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Social media in public administration – Can it work?

Social media has become indispensable in today’s society. Dealing with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. is firmly integrated into everyday life and is still growing in enthusiasm. Can public administration withstand digital printing and cope with the changes in modern society?  

Communication at the state level includes information flows on current activities of political and administrative leaders. But it also includes informing citizens about election plans, exchanging information with other public authorities and staff communications in the internal administration area. The external dissemination of information in public administration functions through public appearances and announcements, radio and television reports, press releases, information brochures, articles in newspapers and newsletters as well as information via one’s own website or on social platforms (cf. Minonne et al. 2013, p.92). The media sector plays a valuable role in this. The classic media to communicate and share information are newspapers, magazines, radio and television.

Public administration is characterised by bureaucracy and old-fashioned methods of coping with work. It faces the challenge of engaging with social media and networks. But to what extent can the employees of the municipalities open themselves up to it and how does this action affect the citizens? Obviously, different legal principles apply to the use of social media in public administration than in private use (cf. Mergel et al. 2013, p. 45). There is much more to be considered when opening a Facebook account or when sharing messages with friends and followers. Such a situation in the public sector can be compared with other organizational units, such as companies. Public administration is in constant competition with the free market economy. This creates the impression of having to keep up in the social media sector. But does the local government have to be involved? And do the citizens of the municipality demand this?

Social media have not been part of e-government for long (cf. ibid.). Public authorities have had their own websites for some time, but is that enough to satisfy their needs? Many residents of a community or town have recognised the potential of social media and use various platforms in the private sector. Public municipalities are also required to integrate social media into their administrative activities. Officially, social media are used in particular for public relations and press work. Employees of public administration also try to integrate their private use of social networks into their work (cf. ibid., p.46). The scope of the use of social media by public administration employees can be divided into individual fields of action. When social networks are used, the official purpose is not always discernible. Employees could use the platforms privately or perhaps as a pure source of information. An information collection follows in the private and professional sense. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or various blogs can be used for open discussions. Questions and slogans about official matters can also be shared in social networks. Many civil servants or employees in the public sector use social media in their free time, be it to share news with family and friends on Facebook, to read events on Twitter or to watch music videos on Youtube (cf. ibid.). In addition, citizens use social networks to get breaking news and to read news in near-real time that used to be distributed only through television shows and daily newspapers. Existing business models and communication patterns were called into question and had to change radically. This shows the declining importance of printed daily newspapers. This change must also be accepted by the public administration.

However, it can also be said that the activities in the social media sector of the administration have largely not been defined and have partly taken place without consideration for legal issues. The political leadership has hardly any influence on such activities, unless it itself belongs to the active circle of users. The areas of press and public relations are excluded. Arrangements must be made as to what is and is not permitted in the official social media communication sector. Above all on a legal level, the public administration has the duty to act in dealing with social media and thus also the use by employees and citizens. This is also why it is important to recognise and deal with uncertainties in dealing with social media.

Sources

Mergel, I.; Müller, P.; Parycek, P.; Schulz, S. Praxishandbuch: Soziale Medien in der öffentlichen Verwaltung. Springer Fachmedien GmbH, Wiesbaden, 2013.

Minonne, C.; Thoma, N. Social Media in der Verwaltung – Fluch oder Segen?, Wirtschaftsinformatik & Management, S. 90-98, Art. 6, 2013.