government 2.0 for the fourth year with the challenge that the topic is truly a moving target. The course schedule organically evolves each semester – basically in parallel to the developments in the public sector. Four or five times throughout the semester guest speakers from government organizations join us to talk about their experiences either with specific tools or sharing their insights about their local implementation and then management processes. The first two guest speakers this semester were Rachel Flagg, GSA – HowTo.gov, and Bill Greeves, CIO Roanoake County and my co-author of the forthcoming “Social Media Fieldguide”.

One of my current students wrote up a fantastic blog post over on our class blog and I would like to share her insights and her own learning process here:

Social Media – INEVITABLE ? So jump right in and ride the wave!!?

Our objective in this class is to understand how social media can be successfully used, especially in government and non-profits. An important aspect for me in being able to do this is to find a way to believe that this can indeed be accomplished given my limited experience, skepticism and a weariness regarding information overload. For me, what I was looking for was an overriding value statement and/or mindset that would set me on the path with a positive outlook. The 2 guest speakers we have had in class have helped make this happen.  Rachel Flagg of GSA and her amazing websiteHowTo.Gov  provided much information about the specifics of how to implement social media applications in Government. In addition, she answered one of our questions about how you deal with all the details, the instability, the beta factor, barriers, constraints with the advice to “just jump in”. Don’t let the uncertainties hold you back – have faith that you will make it work and “go for it”.  I plan to take this advice.  I watched the way young people were using all these tools all the time and simultaneously. They were crowdsourcing their decisions, making deals and creating networks at a breathtaking seemingly effortless pace. I started seeing ‘join us onFacebook,  ‘join us on Twitter’  everywhere online and in print media. Bill Greeves , the IT Director of Roanoke County , Virginia commented on the inevitability of the use of social media to become a dominant force in our communications both inside and outside government. “Inevitable” is defined as “impossible to avoid or prevent” and that sums up how I was feeling. His obvious determination and careful planning to harness the coming surge and, in fact, become a pioneer in the embracing of this technology was inspiring. So, thanks to Rachel and Bill, my resolve has been strengthened and I will adopt a surfing metaphor – “ride the wave” and if you “wipe-out”, get back on and wait for the next one.



Presidential Memo: Managing online records beyond paper and filing cabinets

Adoption of new technology, Barack Obama, E-Government, Government 2.0, NARA, President, technology, Transparency

Today, President Obama published a new presidential memo building on the efforts of the Open Government Directive he encourages departments and agencies to save money by providing government records in digital format – instead of “paper and filing cabinets”.

From the White House blog:

The new effort calls for reports, by each agency head, describing their current plans for improving records management programs; outlining current obstacles to sound, cost-effective records management policies;and cataloging potential reforms and improvements. The agency reports will inform, and be followed, by a Records Management Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB and the National Archivist. The Directive will focus on maintaining accountability to the American public through documenting agency actions; increasing efficiency (and thus reducing costs); and switching, where feasible, from paper-based records to electronic records. In addition, all statutes, regulations, and policies must be reviewed to improve government-wide practices in records management.

Full memorandum is available here and on Scribd via Fedscoop:

National Archives & FourSquare use: Walk in the Footsteps of the Presidents

Government 2.0, Government as platform, social media, technology, Transparency

I recently attended a webinar hosted by GSA’s Web Manager University who is hosting a series of New Media Talks. I attended a talk by Charles Birnbaum, who is responsible for Business Development and Partnerships at FourSquare.com. on the use of FourSquare in government. He was accompanied by Jill James, social media lead at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Here some of the take aways from the FourSquare webinar:

FourSquare is a location-based service that provides a smartphone application that helps people check-in at a specific geographic location with the goal to bridge online and offline activities. With every check-in users earn points – more points when they check in at many different locations, less points when they check in repeatedly at the same location. The points accumulate and incentives in forms of badges and mayorships are given for accomplishments, such as a fitness badge when a user checks in 10 times in a row at his local gym:

For businesses, or all types of other organizations, that want to stay in touch with their customers or citizens Foursquare provides a way to brand a specific product or location. To create a brand page or a page for a physical location of an agency where citizens have frequent physical interactions with or can physically walk in, a web destination can be created and the administrators of the page can start to design contests and incentives for their users’ check-ins:

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was one of the first government agencies in the U.S. that started to use FourSquare to attract and engage visitors to their physical, but also online locations (for more information see a recent press release: The National Archives Plays Foursquare!).

