Survival Guide: Social media and public administration

We continue our guest blog post series with an insightful article by Tomislav Korman, former Head of Online Communication Department of the Government of Croatia, on the challenges and benefits of the use of social media by public sector institutions. 

 

From 2000 to 2011, the European union (EU) has spent 190 million euros to fund e-participation projects. However, EU countries are faced with citizens’ ignorance towards political participation. Only 41% of EU internet users actually uses internet opportunities to get involved. Yet, European internet users are extremely open towards social media. According to Business Insider Europeans use social media in greater percentages than Americans. For example, in Italy, 77% of population spends more than 30 minutes every day on social media sites. Social networking seems like an easy option for governments as they are easily used to simultaneously inform and interact with a large audience. Yet, most of the public institutions still don’t have a clue on how to use social media productively. It is simply not enough to have social media sites and randomly post information. Without organisational change, a strategy, goals and objectives, final results will not be clear, or will fail to achieve a major change. Social media is not easy, but is simple. It might help your institution to do better. Especially if your attempts are strategised, aligned with broader plans, programs, missions and visions.

EU: Using tech for public good

During the last years various information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become accessible to the public. Moreover, ICTs, such as internet, specialised online platforms and social networking become accessible to public institutions, as well. New technologies seemed like an affordable way to provide information and services, furthermore modernise and reform slow-changing bureaucracy. To support both democratic principles and modernisation it has been expected for EU countries to simplify public administration, but more importantly, to embrace participatory democracy and ICT use for its purpose. The “European eGovernment Action Plan 2011-15” and the Malmö Ministerial Declaration on eGovernment support the use of ICTs in civic life. Member states and candidate countries are expected to rely on ICT when promoting “effective, useful and better ways for businesses and citizens to participate in the policy processes”. Furthermore, “Europe 2020 Strategy” introduced in 2010, among many other initiatives includes “The Digital Agenda for Europe” which promotes “effective use of digital technologies”. This “agenda” is supposed to “trigger technology development and increase in socio economic benefits”.

ICTs are not a problem-solver, but their usage might be

Firstly, not only that EU institutions and EU governments have to provide online services, they have to secure visibility of such services as well. In the era of ICT and accessibility, voters turnout and democratic engagement has never been lower. Voter turnout in may´s European elections was lower than 43% – the lowest ever. In addition, data published by Eurostat in 2013 shows that 80% of the EU citizens has internet, but only 41% of individuals used the internet to interact with public authorities or services. Public sector bureaucracy which often strangles with entrepreneurship and innovation, has to produce a sustainable and forever changing strategy to adapt to an increasing role of new technologies.

Secondly, although good cases have been constantly highlighted, “one size fits all” rule can not be applied. Lessons have been learned through trial and error. Some governments and institution embraced online forums, blogs, virtual communities and social networking sites. These social media sites enable governments to interact with citizens and businesses in a new way. Moreover, they offer a two-way communication that can enable citizens to respond, question and interact with each other, and the institution as well. Such interactions create interest and “buzz”.

Public sector matters: What to expect?

Interaction changed from one way to many-to-many communication. “We are social” reports on almost 300 million active social media users in Europe or 40% of the region’s population. Using social media in public bodies is creating networks of state and non-state actors. These actors are organising to use existing resources, knowledge and tools to pursue public goals. They exchange pictures, videos and experiences, mostly over Twitter and Facebook. They create content on YouTube and Flickr. All freely available to the public, all about – you. Public servants need to put time to recognise and become an active part of such relationships if they want to gain trust and argue their case on the issue. Knowledge on policies, communication, bureaucracy, technology, design, engagement, analysis, content marketing and community management comes together to develop digital network services of the public sector. Nonetheless, researchers such as Hoffman, Lutz and Seri, confirmed that this might mean informational overload and consultation difficulties. In addition, skepticism of many public administrations towards social media result in weak initiatives, poor composition and weak management. Furthermore, lack of relevant skills and organisational practices often gets in the way of adopting modern methods in public management which consequently affects openness and transparency, thus interactive government-citizen processes. Resistance to flexibility or lack of skilled specialists might reduce the attractiveness of such public features, which again leads to low response on the political issues. In addition, it is hard not to associate such adoption with expansion of personnel and training requirements. Interestingly, in his research, Norman Baldwin found that older public servants are more optimistic towards new technologies as they already witnessed change in their work with the introduction of telefaks, printers and internet.

