5 Emerging Trends of Social Media in the Public Sector

Throughout the month of December, GovLoop has been reviewing the year in government technology – everything from BYOD to social media, I’ve been working to highlight some case studies, best practices and try and condense the year down into one post, while looking forward to the year 2013. Follow along here by viewing GovLoop’s Year in Review Guide, our related blog series, and podcasts.

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In this post, we’ll be looking at how 5 emerging trends of social media in 2012. I believe these trends will play an even larger role for social media in the public sector in 2013. Social media continues to transform the way government does business, communicates with citizens and transform government. This was the year of social government, there were dozens and dozens of great examples and case studies to highlight. Here are 5 general trends from 2012, which will also play a significant role in 2013.

1- Scientific applications

In a really interesting article from the New York Times in June, Social Media Join Toolkit for Hunters of Disease, by Bronwyn Garrity, identifies how epidemiologist are using social media to track down diseases, the article states:

Social media — Facebook, Google, Twitter, location-based services like Foursquare and more — are changing the way epidemiologists discover and track the spread of disease. At one time these guardians of public health swooped onto the scene of an outbreak armed with diagnostic kits and a code of silence. Officials spent weeks interviewing victims privately, gathering test results and data, rarely even acknowledging in public that an investigation was under way. The results might not be announced for weeks or months.

Now technology is democratizing the disease-hunting process, upsetting the old equilibrium by connecting people through channels effectively outside government control. While the online chatter can be unproductive or even dangerous — spreading fear along with misinformation about causes and cures — a growing cadre of epidemiologists sees social media as a boon. Future hunts for pathogens may rely as heavily on Twitter streams and odd clusters of search queries as on blood tests and personal histories.

The article has an interesting quote from, Dr. Taha Kass-Hout, Deputy Director for Information Science at the CDC. “Given that the next SARS probably can travel at the speed of an airliner from continent to continent in a matter of hours, it just makes perfect sense to adapt the speed and flexibility of social networking to disease surveillance.”

It will be fascinating to see how social media and scientific applications continue to evolve in 2013. This is a great example of how social media is maturing in terms of applications, and how government agencies are leveraging social media in new, innovative ways.

2 – Emergency Management

My colleague Emily Jarvis had a great interview on Project Epic, “Project Epic looks at how people use social media during times of crisis. The perception is that the first responders are firefighters and police officers. But in reality members of the public are typically the first responders to a situation. Now those first responders have a device in their hands that lets them publish information almost immediately after the event,” said Ken Anderson, a member of Project Epic.

Emily continued to bring to light some of the challenges of emergency management and social media. “Sometimes these “first responders” struggle with accuracy. The issues fall into two groups. First you have the group of people that post information that was initially accurate but then information evolves and the tweet is no longer accurate. The second group of people just flat out generate false information,” said Anderson.

Project Epic is one of a dozen ways social media has impacted emergency management in 2012. Other examples include FEMA’s use of social media, especially Craig Fugate on Twitter and the extensive use of Ready.gov, all have been great ways to leverage social networks and communities to encourage preparedness for a storm.

Look for increasing examples of social media used during a crisis, whether it be through geo-tags, sharing resources, identifying patterns, reporting non-emergency situations, or notifications for citizens, there are dozens of social media applications for emergency management.

3 – Engagement From Hangouts / Townhalls / We The People Engagement efforts

Another trend for social media was the increase in elected officials using social platforms to meet directly with constituents in a digital space. President Obama did this with his Google+ Hangout, and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel has also done this in Chicago.

We The People has also been in active this year. We The People is an online petition system. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school, thousands flocked to a petition on the We The People for gun control. This petition received more signatures than any other petition posted on We The People. There has been a handful of some really insightful posts on GovLoop on the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Here are two links to view, if interested:

Yet, not all the petitions to We The People have the weight and seriousness attached to them as gun control. Another petition, Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016, states:

Those who sign here petition the United States government to secure funding and resources, and begin construction on a Death Star by 2016. By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

Since the post received more than 25,000 signatures, the White House must respond. You can read more of an overview here, please enjoy.

Also, if you don’t follow Cory Booker on Twitter, be sure to do so. He is quite possibly the best public official using Twitter to connect and engage with citizens during a crisis. He even got a shout out in our GovLoop survey, we asked what were some of the most innovative technology projects, my favorite response of all time was “Cory Bookers Twitter account.”

4 – Unbelievable Amounts of Photography

The final trend in social media is how everyone can become a photographer. With services like Instagram, and Twitter and FlickR offering improved photo technology to users, anyone can share their photos to the internet with a slick filter. Likewise, with drastic improvements to cameras on mobile phones, more people became expert photographers and shared the images globally.

Instagram, which was purchased by Facebook in April 2012, recently changed it’s Terms of Services, which were not well received by Instagram users. New policy changes mean that Instagram holds the copyright to all images posted,and can potentially sell photos. Many suspect that Instagram may turn into a stock photo site, in which users can purchase photos for professional/personal use,

As this is a fairly new development, there are a lot of changes and unknowns, but many users of Instagram are threatening to deactivate their account. Look for further developments on this early into 2012.

5 – Gamification

Gamification is not necessarily a new idea or trend, but due to mobile devices, and access technology, we see increasing ways to incentive behavior through game mechanics. Think about when you check into FourSquare and are offered a coupon for your favorite restaurant, that’s game mechanics. For government, the challenge is now how to take that basic premise, and convert it into tangible and value add rewards. The easiest example I can think of is Challenge.gov, as it would be one examples of how gaming is making it’s way into government.

In a blog post from the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP), Challenge.gov: Two Years and 200 Prizes Later, by Cristin Dorgelo, Chris shared an updated on challenge.gov and provided three examples of gaming in government:

There are still a lot of challenges surrounding gaming in government. I poked around the web for some resources to share, and found some information from HowTo.gov. HowTo.gov recently held a webinar about gamification and how to implement within government. The webinar featured Eric Hackathorn, program manager for Fragile Earth Studios. Fragile Earth Studios is part of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and leverages game mechanics on a variety of projects.

Eric also helped to establish the Federal Games Guild, which has the goals of sharing knowledge, resources and address the needs of government officials to implement effective use of gaming.

2012 certainly saw a lot of changes to social media, and it is hard to encapsulate the entire year in a single blog post. There were lots of other trends, especially in terms of maturity of social media analytics, broader acceptance, and improved management of social tools in the public sector. I’d love to hear some of you thoughts about what events shaped 2012 for social media in government.

It will be interesting to see how 2013 unfolds for social media in government. I am excited about a lot of the strides made with ROI and analytics, and believe that next year we will continue to see agencies work towards achieving the mission of their agency through social channels. Five areas to watch in 2013, in my opinion, will be: more examples of niche communities, eLearning, improved mobile integration, emergency management and ROI/Metrics.

What do you think? What was important in 2012? What’s in store for 2013?

Here are some related links to check out on social media:

GovDelivery is the #1 sender of government-to-citizen communications, serving over 400 government entities worldwide and more than half of major U.S. federal agencies. Organizations use GovDelivery to send over 200 million messages every month on a broad range of topics including national emergencies, health alerts, tax policy changes and more. Check out their User Group on GovLoop as well as the Technology Sub-Community of which they are a council member.

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David B. Grinberg

This is super info, Pat — very informative and useful. Nice job in putting it all together is such a coherent and user-friendly package. In short, it’s awesome!

Many thanks,