Social Technologies in Local Government Emergency Management #SMEM


Over Social Technologies in Emergency Managementthe summer we discovered and analyzed over 400 social media accounts of local government emergency managers in the five counties around Syracuse, NY. We included fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical care providers, public health organizations, and executive emergency management departments. The goal is to understand how (social media tactics) and what (social media content) emergency managers communicate online before, during and after an incident.

Social Technologies in Emergency ManagementThis week we presented our initial findings to the counties and had a very interesting conversation about local government needs and concerns when it comes to social media use.

We put together a draft report for practitioners highlighting their own good practices and practices we observed in other local governments following FEMA’s and DHS’ guidelines on how to use social media. The report and website will be continuously updated to reflect our newest findings.

Public Administration Review article: A Three-Stage Adoption Process for Social Media Use in Government

Adoption of new technology, Diffusion of innovation, E-Government, Government 2.0, Public Management, public sector, Publications, social media

Together with my co-author Professor Stuart Bretschneider I wrote an article that was just published for early view in the Public Administration Review (PAR). In this article, we develop a model of social adoption in the public sector. Here is the abstract:

Social media applications are slowly diffusing across all levels of government. The organizational dynamics underlying adoption and use decisions follow a process similar to that for previous waves of new information and communication technologies. The authors suggest that the organizational diffusion of these types of new information and communication technologies, initially aimed at individual use and available through markets, including social media applications, follows a three-stage process. First, agencies experiment informally with social media outside of accepted technology use policies. Next, order evolves from the first chaotic stage as government organizations recognize the need to draft norms and regulations. Finally, organizational institutions evolve that clearly outline appropriate behavior, types of interactions, and new modes of communication that subsequently are formalized in social media strategies and policies. For each of the stages, the authors provide examples and a set of propositions to guide future research.

Full reference:

Mergel, I. and Bretschneider, S. I. (2013), A Three-Stage Adoption Process for Social Media Use in Government. Public Administration Review. doi: 10.1111/puar.12021

Our paper won the Emerald Group’s Citations of Excellence winner 2016 award!

CfP: Transformation of Citizenship and Governance in Asia (Special Issue)





Call for Papers (Special Issue)

Transformation of Citizenship and Governance in Asia: The Challenges of Social and Mobile Media

Guest Editors: Marko M. Skoric (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), Nojin Kwak (University of Michigan, USA), Ines Mergel (Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University), and Peter Parycek (Danube University Krems, Austria)

The proliferation of social media and mobile phones over the last decade has spurred significant interest in their civic and political implications not only within the scholarly community, but also among journalists, practitioners, activists, policy-makers, and ordinary citizens. While the role of new media platforms in facilitating macro-level political changes has generally attracted most attention, these new communication tools are also actively utilized in more traditional civic and political processes, including community initiatives and electoral campaigns. Also important is people’s everyday use of new technologies, which research has uncovered as providing an opportunity to encounter public affairs news and discourse, enhance understanding of issues, and get involved in civic and political activities. Further to this, social and mobile media platforms have created new channels and means for citizens to interact with governments and other political institutions, monitor their functioning, and more actively participate in policy-making processes. There is little doubt that the emerging social and mobile media practices, including content generation, collaboration, and network organization, are changing our understanding of governance and politics.

While the above changes are already widely debated in mature, developed Western democracies, there is an even greater need to address them in the context of rapidly developing Asian societies. Although countries in Asia vary greatly in terms of the levels of economic and political development, quality of information and communication infrastructure, as well as their cultural, political and religious traditions, the arrival of networked new media platforms has lead to some similar socio-political shifts. Those include an increasing diversity of voices in the public sphere, greater visibility of political discourse, increased demands for transparency and accountability, and a significantly improved capacity for decentralized civic and political action.

This special issue is aimed at showcasing innovative scholarly works examining various subjects concerning the role of social media, mobile phones, and other new technologies in the formation of democratic citizenship and good governance in Asia. We seek studies that address relevant topics in a particular Asian country, and also welcome comparative research on Asian countries or Asian and non-Asian countries.

The authors are encouraged to explore diverse topics, and possible areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Use of social media, mobile phones, and other new communication technologies in elections
  • Use of social and mobile media by civic and grassroots groups
  • Influence of new media on citizen choices, participation, and knowledge
  • Patterns of new media use and civic and political consequences
  • Social media to engage citizens; smart & mobile democracy
  • Political elites’ use of social and mobile media
  • Sustainability of e-participation
  • Networks vs. traditional party-structures
  • ICTs and their use for governmental transformation
  • Open data initiatives
  • Transparency, participation and collaboration in government
  • Crowdsourcing for governance
  • Service delivery via new communication channels

Submission Guidelines

Articles submitted for consideration must be written in English.

Length of paper: 7,500-12,000 words, including footnotes.

