Reaching Citizen 2.0: How Government Uses Social Media to Send Public Messages during Times of Calm and Times of Crisis

Reaching Citizen 2.0: How Government Uses Social Media to Send Public Messages during Times of Calm and Times of Crisis

Nancy Van Leuven (Bridgewater State University, USA), Danielle Newton (Bennington College, USA), Deniz Zeynep Leuenberger (Bridgewater State University, USA) and Tammy Esteves (Troy University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4707-7.ch041
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Abstract

Many forms of public communication are now mediated through technologies that challenge traditional models of civic engagement and the public’s “right to know,” including communication for disaster management. This chapter employs a comparative lens to look at how social media messages are pushed forward by different layers of government to reach their publics during times of calm and crisis. Specifically, the project studies how information is framed for public consumption, how it is made available, and how it is timely and relevant. Research methods include a triangulation approach, including interviews with officials from over 20 city, regional, state, and federal agencies to follow up on content and textual analyses of online content disseminated by over 40 public agencies. This chapter argues that public administrators must be engaged with citizens and prepared to use social media during emergencies as well as for routine news, and offers key goals for government departments to promote an agenda of increased citizen information and engagement.
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Background

Research efforts about new media, and how it can be used by governments to more widely disperse knowledge as an accessible commodity, has steadily grown in the United States and elsewhere, particularly since 9/11. As noted by scholars of civic engagement, media plays a pivotal role in informing citizens, holding leaders accountable, and being a critical watchdog (Cammearts, 2009). From a participatory perspective, it is also increasingly part of crisis management plans prepared by agencies for potential natural disasters (flooding, earthquake, famines, etc.) as well as crises caused by humans (nuclear, environmental, and political uprisings, etc.). While public administrators might routinely use Twitter to publicize town halls, many are also crafting social media plans to include public relations best practices of engaging messages for internal and external audiences, especially in times of crises (Fearn-Banks, 2007). At the same time, previous scholarship notes that civic engagement is also increasing in areas of community volunteerism, consumer activism, and social justice causes (Bennet, 2008).

Before adding to such valuable discussions, it is important to agree on just what media is today and how public administrators define other terms. Much mediated information runs through mobile applications, which are software applications designed to run on hand-held computers such as PDAs and cell phones, including online citizen reporting (FixMyStreet, etc.). For the purpose of this project, e-government includes public efforts using Internet-based technologies for business and citizen Interaction, including recent Open Government websites and initiatives, but is considered a one-way delivery of information as opposed to the interactive capabilities of social media.

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