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Social Media in Government 101 Course Description, with Bibliography – Your Thoughts?

A few months ago, I was approached by a university and asked if I could teach a Social Media class. Though I have not committed to teaching the class (those of you who grade papers will know why), I have put together a rough outline of what I’d like to cover, how I’d structure the class and what texts I’d like to assign. Below is that course description.

What do you say, Govloopers? Is this a class you’d sign up for? What other texts would you recommend reading? What other topics need to be covered?

Social Media in Government


This course will have both theoretical and practical components. Students will attain a theoretical understanding of how and why communities form, the capacities and limitations of collective actions, and how to encourage and direct civic activities, with an emphasis on online communities. Students will also read practical guides and case studies that connect the theory to real-world situations. Ideally, each student will finish the class with a body of knowledge regarding both the current state of social media and its function within government as well as how to stay abreast of the changing social media landscape and adjust their own activities to take fullest advantage of new tools as they emerge.


The class discuss the following four topics in depth: Community, Information, Action, and Capabilities and Limitations of Social Media in Government.

Communities off line and on: Why do we form social networks? What forms do social networks take? How do we manage social networks to increase the possibility of positive outcomes?
Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam
Connected, Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler

Information as online currency: what is information? how does it function online? how can it be managed? in an age where every possible viewpoint is expressed and reenforced online, can we ever achieve consensus?
True Enough, Farhad Manjoo
The Information, James Gleick

From Information to Action: How do we encourage participation through social media? What are the capacities (and limits) of social media to direct and/or enable civic engagement?
Reality is Broken, Jane McGonigal
Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirkey

The Capacities and Limits of Social Media: What can be achieved through social media–with regard to collaboration, transparency, and citizen participation–and what are the limitations and even perils that social media must confront?
The Myth of Digital Democracy, Matthew Scott Hindman
Open Government: Collaboration, Transparency, and Participation in Practice, Daniel Lathrop
You Are Not a Gadget, Jaron Lanier
Republic.com 2.0, Cass Sustein
WikiGovernment, Beth Simone Noveck
The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule Is Giving Way to Shared Governance, Matthew Leighninger
How-To Guides for Microbloging, Blogging, Ideation, and Social Networking

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Stephanie Slade

I actually took a class on social media this past spring semester. It was great, and yours sounds like it might be even better. In a nutshell, sure, I’d definitely sign up for something like this.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda

Thanks, Stephanie. Could you tell me where you took your course, and what books you read and thought were useful? Or generally more about the discussions and what worked and what didn’t? I’d love to know!

Alicia Mazzara

I was recently at a meeting with some of my classmates, and several of them expressed a desire to take a class or workshop on this exact topic because they had been asked about their social media familiarity in job interviews. I think a hands-on project would also be a useful component so students could walk away with both knowledge and concrete skills.

Stephanie Slade

Sure. My class was in the School of Communications at American University. It was on social media MARKETING in particular and was, I think, less rooted in theory than yours will be. I wish we could have done more of that. But we began by reading Groundswell by Li and Bernoff. Most of the rest of the readings were articles (from WSJ, Mashable, etc.) rather than textbooks. We looked at Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” for example, and “How Facebook Is Redefining Privacy” from TIME.

We had to write a social media “immersion” paper, where we picked a platform we weren’t familiar with and used it every day for ten days, documenting our experience. We picked a company or brand and critiqued its social media presence. Each week, someone gave a short presentation on a new or unfamiliar social tool (for instance, what is “augmented reality” all about?). Basically, as far as I’m concerned, the only thing that might be missing from what you have above is the point in the course where students learn about what is actually out there on the cutting edge.

Something else we did that I really liked was we had a class blog, which students were expected to contribute to with interesting social media news and resources. If you’re so inclined, you can see our blog at http://ausocialmediaclass.blogspot.com/

E. Steven Emanuel

Gadi, the course outline looks great. The only thing I might add would be finding a model or methodology for measuring outcomes of the Social Media investments. I thought as I read through you’d hit it in the Capacities and Limits, but it didn’t go to measuring success.

When I began to push the use of social media in our county, many of the leaders asked me “why” would they consider it. Social Media at first was a place for employees to waste time. So as a part of the process of selling its use, I had to try to articulate where they would see benefits in the use of Facebook, Twitter and Blogs for a start. I had to find the creative juices to show that these were real sources of communication to a different audience that might otherwise not get the message.

I think a part of the curriculum needs to be success factors, where they are found, how they are measured and lesson learned from those that have taken the plunge, made mistaks as well as making huge progress.

Doug Black

Gadi — any thoughts about including the Cluetrain Manifesto in your reading list? It has more of a markets focus than you may want for a social media in government class, but it is still the one “must read” social media book I hear mentioned every time I go to a social media conference.