Please download the template and relevant guidelines at

Important Dates

Submission deadline: 31.3.2013

Deadline for peer review: 15.5.2013

Editorial decision: 30.5.2013

Author’s revision: 30.6.2013

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.

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

Government 2.0, Members of Congress, social media, Social media strategy, Social Network Analysis, Twitter


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.

Facebook forces cities to rename their pages


I was alerted to a new Facebook practice to force cities to rename their Facebook pages. Apparently, generic city names are now violating the terms of use.

One account holder mentioned that they couldn’t post to their own city page anymore and had to inquire with Facebook. The account holder was locked out for a week and after lengthy back-and-forth finally understood the required change and had to agree to rename the page name. In other cases, Facebook reached out to the city and requested the name change directly. Apparently, a new practice that is not just a local U.S. issue, but was also reported to me from Europe.

It makes sense from the perspective of Facebook to reserve a city name as a geographic destination for users to check in via the places status update. It is however very disturbing to those government officials who were maintaining a page for a while, are then locked out of their own page without notice, and have to negotiate a new name with little or no explanation. This is bad business practice and does not help to increase acceptance among government officials – especially internationally and on the local government level, where public managers have very little leverage, support, or capacity to start a fight with Facebook.

Here are a few solutions that people shared with me:

1. Proactively suggest a new name, for example add “city government” or your state to the existing city name

2. Request to keep the existing URL, so that you don’t need to move the users to a new page

3. Or ask Facebook to transfer all the “likes”

4. Negotiate for more ad space, improved search placement, etc.

Updates from cities willing to share their experiences publicly (all via Twitter):

1. City of Prattville:

2. City of Nanaimo, Canada:, Press release: Facebook site is down

3. City of Munich’s Facebook page disappeared including 400,000 fans: An article (written in German) by the news agency dapd reports that Munich’s city fan page disappeared earlier this year. The city government had to rebuild the page from scratch using the new name  “City Portal Munich” (Stadtportal München)

GSA agreement with social media providers


The U.S. General Service Administration has just released a press announcement stating that they have just signed agreements with several social media providers to make it easier for federal agencies to use new media service.

GSA has signed agreements with Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and, and is in discussions with many other providers that offer free new media services.

Twitter in action: Reports Amsterdam plane crash supposedly 15 minutes earlier than traditional media

citizen journalism, Google Maps, Google Mashup, networking, online networking, social media, technology, Twitter

When I woke up this morning, my Twitter contacts had just started to report about the plane crash in Amsterdam – the news pages I check only had one line of breaking news, but no full coverage. The #schiphol hash tag was bursting with quick messages; a Google Mash-up popped up with the exact location and distance to the runway, Twitterfall is even after a few hours still interesting to follow, citizen journalists have their five minutes of fame (@nipp reported directly from the scene and went from a handfull of followers to several hundred of followers within an hour). A lot of this reminds me of the  Hudson river landing a few weeks ago: the first picture of the plane in the river was published by a Twitter user as well.

What concerns me is that people were copying or retweeting head counts obviously replicating false messages for a while and I was wondering about the ethics of reporting in this new way. The head count rumors went from 0 (everyone survived), to 1 (although right away denied by the Turkish government), up to 5-7 (at the moment – unconfirmed). This seems to be the only way to collect information when official reports are not available in a crisis: the official press conference won’t start until 1:30pm today (about 4-5 hours after the crash).

In crisis communication, social media tools are prone to be used to report false information, but also have the ability to quickly correct (see Facebook messages during the Virgina Tech attacks) – this procedure is comparable to the mistake eliminations on Wikipedia. The current communication during the aftermath of the plane crash in Amsterdam supports Lea Winerman’s findings recently published in Nature (“Social Networking in Crisis Communication” -> abstract):

Messages appear on Internet-based social networks within minutes of disasters occurring. Lea Winerman investigates how to harness this trend to create official community-response grids.

“Citizen journalism” using Twitter and Blogs in Mumbai

citizen journalism, Social Networks, Social Software, Web 2.0

My Twitter contacts were all talking about it within the first few hours, and now I see that main stream media has picked up the story too: Twitter and Blogs were the most frequented information channels during the first few hours of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last Wednesday. Brian Caulfield and Naazneen Karmali, call this “Citizen journalism” in their recent article in Forbes. Others call this “Twitter’s moment” – people were using rapid tweets to report attacks throughout the city.

There are several visitors from around the world who are updating their Twitter accounts constantly and reporting almost quicker than the the CNN journalists in fron the of Taj. I am following some of them and watching the news at the same time. Astounding how quick information is spreading.

I read one concern in using SMS and Twitter messaging during terrorist attacks: Tweets can unfortunately reveal people’s locations, whether they were using their smartphone at the train station or in one of the cafes. The downside of social media…The attackers’ origin was determined based on their cellphones (at the moment it seems as if most of them are from Pakistan). That the upside, I guess… if there is one at all.