5 Ways Social Media Has Transformed Government

I hope you’ll join me next Thursday for the GovLoop’s Government Innovator’s Online Summit, this post will provide some further insights to the State of Government Social Media session, which will occur from 11:30 to 12:30. During this webinar we will discuss how to define social media metrics, best practices on Facebook, Twitter and emerging social tools, tactics to manage multiple accounts and finally, discuss social media case studies.

I will be joined by Justin Herman, Federal Social Media for The Center for Excellence in Digital Government at GSA, and Bill Greeves, Chief Information Officer at Wake County, North Carolina. Please register here and feel free to contact me ([email protected]) for more information. The full abstract for this event can be found at the end of this post.

In many respects, social media has revolutionized the way government interacts with citizens. There are countless examples of fascinating social media case studies in government. As more agencies adopt social media tools, not only are they investing in new kinds of technology and tools to develop innovative ways to engage with citizens, government entities are also embracing a new kind of thought process, radically different from the traditional view of how government engages with citizens.

With new tools emerging, updates to existing social media services, and pressure to cut costs while improving engagement strategies, agencies have embraced social media. Social media allows agencies to “go where the people are,” and also, allows them to leverage new tools to engage with their core audience.

In the end, social media is about connecting and collaborating, developing a two-way conversation with citizens and learning from citizen experiences to create change as to how government operates. Social media allows agencies to connect with citizens, share common challenges, and allows agencies to tackle complex problems with the help of citizens.

Throughout the State of Government Social Media webinar, we will hear from Justin and Bill, who are thought leaders working in the trenches with social media, but as a warm up, here are my top five ways social media has transformed government.

Increased Responsiveness

Some of my favorite examples about increased responsiveness and social media comes from 311 services that integrate with Twitter and Facebook. (If you’d like to learn more about 311 and the history, check out this great overview from Mark Head on GovFresh.)

There are countless 311 stories from local governments. Philadelphia, San Francisco and New York are some of the best case studies, I stumbled upon a case study from Somerville, Massachusetts, and believe that it is also a great example of 311 use, and that municipalities of all sizes can benefit from 311 and social media integration. The Somerville Journal reports in the article, Somerville leads the way with 311 taking Twitter and Facebook work orders:

Thanks to the numerous snowstorms battering the region, the city’s 311 Constituent Services call center answered a record 11,733 calls in January, topping the department’s previous record, set in December 2009, by 88 calls.

In order to keep up with those call volumes, the 311 service has expanded into social media, debuting the capability to take work orders via Facebook and Twitter. Residents can now submit a work order without having to pick up the phone.

Even without any publicity for the new initiatives, the 311 Facebook page has 1,935 followers and the Twitter page has 333 followers. The city has received questions about trash pickup during snow emergencies, notices of downed tree limbs and one inquiry about whether Somerville has an official city song – it does, “Somerville Leads the Way.”

Crisis Management

Zombie Apocalypse,” by the CDC is one of my all-time favorite examples of social media use and crisis management. The post is a clever way teach citizens on how to become prepared in the event of a crisis. The CDC states: “There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.”

This initiative was incredibly successful for the agency to help bring broader awareness to how to plan for an emergency. Additionally, crisis management has been impacted by instantaneous responses. A prime example is how Twitter and Facebook posts that are “geo-tagged” can allow families to search for loved ones during a storm or crisis. In a recent interview on GovLoop’s Daily Podcast with Chris Dorobek, Chris interviewed Adam Crow, Director of Emergency Preparedness at Virginia Commonwealth University. Adam stated:

“Emergency management is dead. Well, at least as most people know it. It’s time for another revolution in the professional field of emergency management that embraces the impact, expectation, challenges, and potential benefits of embracing the integration of social expectations into the general public. This is not the first time the profession of emergency management has needed to revolutionize how it approaches preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation of hazards and risks,” said Adam Crowe.

Crisis are dynamic events that have long reaching impacts on the economic and social viability of a community. With social media and integration of other technology (cloud, mobile, GIS), the complexity of disasters has been more widely understood, and technology has led to saving a countless number of lives during a crisis. Social media has certainly played a large role in the transformation of emergency management.


Two of the most high profile examples are President Obama’s Twitter Town Hall and Google+ Hangout. Also, a lot of great movement around data, making information more accessible, and leveraging emerging technology to improve accessibility of information for citizens.

Another great example is the development of Twitter’s Transparency Report, which was released for the first time ever in July of 2012. Twitter’s Transparency Report was influenced by Google’s Transparency report. Both initiatives have very similar core beliefs, and can be found below.

