4 Ways Social Media Has Benefited Public Administration

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According to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, roughly 68 percent of American adults use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter daily. The prevalence of social media can be seen in many aspects of American life, including government, politics, and public administration. In addition to the general public using social media for political awareness and engagement, elected officials, public officials, and city service departments are using these platforms for routine reporting and communication with the public.

Other statistics from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project survey:

20 percent of social media users like seeing lots of political posts and discussions they see.

67 percent of American adults use social media sites to express a their political opinions.

How Social Media Benefits Public Management

Public campaigns receive wider attention

Elected officials and government leaders have taken notice of the widespread adoption of social media and use it to their benefit. When politicians are seeking new or re-elected positions, they want to demonstrate their effective leadership and messages to the people. By using social networking, they make themselves available to the public and engage in dialogue with supporters. This lets the public know each individual voice is being heard and that each has a real stake in elections and public participation processes. Leaders who have taken notice of this trend and have taken action within the social media realm can reach a far wider range of interested members of the public than was previously possible.

Sharing public reports leads to easier access

People who use social media know how simply and swiftly information can be shared. Managing public records and information has been a practice of public administrators for millennia. Introducing social media to this regulatory practice has made public documents such as legislation and regulations, health statistics and environmental issues far easier to find and addresses concerns of public accountability and transparency. This has resulted in more available government data, which has led to increased inclusion of ideas from communities who might not have much direct experience with public agencies. Those in the public sphere can use open reporting as a way to give the general public a better understanding of their work and available services.

Improved communication

Government agencies use social media as one form of public outreach. This communication invites citizens to upcoming meetings about issues and events that affect them, such as the closing of roads and highways for public projects, environmental concerns, preparations for unexpected natural disasters, or public health alerts including disease outbreaks. The adoption of social media for these communications enables public administrators to reach more citizens quickly. This improved communication informs the public on how to handle these events and facilitates cooperation and coordination. Network connected public data instantly informs the public on traffic jams and bridge backups, easing commutes in big cities.

Increased engagement

Social networking by public administrators increases public participation and broad engagement of citizens in public matters. People are better informed and kept up to date on the details of policy questions, encouraging more communities to take action and hold government offices accountable. Social media has given the public a new form of checks and balances, in which citizens can inform and interact with public employees on neighborhood matters. Policymakers are also able to engage in discussions among citizens, allowing more citizens to speak out on issues that affect them and offer suggestions for resolving problems.

Public Offices That Use Social Media

State and federal agencies continue to develop their social media presence; here are two examples.

Department of Energy

The Department of Energy has long provided information through the internet and is leading the way in social media usage and public involvement. By valuing open government principles such as participation, collaboration, and transparency, this Federal agency keeps the dialogue on local and national energy issues running. Its strategy encompasses engaging the public in open conversations, informing citizens how they benefit from the Department of Energy’s work, and encouraging offices and labs to contribute to its social media accounts. Currently, the Department of Energy has a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Instagram, SlideShare, and Storify.

California’s Department of Water Resources

Similarly, the State of California Department of Water Resources uses social media platforms as a means of communication and interaction with the public. In a state where water resources are of great importance, the Department of Water Resources keeps the public aware of issues and natural hazards, the department’s efforts to find solutions, and ways in which citizens can do their part to help. It does this by maintaining a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, along with putting out podcasts. Social media was essential to inform the public during the Oroville Dam crisis, when both public agencies and the affected public took to social media to describe their experiences.

San Francisco Police Department

On a local level, the social media presence of the police department for the City and County of San Francisco provides citizens in neighborhoods all over the city with the opportunity to become engaged in public safety issues, on Facebook, Nextdoor, Twitter and Vimeo (http://sanfranciscopolice.org/sfpd-social-media). Through the SFPD’s Nextdoor account, members of the community can take part in an online forum to spread the word of potential dangers, organize watch groups and pool resources and services. In addition to the San Francisco Police Department’s main Twitter account, every neighborhood police station and department in San Francisco has its own account on Twitter allowing citizens to follow the status and engage in events specific to their neighborhood. Videos on the city’s Vimeo account increase accountability and transparency through surveillance footage and police body-worn cameras.

In public management, communication is critical for building relationships with the public and implementing policy changes that address public concerns. Maintaining a social media presence is an essential and innovative way for those in the public sector to connect with the people. This trend of open and two-way communication leads to a more informed and engaged society where government is not something others run, but is instead a reflection of our own capabilities and interests [footnote here “Government is Us” ISBN-10: 0765625024].

Learn More

By learning more about the University of San Francisco Online Master of Public Administration (MPA), you will be taking an important first step toward pursuing your professional goals and commitment to social justice. Our program is designed for professionals who want to become effective managers and civic leaders who affect change through policy management and advocacy.


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