Social media is becoming an increasingly popular platform for civic and political engagement. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 39 percent of American adults have used platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to engage in civic or political activities. The overall ideological and partisan patterns vary among the users.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Rutgers University’s online Master of Public Administration degree program.
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The Rise of Social Media
Studies have shown that people who are more passionate and active in politics are more likely to use social sites for political purposes. Individuals who have solid ideologies and party ties typically use the platforms to discuss issues of particular interest. Younger users tend to participate in these activities more than individuals who are aged 50 or older.
Up to two-thirds (67 percent) of all 18- to 24-year-olds engage in social network-related political activity. The figure represents nearly three-quarters of young adults who are active on social networking sites.
The engagement usually involves posting links to political material, sharing thoughts on specific issues, liking or promoting political material, following elected leaders, encouraging fellow users to take action, and more.
Political activity on social media has witnessed a marked growth since 2008. The engagements generally lead to further interactions regarding political issues.
Social Media and Government
Social networking sites have evolved from platforms where users engage with colleagues or family and share entertaining videos to one of the main forms of communication. The engagements now extend to government departments.
Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter make it significantly easier for users to communicate. For this reason, citizens leverage the platforms to get their voices heard.
Some government departments have been using YouTube to share press briefings. On the other hand, municipalities use social sites to inform citizens about new ordinances. As a result, people stay well informed about key developments affecting them. However, the concept still has room for improvement. A significant number of government entities have reportedly been experiencing challenges on social networking sites.
According to reports, government departments were ranked as the most annoying in the second quarter of 2016. Surveys revealed that the sector was the least liked on social media. This is due to several unflattering characteristics. On average, the departments have an engagement rate of less than 10 percent, coupled with an average response time of 10.7 hours.
Benefits of Social Media for Government
Governments can take advantage of social networking sites to improve service delivery. The platforms provide a superb forum for citizen engagement. Departments can find specific audiences that need to interact with them. People are already discussing issues concerning these entities, and they need official responses.
Ignoring people on the networks only worsens the situation for government entities that are plagued by negative stigmas. Implementing a more proactive social media strategy creates a great opportunity to change perception. Replying or acknowledging messages on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms shows effort.
Governments can use the networking sites to promote a cause or inform the public about new legislation or other important information. Citizens can help spread the information by sharing it with their contacts.
Keeping the public well informed, particularly in the event of a major crisis, is a surefire way to build trust and provide some degree of transparency. Emergency management departments can ensure that citizens receive critical information quickly.
The platforms are also ideal for creating information hubs for the public. The approach makes it easier to save resources by eliminating the need for people to call multiple offices to get vital information. In addition, it also prevents the dissemination of conflicting reports. Updates posted on the official Twitter or Facebook page can be deemed as being more reliable than individual accounts from various personnel.
Compliance with Privacy Laws
The federal government leverages the power of social media to monitor people’s opinions about specific events and programs. It then uses the insights to improve a wide variety of services and governance strategies. However, departments are expected to act within the confines of the law when using social media.
The Privacy Act of 1974 compels government agencies to avoid posting information that can be used to identify or locate persons. This includes usernames, which can be linked to a particular social media user. For this reason, agencies cannot compile a list of usernames or influencers.
When the collection of personally identifiable information is unavoidable, agencies are urged to gather the minimum details required to achieve a specific objective. Departments should consult with privacy officers and legal counsel when drafting social listening and analysis strategies to ensure compliance with privacy policies.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998 does not permit the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) from minors under the age of 13. Agencies may seek consent from parents or guardians if collection is necessary. Some minors are still active on social networking sites despite the minimum age restrictions imposed by the platforms.
How Local Government Can Use Social Media
Municipalities use social sites to boost engagement with citizens by posting relevant content. Thousands of city entities are active on the sites.
One of the ways local authorities are leveraging the power of social networking sites is posting alerts and updates relating to severe weather or other emergencies. Many of the events can occur abruptly with little or no warning. Social media enables local authorities to issue warnings quickly in a bid to save lives and property. Citizens can share the information with family, friends, and neighbors.
Public service announcements are another practical way municipalities use social networks for the benefit of locals. The announcements are aimed at raising the awareness of key issues that affect residents. Construction updates and alerts about road closings are particularly useful to the public because they minimize inconvenience. Residents can plan well in advance by choosing alternative routes to reach their destinations.
Locals can also obtain information about upcoming meetings at the town hall by visiting the city’s official social media pages. Some municipalities offer live-streaming or archived videos of council meetings. These can be accessed on YouTube or shared as links on social sites. The content allows residents to participate in local government matters.