With each passing year, we see more Governments across the world adopting social media and related services to reach out to their citizens. Though e-governance has been in place for many years and we have constantly striven to provide the best of e-governance packages, one must note the importance of social media too, when it comes to Government services.
While e-governance has made it easy for Governments across the world to deliver services across social classes, social governance has allowed Governments to be more transparent and efficient. In fact, most political parties which abide by the rules of democracies already have some activity on their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. This helps citizens to track what the Governments say and what they do later on.
In effect, social governance makes it easier to keep Governments and individuals accountable for their words and actions.
That being said, Governments have much to gain from social governance. In this article, we shall discuss a research study conducted in South Korea, which analyzed the effects of Twitter usage among various Government and citizen entities.
Before we discuss the study, let us try and understand a few terms that are discussed in the research paper.
When a Government uses information and communication technology to deliver Government services and when it uses IT to integrate, communicate and deliver various services & functions to citizens, businesses and Government entities, we refer to them as e-governance. It also includes back office operations within governmental entities too.
G2C (Government to Citizens):
This refers to all sorts of communication, service delivery and integration of various channels that pertain to the citizens of a particular region over which a Government has jurisdiction.
G2B (Government to Business):
This refers to all sorts of services, communication and integration of functions related to businesses.
G2G (Government to Government):
This refers to all sorts of communication between various Government entities, within and without. It could be services and communication rendered between various departments of a Government and within those departments as well.
G2E (Government to Employees):
G2E refers to all the communication, services and exchange of information that takes place with the help of information technology when it comes to Governments and their employees. This form of e-governance acts as electronic wing of Government human resource departments.
The above terminology can be directly applied within the realm of social governance as well. Social governance refers to using social media to reach out to citizens, businesses, employees and Governments themselves.
When South Korean Government’s Twitter usage was analyzed
G. F. Khan, H. Y. Yoon, J. Kim and H. W. Park published a paper titled “From e-government to social government: Twitter use by Korea’s central government” in the Online Information Review, a journal that publishes research articles about the Internet and the ways people use it. The research, which was made possible by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant studied how Twitter was used in South Korea, especially, by its Government. The study was funded by Korea’s Government and it provides us with some very valuable information.
The paper concluded that though the South Korean Government’s direct networking strategy targeting its citizens did not necessarily motivate them to participate in the Government’s Twitter activities, it played an instrumental and important role in “reinforcing G2G relationships”.
A hierarchical and socially conservative society engages less with Governments
The conclusion highlights a very important aspect of social governance in countries like South Korea, which tend to be very capitalist in nature, yet socially conservative. In South Korea, hierarchy is valued and it is not usually questioned, unlike in Europe or North America.
It is possible that citizens did not attempt to question or engage in conversations with whoever was tweeting from Government Twitter accounts. They probably just took the Twitter feed for granted, soaking in all the information and also using it. The researchers probably missed this point.
Were the results colored by the choice of the social network, that is Twitter?
It is quite possible that the research bias tended to ignore the importance of passive social media consumption, which is very much prevalent on Twitter than on Facebook. Most people tend to use Twitter as a broadcasting service, reading all the tweets and not responding to it directly. They know what is being said and who is saying it but they do not reply or retweet. Passive usage of Twitter sets it apart from Facebook, where people tend to be more vocal, though it is of course, more of a closed garden, when compared with Twitter.
This study highlights the importance of social media within various departments of Governments. The study concludes that Twitter in South Korea, plays an important role in reinforcing G2G relationships. What could this mean? It means that using Twitter in G2G communication helps in transparency, communication and exchange of information within various entities of a Government.
This could be from a top-down model or vice versa. As government employees tend to be more vocal about their communication with other government entities, the study probably revealed that G2G communication is more enhanced than G2C communication.
What was the methodology of the study?
G. F. Khan, H. Y. Yoon, J. Kim and H. W. Park (2014) extracted tweets, follower/following relationships and hyperlinks for 32 ministries of the South Korean Government. It investigated the broad-spectrum nature of South Korean central Government’s social governance strategies by classifying all the Twitter-based communication based on content.
By applying descriptive statistical analysis and social network analysis that were able to map South Korean Government’s Twitter activity. Network properties, co-link analysis and reciprocity of relationships were part of the study tools.
While South Korean Government is not an example of governance across the world, when it comes to other democratic societies like India, U.S., Canada or countries in Europe, Twitter can play a very important role not just in helping various ministries communicate with each other but also in encouraging public social dialogues between people and Governments. In fact, social governance could be the next platform of modern democracy.
What does the study tell us?
If this study had also considered Facebook as a variable, the results probably would have been more accurate. We must remember that not every country is big on Twitter. Moreover, Twitter is prone to that effect called ‘passive usage’. Nevertheless, the study throws light on a number of aspects of social media governance. It tells us that G2G communication and exchange of information happens better when Twitter is used. It helps to reinforce the idea of democracy and helps Government employees to stay in touch with other departments of the bureaucracy.
It also tells us that citizens might be less likely to respond to Government tweets than Government employees. That is not a surprise, if you consider the fact that citizens often do not take interest in governance in deeply hierarchical societies. Also, it might be possible that the citizens who followed the South Korean Government’s Twitter channels were not active Twitter users. It is important to consider all the extraneous variables before coming to a conclusion.
Conclusions and final thoughts
We could also surmise that in countries where citizen-Government exchange of communication is high, Twitter will be an excellent tool. In countries like India or even in Africa, where a majority of the population might not speak English can do with tweeting in local languages. Twitter offers support in local languages too and one needs to confirm if their choice of language is supported by Twitter. The fact that Twitter does not charge money is a blessing for poorer administrations, which often spend much-required money on software programs to stay in touch with citizens. By using Twitter for such communication, Governments can divert the money to development and reduction of debts.
We can conclude by saying that Twitter can indeed help Government organizations to communicate with various entities in a cost-effective manner with proven results. The fact that tweets are visible to everyone, whether they use Twitter or not, makes sure that transparency and right to information are protected. If not Twitter, engagement on Facebook can be an alternative option for Governments too. It really depends on the citizens; do they prefer using Twitter more than Facebook? Or vice versa? Depending on what people choose to use, Governments can choose the right social platform to communicate with their citizens. Engagement with citizens is probably the most important factor in a democracy; and social governance enhances that.
Gohar Feroz Khan, Ho Young Yoon, Jiyoung Kim and Han Woo Park (2014) “From e-government to social government: Twitter use by Korea’s central government”, Online Information Review, Vol. 38 Iss: 1, pp.95 – 113
An abstract from the research can be accessed here.