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Book Review: Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide

Government agencies and officials who are still hesitant or skeptical about how to utilize social media have a new tool at their disposal.

Social media has been a hot topic since its emergence. Public-sector officials seeking advice on how to navigate the virtual terrain consulted trade publications and looked to mainstream usage for lessons to emulate. Government agencies and officials who are still hesitant or skeptical about how to utilize social media for professional and agency ROI have a new tool at their disposal — Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide: Designing and Implementing Strategies and Policies* — that was co-written for you by one of you (Bill Greeves, CIO of Wake County, N.C., and founder of MuniGov2.0, a Web 2.0 space for govies).

And, aptly enough, the book materialized as a result of social media where Greeves used the “networking tactic,” engaging co-author Ines Mergel, assistant professor of public administration at Syracuse University, into penning a reference guide.

“You do not need to read this book from cover to cover before you start your own experimentation with social media,” the authors preface. But what if you don’t know where to begin? “The Tools: Where do I Start” section includes a table of the best known social networking services for government use. From Facebook and GovLoop to LinkedIn, the authors describe their effectiveness in the public sector and offer examples of how they’re used.

Also of instructive value are case studies of individuals like Dustin Haisler, former assistant city manager and CIO of Manor, Texas, in which he tells of how the small city went big time with QR codes and adoption of social technologies. Haisler recalled that citizens were gravitating toward social media networks regardless of government use or policy, so Manor began experimenting on how to engage its residents.

Agencies and employees wavering on how to participate in the digital social world should read about the four social media tactics:

  • Information and education — this tactic focuses on information pushing and can be advantageous since agencies can disseminate information to people who wouldn’t normally visit their site or have an incentive to. 
  • Community building — is the opposite of information and education. Instead of pushing out information, government agencies pull audience members into their communication process and engage the audience with their content.
  • Networking tactic — entails “building a network among your agency’s audience members and simply listening in or helping to connect people to each other to discuss issues.”
  • Transactional social media tactic — is the newest tactic, according to the authors, in which agencies use social media channels as a conduit that enables users to conduct routine business tasks.
But what if you’re not looking for strategies? Are you seeking to design and implement social media policies? Mergel and Greeves devoted the most pages of the book for this, touching on content, audience interaction, record retention and more.

The field guide has many rudimentary elements, however, government agencies and employees who aren’t sure where they stand in the social media world should read this book. And if you don’t read it from cover to cover, at least read the conclusion!

*This is an affiliate link to Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide