An OECD global study into digital and social media warns that governments are lagging behind. Track the latest trends to improve your digital services and social media blueprint
You can gain fresh insights from the Social Media Use by Government report released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD). This comprehensive study examines trends in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, North America, parts of the Middle East and South America.
So, how do you lay the foundations for digital government? Here are the top 7 trends as outlined in the OECD report, offering a snapshot of challenges and opportunities.
Trend 1: Why social outreach matters
Policy planners agree that social media is essential for citizen engagement. However, this outreach is patchy and overshadowed by politicians that hold sway in the digital space.
Despite the mantra of social engagement, the public sector is still looking for the “right recipe” to engage with citizens, create open government and deliver services at the grassroots.
This is reflected by overall uncertainty involving social media channels. “Few national governments in OECD countries have a dedicated strategy or overarching plan for institutional use of social media,” says the report.
In Australia, election themes and candidates represented half of the top 10 most discussed topics on Facebook in 2013. Last year, there was less focus on political and civic issues.
One Australian cross-agency collaboration platform GovDex was launched in 2006 and reached around 20, 000 users in 2011. Civil servants now use the GovDex platform to establish communities of interest, including using social media through the “Cross Agency Social Media Forum.”
Trend 2: How to capture mindshare
Among the global trends, Facebook and Twitter remain the most popular social media platforms. In 2014 Facebook had over one billion active users worldwide. This represented around 15 per cent of the world’s population.
Twitter’s more than 270 million active users share more than half a billion tweets each day. Since 2006, the US Library of Congress has been mining this vast reserve of data to support research, and will do so into the future.
Trend 3: Lessons from politicians
Notably, for government, most consider social media as an add-on to public communications. Few are genuinely leveraging social media for more advanced use. These include involving citizens in public policy or transforming and re-designing public service delivery.
Taking the cue from politicians, these were the first groups to leverage Twitter, Facebook and blogs to rally support. “Government institutions are slowly catching up and increasingly experiment with social media.”
Some leaders are successful, as illustrated by the popularity of US president, Barack Obama (@BarackObama) or the President of Ecuador (@MashiRafael). Both interact with Twitter followers that correspond to more than 10 per cent of the domestic population.
Trend 4: Levelling the playing field
By contrast, government institutions are slowly becoming more represented and active. The main executive institutions in 26 out of 34 OECD member countries operate a Twitter account.
They maintain a Facebook page in 21 out of 34 countries. Many ministries and specialised agencies operate on social media; as do institutions at regional and local levels of government.
But these global trends mask levels of uncertainty and a lack of creativity on the side of institutions. “Only few governments try to genuinely leverage social media for more advanced purposes like involving citizens in public policy processes or transforming and re-designing public service delivery.”
Moreover, social media does not automatically “level the playing field” by way of empowering communities or social groups. “Neither do social media guarantee more attention or participation of younger, disenchanted people.”
Trend 5: Opportunities in healthcare
In healthcare, digital channels are a priority for many countries. But even for more advanced countries, only 50 to 60 per cent use the Internet to source healthcare-related information. “This has to do with the importance of interpersonal relationships between practitioners and patients.”
Seniors or the over 65 year-olds are, for example, a fast-growing group of Internet and social media users. More than half of them are Internet users in Japan and the United States. At least one in five seniors are social media users in Korea, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom.
However, public healthcare providers remain hesitant to use Internet forums or social media applications for the senior demographics. This may stem from privacy, security or the complexity of healthcare networks.
Trend 6: Democracy @ the grassroots
Among the benefits, social media drives innovation for public service delivery and operations. These channels amplify the “democratisation” effects of the Internet on public information or services.
Frontline organisations can deliver on expectations not met by traditional online government services. But institutions need to be aware of the risks, for example, protecting privacy, improving the quality of information or enhancing the public perception.
Governments can “crowd-source” ideas, suggestions or the more critical feedback. Institutions may create or participate on collaborative platforms.
One such example is GitHub, an open source collaboration platform that holds re-usable source codes for the US government or the UK government and many other projects. Governments' category inside this repository has grown rapidly since 2011.
Trend 7: e-Government is old school
Governments are targeting social medial or digital channels for more efficient public service delivery. This builds on the concept of ‘e-government.’ But social media, as an emerging and dynamic platform, needs to demonstrate tangible benefits for users, society and government. The danger is to confuse e-government with social media or digital services.
More broadly, in the US, one census showed that the roughly 700 federal departments, agencies and initiatives had a stock of around 3,000 Facebook pages, 1,000 Twitter accounts, 700 YouTube channels and 500 Flickr pages.
This often includes accounts for specific public service areas that are better recognised by the public. Law enforcement services, for example, typically have a presence of their own. This is distinct from the institutions they formally belong to, for example, ministries of the interior.
Follow Shahida Sweeney on Twitter: @ShahidaSweeney