What to Consider

A part from organisational reforms and maintenance guidelines for your staff, there are some advices for social media maintenance. To achieve openness and citizen centricity, furthermore, introduce new ways of responding, creating and sharing information, governments need to step up from the throne of public communication and review its citizen consultation and participation process. What do citizens need? What do citizens want? How can we use citizens to help us work better, faster and simpler? By understanding of this concepts, governments can position themselves to deliver better and positive outcomes of citizen-government interaction. Participatory outcomes can impact businesses, the economy and society while delivering a new and effective, public service paradigm. Engaging the public becomes the key catalyst in the attempts of political or bureaucratic reforms.

Although various institutions might target various groups and stakeholders, experts agree on several recommendations. To simplify, I always group them into four simple rules: Listen, Engage, Be respectful and Have fun.

• Listen. Who is your targeted audience? What are their interests? What have they been saying about you? What kind of queries do they have? How do they use social media? Is this relatable to your services? How? Research, research, research… Learn as much as you can about audience you are going to be exposed to. Learn who and how influential they are. Prepare some concepts and actions that will help you respond to crisis once you go public. Set and draft 10 common issues that you might be involved with. This should help you during the first few days. As a public service or servant you are expected to respond and account for related information and issues. Have them ready. Integrate your activities with all relevant communication departments and follow the existing communication strategy (if there is one, if not, create your own with the agreement of communication officers). Social media are extending your democratic duty. Therefore, don’t raise expectations to unreasonable levels. Listen, then speak.

• Engage. How can your audience help you to work better? Will information that you provide make the work of your institution easier, faster, more relevant? Your audience might give you ideas or appoint you to the relevant matters. You have to be committed to maintain your social media, but also to be a conversation starter and create opportunities for the audience to participate. The easiest way is to discreetly ask for advices or opinion. Questions can help you form relevant advice and input. But keep it simple. Educate on the issues but do not overwhelm with questions or information. Keep such efforts constant from start to finish. Iteratively execute and measure results. Update your audience on progress and final results of their participation.

• Be respectful. Respectful to information you provide, and more respectful to the users. A part from proofreading and double-checking every information you announce, your job is to provide the best customer service in the universe.According to a Government Business Council survey from 2013, 60% of government executives describe citizens’ attitudes toward government as “frustrated”. Both public and private sector deal with people. Chris Tyrrell, Senior Assessor with standards organisation Customer Service Excellence (CSE) listed 50 advices on how to handle difficult tasks of human interaction with politeness and care. Among other things he states that “Everybody and I mean everybody, in the organisation should have a customer-focused key work objective/competence/behaviour in their job description for recruitment and induction, and subsequent performance reviews”.

• Have fun. Following rules and guides might work, however if you are upset over the work you do, you will most probably have a hard time. Finding and embracing the passion that might help you to be better at the things you do, is not an easy task. Your should learn to love it or change it. Social media can be used in numerous ways. Your creativity or the creativity of your team can help you constantly innovate and change the way you communicate with your audience. Flexibility of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and Flicker can inspire you to combine text, videos and photos in order to spread your message. Moreover, your audience will show you the way to go.

 

Recommended reading:
Baldwin, J. N., Gauld, R., & Goldfinch, S. (2012). What public servants really think of e-government. Public Management Review14(1), 105-127.

Charalabidis, Y., & Koussouris, S. (Eds.). (2012). Empowering open and collaborative governance: Technologies and methods for online citizen engagement in public policy making. Springer. [Internet] Available from:  https://www.academia.edu/1487923/Book_Chapter_A_critical_analysis_of_EU-funded_eParticipation

Effing, R., van Hillegersberg, J., & Huibers, T. (2011). Social media and political participation: are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube democratizing our political systems?. In Electronic participation(pp. 25-35). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Hoffmann, C. P., Lutz, C., & Meckel, M. (2014). Social Media Readiness in Public Administration: Developing a Research Framework. Available at SSRN 2408737.