Twitter States:

Wednesday marks Independence Day here in the United States. Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves.

With that in mind, today we’re unveiling our first Twitter Transparency Report. Inspired by the great work done by our peers @Google, the primary goal of this report is to shed more light on:

  • Government requests received for user information,
  • Government requests received to withhold content, and
  • DMCA takedown notices received from copyright holders.

Google States:

Transparency is a core value at Google. As a company we feel it is our responsibility to ensure that we maximize transparency around the flow of information related to our tools and services. We believe that more information means more choice, more freedom and ultimately more power for the individual.

In this report, we disclose:

Citizen Empowerment

Often, while talking about social media, improved citizen engagement is identified. That is only just part of the equation. Government entities embracing social media not only have improved citizen engagement, but have empowered citizens to take a stake in their community. Social media allows agencies to tap into the collective knowledge of the community, efficiently share resources and use the citizenry to help solve complex problems government faces.

Examples that certainly come to mind are the myriad of citizen reporting apps like SeeClickFix and CitySourced. Another example is from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs blog, VAntage Point, in which veterans can write guest blog posts to help support the government community. Other examples include examples from NASA. One of my favorite examples is the NASA version of Angry Bird’s, which encourages children to learn more about science, technology and math. NASA has dozens of programs that empower citizens, and encourage citizens to learn more about science. Challenge.gov and the EPA’s Apps for the Environment Challenge are two other great examples.

Transforming Government Culture

Although this is still likely to play out, the push for a more open and transparent government is in part to due the meteoric rise in social media applications. We have a fundamental right to information, and the digital age has facilitated accessibility to information unlike any other time in history. For better or for worse, we are now more connected than ever before and information can be shared instantly with peers.

New pressures and challenging public administration questions have arisen due to the boom in social media. What does the modern citizen look like? How much engagement is acceptable? Does too much transparency jeopardize our national security? How is Freedom of Speech protected on social media?

Those are some of the questions we will be talking through during GovLoop’s Government Innovator’s Online Summit, so be sure to join us. Here is the complete abstract for the event, and link to register:

In 2008, social media was just starting in government. Agencies were experimenting with new tools like Facebook and YouTube with Twitter just starting to enter the public eye. Four years later, government social media has passed the initial curiosity phase and is transitioning into being integrated as another key tool in solving problems.

Join us as we discuss the state of government social media in 2012 and address the following learning objectives:

  • How to define social media metrics that tie into program success
  • Discuss best practices on Facebook, Twitter, and new tools like Pinterest
  • Tactics on managing multiple accounts, social media policy, and archiving
  • Case studies of federal, state, and local agencies doing it well & how to leverage their lessons learned


  • Bill Greeves: Chief Information Officer at Wake County, North Carolina
  • Justin Herman: Federal Social Media for The Center for Excellence in Digital Government at GSA

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Eric Koch

Thanks Pat for posting. I’m unable to attend. Will you be posting any material following the event (i.e. highlights, recaps etc.)? What you bring up on transparency is interesting, along with the others as well. I was actually reading one of our clients, Pitney Bowes Software, older articles on how Facebook can help with detecting fraud with this “Social Network Analysis” (SNA). Here is the link on that article that discusses this more: http://www.engage-today.com/gov/2012/06/a-new-reason-for-the-federal-government-to-like-facebook/

@David, my CEO actually wrote a good article on his thoughts on this last month as he was comparing this to the dotcom era that he experienced firsthand and the benefits to come out of a social media bubble burst. Here is the link: http://www.thestrategicguy.com/a-bubbly-education-how-a-web-2-0-collapse-will-create-a-stronger-set-of-entrepreneurs/

Pat Fiorenza

Thanks for the comment, Eric. Sorry we’ll miss you during the session. The session will be archived, so you will be able to listen on demand. I’ll write up a post capturing the session as well, and announcing when the archive becomes available.

Thanks for sharing the article, good read!

Lara Coutinho

Thanks Pat for making a recording available! I have to miss this Thursday’s session, but it sounds like something I would find very valuable. Where can we watch for your announcement that it’s posted?

Cheryl Flinn

Pat, I too won’t be able to commit to the web conference due to a scheduling conflict, but am very very VERY grateful you’ll be making this available and your proffered post will be much looked forward to, as well. This sounds fantastic.

Pat Fiorenza

I’ll be posting a follow up blog here on GovLoop with a link to the archive version. It should be available early next week. Link will be here on GovLoop and also in the daily email you get from GovLoop. Thanks for all the comments!