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Review of “The Rise of Social Government” by the Fels Institute

The federal government’s use of social media—including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and other sites—draws no end of press coverage, and for good reason: in the past three years, federal agencies have been engaging citizens through Facebook (NASA has more fans than the population of Denver, CO) and Twitter (The State Department has more followers than the population’s of Richmond, Des Moines, or Salt Lake City) to help them in many aspects of their operations. But state and municipal governments, while receiving far less attention, are no less enterprising, and often have valuable information to help citizens in their day-to-day activities.

A new report by The Fels Institute of Government explores how local governments are using social media and offers advice for governments who are implementing social media into their operations in meaningful ways. The report, “The Rise of Social Government: An Advanced Guide and Review of Social Media’s Role in Local Government Operations“, presents the experiences of cities and townships from across the country, from urban areas large and small, and points the way for cities that want to use social media to enhance their operations, even on a shoestring budget.

The authors cover in depth how cities are using a host of social media tools to enhance governments’ delivery of many different kinds of services, ranging from distributing health and safety information, to responding to requests for graffiti removal and infrastructure repair, to encouraging and soliciting citizen participation in policy-making. They also outline how different cities run their social media operations, laying out the benefits and drawbacks of centralized versus decentralized social media strategy, and detailing how some cities structure the approval process prior to posting content to social media sites.

Beyond presenting best practices, “The Rise of Social Government” highlights emerging trends in social media and how governments can get take advantage of them. Essential trends include monitoring, measuring crowdsourcing and integration of the mobile web. The authors take care to differentiate between monitoring and measuring social media. While monitoring involves listening to conversations on various platforms, measuring involves tracking the numbers that encompass engagement and the report details tools for each activity. The authors also talk about the rise of mobile social media and mobile apps, and the use of crowdsourcing, especially for emergency management

Few cities will ever command the audience that national agencies and their leaders will attract, and even the largest cities may not be able to allocate significant portions of their budgets into social media activities. But as “Rise of Social Government” demonstrates, local governments are already learning how to succeed in this important new space and any government that reads the report will be sure to find useful examples in its pages.

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