Seri, P., & Zanfei, A. (2013). The co-evolution of ICT, skills and organization in public administrations: Evidence from new European country-level data.Structural Change and Economic Dynamics27, 160-176.
Tomislav Korman holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from University of Birmingham. He has been working in Prime Minister’s Office as the Head of Online Communication Department of the Government of Croatia. During his time in the government, he was responsible for daily managing of social networks in accordance with the officials’ and counsellors’ needs, which is where he came up with the idea for Gov.hr – a comprehensive web portal used for transparent dissemination of information of public interest. He worked on a number of electoral campaigns for parties and candidates on presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections both in Croatia and internationally. Experienced in the strategic planning, development and evaluation of digital channels. Specialist in the field of social media; researches, consultancy and trainings for institutions and organizations. His passions are open governance and data transparency.

 

 

A new era of journalism. Adapt or disappear.

The 2nd half of 2013 brings a lot of changes to digitaldiplomacy.ro. We initiated recently the series of interviews, opened by the Dutch Ambassador in Romania. In parallel, we are also opening a series of guest blogs, where we will invite special guests to talk about their vision of digital institutional communication. The aim of all these initiatives is to offer you excellent quality content and inspiring stories from public sector personalities who use social media both personally and officially. 

Our first guest blogger is Alexandru Giboi, the Director General of the Romanian National Press Agency Agerpres. In his post, he presents the importance and impact of digital technologies on institutional communication and how Agerpres has adapted to these new challenges.

Thank you, Alex, and we wish you great success!

 

A new era of journalism. Adapt or disappear.

We have reached a point when the days in which we used to buy the newspaper from the corner shop, unfold it and „enjoy” it over a cup of coffee are simply nostalgic memories. The people that still prefer the feel and smell of freshly printed paper are already perceived as being eccentric. The truth is that right now there are 4, 3 billion people on Earth using mobile phones, out of which 1, 08 billion use smartphones. Ignoring this fact of life would be pure stubbornness. The audience has changed, has evolved and has become more demanding, and the institutions are forced to keep up.

We are in a time when the world is changing, and the digitization of services is compulsory. However, the process is difficult, especially for the entities with a long history in the world of offline, as is the case of Agerpres. Change, of any type, even positive, faces reactive forces every time, whether they come from individuals, institutions or rules anchored in the realities of the past. Nevertheless, we have begun a complex procedure for organizational change and I am prepared to make every effort to align all these elements in order to achieve a result that will be beneficial for the interest of the institution I am leading.

The re-branding and re-positioning of AGERPRES took place in 2013, and, thus, the visual identity of the agency has changed. In addition, the layout of the website was reconsidered completely so that it would measure up to the demands of the news consumers. We started from this point because I strongly believe that the website of a press agency is one of its most valuable assets. This is the “virtual” place where all our target audiences meet and where we deliver to them our most prized product: the news.

The new online platform of AGERPRES was created having in mind the behaviour of the visitor, who needs quick access to information. Therefore, regarding usability, the visitor interacts with a friendly interface that offers easy access to information. Regarding accessibility, the new AGERPRES website is created as a strong platform, with an adaptable graphic implementation, which delivers to the user  an interface adapted to the device he/she is using.

The effects of these developments became visible very soon, and the number of unique visitors increased five times in just a few months. Besides the structural and accessibility adjustments of agerpres.ro, our efforts were supported also by a coherent strategy to maximize our presence on social networks. Hence, AGERPRES has social network accounts that spread information content like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Youtube, as well as instruments integrated directly in the website for social network users. These allow social authentication, an easy distribution of information and direct comments to articles from the user’s accounts.

In addition, we are currently working on the final details for the launch of AGERPRES mobile applications for Android and IOS. This way, the approximately 2, 5 million users of smartphones in Romania will have shortly the AGERPRES news at their fingertips.

The AGERPRES  example clearly shows the advantages of a well implemented online strategy for an institution. We are, without a doubt, living in an information era, and because of the high level of access to information, the loyalty of consumers starts to fade if you are not able to keep up with the latest technological trends. Equally obvious is that whoever fails to find its identity in this new social reality will disappear. In the following years there will be a selection done by the audience, which will choose only those institutions that understood how to use the new communication channels and how to provide them with the information they need in the most efficient way.

Alexandru Giboi 

Director General

Agerpres

The case for mediated public diplomacy

Guy J. Golan (@guygolan), PhD, associate professor of public diplomacy and public relations at the S.I. Newhouse School of Syracuse University in New York published last year in the Diplomatic Courier the article „The case for mediated public diplomacy”, in which he presents his view on the importance of international broadcasting for an effective public diplomacy strategy.