NARA uses the FourSquare web landing page as well as Foursquare’s smartphone applications to share tips by knowledge matter experts and citizens about documents and their physical locations around the country. Experts create tips and educational material for specific physical locations, such as historical sites in Boston, NYC, Philadelphia or Washington, DC, and citizens can learn and engage with those records with every FourSquare check-in:

As an example, a recent initiative called “Walk in the footsteps of the Presidents” guided FourSquare users in collaboration with the Presidential Libraries through the historic events and documents of past U.S. Presidents. Users learn about historical sites, major speeches, dedications, events, but also fun facts, such as code names or favorite restaurants:

The use of FourSquare fits into NARA’s overall Social Media Strategy to engage, collaborate and build communities around records and documents:

Our Core Values for Social Media

Collaboration: Together as one NARA and as partners with the public to accomplish our mission
Leadership: Out in front among government agencies and cultural institutions
Initiative: An agency of leaders who are passionate, innovative, and responsible
Diversity: Making NARA a great place to work by respecting diversity and all voices
Community: Caring about and focusing on the government community, citizen archivists, and each other
Openness: Creating an open NARA with an authentic voice

Many questions of the webinar participants were focused on the “How To” of FourSquare, individual branding, or claiming of landing pages and physical locations.

Two other important issues came up:

1) FourSquare records are not necessarily considered social media records and agencies who want to use FourSquare to engage with their audience need to think about records management. NARA uses FourSquare tips to link to other existing records, that are already scheduled for archiving – so that they consider FS updates as temporary records that are not archived.

2) FourSquare is a great example of a social media tool that can’t only be administered by the IT or Public Affairs team. Instead, NARA suggests to get subject matter experts of a government agency involved in creating tips for FourSquare users. They make it easy for content experts to create tips in an Excel spreadsheet that serves at the same time as a central database.

Read more about social media records management on the following NARA blog conversation: Records Express and the NARA bulletin 2011-02: Guidance on Managing Records in Web 2.0/Social Media Platforms.

Among many different topics on citizen engagement, GSA’s How To page offers guidance for agencies on how to use social media in government.

Presidential Twitter Townhall @townhall

Barack Obama, Government 2.0, social media, technology, Twitter Town Hall, Web 2.0

Yesterday, President Obama sent out his first publicly observable tweet starting off a new form of online Town Hall meeting, a Twitter town hall:


The Twitter Town Hall meeting was the second large-scale social media event sponsored by one of the most influential social media companies in the U.S.: About three months ago, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook.com, has sponsored and moderated a Facebook Town Hall meeting live. This time the online Town Hall meeting was sponsored and moderated by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey:

[picture linked from The Guardian]

The most tweeted question was similar to what we have seen during the Open For Questions event: The most tweeted question – retweeted here as an example – with close to 5,000 retweets was:


The tweet was not answered by the President, even though it seems very different to the pro-marihuana agenda many people were pushing during the Open For Questions event. This one seems to be intelligent, with implications for overcrowded prisons and a sense that the consequences of legalizing marihuana might actually have a positive long-lasting impact on the legal system in the U.S. and could save government a lot of money.

The President also addressed a question posted by the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, giving the Republican party a minute in the limelight as well:


You can watch the whole event on the White House YouTube channel:

According to the graphic below, the submitted questions to the hashtag #askobama slowly picked up during the days leading up to the Twitter Town Hall, but then rapidly increased on the day before the actual event. The following statistics were published on http://obama.twitsprout.com/ and linked here:

Social media network panel at #pmrc2011

Adoption of new technology, Government 2.0, informal networks, Information Management, interviews, PMRC, social media, Social Network Analysis, Social networking services, technology, Web 2.0

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.