The government gets social

My knowledge of politics barely extends past stories of John Key and his infamously, famous son appearing on my Facebook timeline… so this weeks topic was a challenge. However, one I surprisingly didn’t hate. Here is a few words on how governments are getting social.

As the term open government has begun to take root and gain momentum in recent years, there has become an increasing pressure on governments to become more “transparent, interactive and participatory” (Kwak & Lee, 2012, p. 492). This shift is about increasing interaction and information sharing between the government and the public (Mergel, 2010). By engaging with the public in a meaningful way, citizens feel their views and suggestions are being heard.

The nature and structure of organisations in the public sector, has meant traditionally knowledge sharing it highly regulated through rules, regulations and strict report structures. This restricts the free flow of information both within and outside organisational boundaries.


This is where social media steps in…

Social media tools are now challenging this traditional structure, and increasing the participation of all stakeholders in information sharing processes (Mergel, 2010). As a result, the public and governments are now interacting more informally, increasing “transparency, accountability, participation and collaboration” (Mergel, 2010, p. 177).

The challenges and risks…

Governments and all organisations in the public sector face certain challenges when it comes to the application of social media. The foundation of this challenge is well defined by Mergel (2010):

The larger the group and the most complex the task it seeks to accomplish, the greater are the pressures to become explicitly organized.

The result of this is a number of strict and elaborate rules and regulations, leading to inefficiencies in information sharing, and ultimately, getting things done. This results in what Mergel (2010) calls knowledge silos where information is not easily shared.

A second challenge facing governments using social media is maintaining and supervising these platforms. If governments are too effectively utilize these tools, they must do so correctly, or face the backlash. Time and money will need to be spent on hiring employees to manage the channels, respond to any queries or complaints, provide up-to-date and relevant content and control any “trolls” or negative feedback.

The reward… engagement, collaboration and transparency.

Successfully and savvy use of social media can help the government actively engage with its publics. Improving public perceptions and opinions. By providing regular updates, feedback, and a means for the public to have their say, the government can build greater goodwill with the public. Social media provides a great platform for public sector organisations to present a transparent brand identity, by informing its publics on current processes and decisions. Social media provides the means to engage with the public. However, it is up to the government to utilise it effectively to build relationships.


Barack Obama is great example of how politicians can harness the power and reach of social media to support their campaigns. His campaign was based on “involvement through empowerment”, which he achieved by using social media to gain support, engage with people, and spread the word. His campaign strategy and focus on social media changed the face of campaigning, and the nature of politicians online. Here are some lessons that can be learnt from Obamas campaign success (How Obama Won with Social Media, 2010):

  • Focus on the individual
  • Be authentic
  • Remember, every bit of support counts
  • Present a clear message and vision
  • Map out your digital landscape (be strategic!)
  • Build relationships
  • Have a clear call to action
  • Empower brand ambassadors


I feel like government bodies and politicians using social media is a slightly polarising topic, what are everybody’s thoughts? Good, bad, necessary? It certainly opens up these individuals and organisations to a large amount of criticism and scrutiny… but I guess that comes with the territory.



Bellamy, C.  & Busby, P.   (2011).  New Zealand Parliamentarians and Online Social Media.  (Parliamentary Library Research Paper 2011/01).  Wellington.

How Obama Won with Social Media. (2010). The Dragonfly Effect. Retrieved 30 May 2016. Retrieved from

Lee, G. & Kwak, Y. H. (2012). An open government maturity model for social media-based public engagement. Government Information Quarterly, 29, 492-503.

Mergel, I. (2010). The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government. Accepted for publication in Public Administration Review


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