Guy has agreed to us translating and publishing his article on our blog, for which we are thankful. Through this article, we continue our guest blog post section on our platform, this time with an international guest, who also brings an academic perspective to our attempt to promote the development of public diplomacy in Romania.

I invite you to read the article and discover more about this topic.

The case for mediated public diplomacy

For more than a decade, American public diplomacy has centered around Joseph Nye’s soft power approach. This approach is based on the assumption that nations can win global hearts and minds of foreign citizens by highlighting the attractiveness of its culture, political values, and foreign policy.

To this end, public diplomacy officials have allocated billions of dollars into a variety of soft power programs such as cultural and educational exchanges, foreign aid and development, and English language instruction. As noted by former under-secretary James Glassman, exchange programs serve as the “crown jewels” of American public diplomacy.

While soft power programs sound good on paper, there is not much evidence that they provide a consequential return on investment.

Just consider the billions of dollars that the U.S. put into its soft power programs in Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries. These expensive programs have not produced meaningful shifts in public diplomacy towards the United States nor have they stemmed Al-Qaeda’s successful recruitment efforts.

I argue that American public diplomacy is limited by its overemphasis on citizen-to-citizen engagement through exchange programs and its unwillingness to develop a comprehensive mediated public diplomacy strategy.

Generally speaking, mediated public diplomacy refers to governmental attempts at influencing the manner in which its foreign policies are framed in the global media. Since most people learn about foreign affairs from the news media as opposed to first-hand experience, successful frame promotion is key to gaining favorable global public opinion.

The diffusion of broadcast satellite technology has set off an international competition between nations over the framing and agenda building of international global affairs coverage. Where 21st century state power was once measured by military and economic might alone, now mass communication has become a crucial added factor.

Qatar demonstrated the impact that international broadcasting can have on international relations through its Al-Jazeera network. Saudi Arabia (Al Arabiya network), Russia (Russia TV) and China (China International Broadcasting Network) soon followed. Both the Chinese and the Russians regularly place full page advertorials in some of the leading world publications. Other nations have set up a sophisticated network of government spokespeople and public relations specialists who promote their policy perspectives around the world. Even the Hezbollah terror organization set up its Al-Manar satellite network and uses it to gain support for its operations.

The influence of global media over public opinion is unquestionable. Yet, the United States does not currently utilize international broadcasting as an integral part of a strategic global public diplomacy strategy. America’s global broadcasting arm, the Broadcast Board of Governors (BBG) is dedicated to the promotion of global press freedom while safeguarding the editorial independence of its broadcast entities. Many of its reporters are local journalists and many of its programs are focused on lifestyle and popular culture.

America’s rivals actively use their broadcasting channels to frame and interpret American culture, political values and policy according to their own political interests. At the same time, the United States hopes to promote its soft power through educational and cultural exchange programs, and the global dominance of its pop culture. Lacking a comprehensive mediated public diplomacy strategy, the United State is allowing its global reputation to be defined by others.

Critics of the mediated public diplomacy approach argue that it is a mere synonym for government propaganda. Such criticisms have led to the disburdenment of the United State Information Agency (USIA) during the second term of Clinton’s presidency. Selecting the normative over the realistic approach to the current reality of a global media competition between nations, the architects of American public diplomacy have placed the United State in a clear disadvantage.

Many in the State Department will argue that its “21st Century Statecraft” social media strategy could help the United States define its soft power by creating a two way mutually beneficial government to citizen communication channel. There is little evidence to indicate that social media has trumped broadcast media channels as key sources of information. Cases in point are the revolutions of the Arab Spring where Al Jazeera helped interpret and define the state of events at times when governments completely blocked all social media access.

I believe that order to successfully compete in the current media landscape, the United States should revamp its international broadcasting strategy around a systematic, research based, mediated public diplomacy approach. Much like in a political campaign, the U.S. should conduct formative research to identify its key stakeholders. It should then develop an appropriate campaign message strategy. It should train and promote communication experts to articulate this message strategy within and outside of its global broadcasting networks. America’s communication strategy should be led by an undersecretary of public diplomacy who will act as the campaign manager and oversee a communication and research team who will execute and evaluate the global communication effort.

I believe that education and cultural exchanges can play an important role in America’s global citizen engagement. But given the budgetary constraints and the current realities of international communication landscape it is now time to make the case for the mediated public diplomacy approach.

Source: Diplomatic Courier