3 ways to engage citizens using social media
By Gohar Feroz Khan

Interaction facilitated by social media is becoming an integral part of our life in the contemporary society. Social media consists of a variety of tools and technologies that includes collaborative projects (e.g., Wikipedia), blogs (e.g., WordPress) and microblogs (e.g., Twitter), content communities (e.g., YouTube), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft), and virtual social worlds (e.g. Second Life).

Here I discus three ways in which public sector (both in the developed and developing world) can engage citizens using social media tools/technologies to implement a true open, transparent, and participative government.

  1. 1. Socialize Government Information

First, public sector can leverage social media as an informational and participatory channel to increase citizen’s awareness and enable them to monitor and participate in government activities. Socialization of information can be achieved in two ways: 1) simple information socialization, and 2) complex information socialization. Simple information socialization can be achieved through merely incorporating existing social media tools in the existing government websites (e.g. through comments and discussions) and establishing dedicated social media pages (e.g. through Facebook fan page or Twitter account) to delivery day-to-day information/news to the citizens. Complex information socialization requires establishing advance social media-based informational government portals for informational and participatory purposes (such as http://maplight.org/, http://www.data.gov/about, and http://blogs.justice.gov/main/).

An important use of the socialization of information is in situation where the immediate delivery of information/news is crucial, such as disseminating news and information about public safety and in crisis management situations such as, weather, traffic, diseases, and nature or man-made disasters.

  1. 2. Establish Mass Collaboration
Second, public sector can leverage social media tools to poster mass social collaboration between government and citizens and cross agency collaboration. Mass collaboration can be instrumental in crowd sourcing, regulation, and law enforcement. For example, the Peer-To-Patent (www.peertopatent.com) initiative by the Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) of the United States is a good example of mass government and citizen social collaboration in reinforcing regulations. Another example is the Korean government’s smart phone apps developed to enable mass collaboration in reporting illegal car parking, waste disposal, energy misuse, and reporting other inappropriate behaviour. Similarly, another good example of mass collaboration is the “apps for democracy” (http://www.appsfordemocracy.org/application-directory/) initiative: A U.S. government initiative to engage the public in developing new applications for democracy.

  1. 3. Establish Social Transaction
Third, public sector can use social media tools to establish tangible online transactions with the citizens. For example, the U.K. government use a social media or Web 2.0 based website (www.gov.uk) to provide simple, one-stop access to government services online where citizens can access to public services such as tax, driving test, passport, births, deaths, marriages, and care. Another example of using social media for service delivery is the “Fixmystreet” initiative (http://www.fixmystreet.com/): where citizens using an interactive portal report a problem related to their locality (e.g. fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting) which is then forwarded to the council to fix the problem. Yet another exiting way of public service delivery, open to be experimented with, is using the social network sites (such as Facebook) to provide tangible services to citizens such as renewing drivers licence and paying partaking tickets.

Notes: the three ways disused here are based on our research currently under review.