Today’s post is authored by Ryan Androsoff, along with contributions by Rodrigo Mejia Ricart, from the Digital Government team in the OECD Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development. With special thanks to Julien Dubuc of the OECD Berlin Centre for creating the graphs in this post.
As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere come out of the dog days of summer and our thoughts turn from vacations to our regularly scheduled lives, what better time to pause for a moment in the calm before the storm to think some “big thoughts” about the world around us? For those who work in or with governments, any list of “big thoughts” should continue to include the transformation of government by social media. In fact the impact of social media on government has been such that it no longer feels like a new hot trend, but an increasingly normal part of doing business. And while that is a positive sign in that it indicates that social media use is reaching a certain level of maturity, when we look just below the surface we still see there is much to understand about what is happening.
In February, we shared with you some thoughts on government use of social media based on our December 2014 Working Paper on “Social Media Use by Governments” and a look at data from the 2014 Twiplomacy study. At the end of April the 2015 Twiplomacy study was released, and with that an opportunity to see what the numbers can tell us about the continuing evolution of government use of social media (note: the Twiplomacy 2014 data was collected in June 2014, while the Twiplomacy 2015 data was collected in March 2015, thus all comparisons below are for the 9 month period in-between).
We once again used the Twiplomacy data to look at Twitter accounts for top executive institutions (head of state, head of government, or government as a whole) using the same methodology as we applied to the 2014 data by comparing the number of Twitter followers to the domestic population in order to control for country size. What we see in the 2015 data is a steady march forward by many of the top accounts with a few new entries leapfrogging their way into the Top 30.
While the top 5 countries in our list stayed in the same position as in 2014, we saw significant jumps up in the rankings by both Greece and Israel. Colombia, Portugal, Spain, and Latvia all dropped out of the Top 30 to make room for four fast rising new entrants, namely Jordan, Croatia, Georgia, and Saudi Arabia.
When we look instead at the growth rate during the data collection period, we see some interesting patterns. The graph below shows the Top 20 fastest growing Twitter accounts amongst governmental executive institutions (note: any accounts that had less than 5000 followers at the time of the 2014 Twiplomacy Study are excluded so as not to skew the growth rate data with accounts with small numbers of followers).
The countries from the Twiplomacy study that have a Twitter account for their top executive institution saw an average of 69.2% growth during the 9 months between the data collection for the two studies (this average excludes one outlier that had an abnormally high percentage growth rate due to having launched just before the data collection period). Perhaps most striking is that in many ways it is a very different group of countries that make up the list of the fastest growing Twitter accounts. Led by Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and India, the majority of the 20 fastest growing accounts come from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. In contrast, among the list of the Top 30 accounts by percentage of domestic population, more than half are from Latin American or European Union countries.
In case you want to take your own look at these numbers, you can download the raw data we used for this analysis here.
So what does this all mean? A few observations we can make from looking at the data:
- If we look regionally, while the most robust central government Twitter accounts tend to be found amongst early adopters in European Union countries, North America, and Latin America, the most rapid growth in recent years is much more concentrated in countries in the Middle East, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Africa. This trend is reinforced by the change in languages used on Twitter – for example a 2014 study by social media analytics firm GNIP found that while English, Japanese and Spanish have remained the most used languages on Twitter since its early days, languages such as Arabic have seen a rapid rise in popularity on the platform in recent years.
- While almost every government across the globe has some type of social media presence, there are very different approaches to its use. In a number of countries the executive institutions of government do not themselves have an active presence on social media but instead have been content for the personal or political social media accounts of their Head of State and/or Head of Government to serve as their sole voice on social media.
- As the first generation of political leaders who have actively used social media retire or are replaced, the distinction between institutional and personal/political accounts will need to be faced head-on. With many parallels to the issues faced with the creation of the first government websites in the 1990s, the first transfers of power in the social media age must now take into consideration the very real asset that is those accounts which may have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers. This may explain the recent decision in the United States to create a @POTUS account for the President (separate from the institutional @WhiteHouse account or the political @BarackObama account) which, as the 44th President light-heartedly explained via Twitter to the 42nd President, will be transferred to whomever the next officeholder is:
— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
In the 2015 edition of the OECD’s Government at a Glance, we noted that while governments are increasingly using social media, many are still using it primarily as a traditional communications mechanism rather than for opening up policy processes or transforming public service delivery. Indeed, despite the increasingly prevalent use of social media by governments only 50% of OECD member countries surveyed have a central government strategy or objectives for social media usage and only 19% use metrics or indicators to measure the impact of their social media usage. Clearly this is a rapidly evolving area, with countries from across the globe increasingly using social media to reach out to their citizens and the broader international community. However, while social media use by governments is becoming more mature, it is still far from being “all grown up”.
As always we would love to hear your thoughts! How do you think governments can be more innovative or effective in their use of social media? Please post your comments below or via Twitter using the #eleaders hashtag, or connect directly at @RyanAndrosoff.