Reaching Maturity in Government Use of Social Media

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.

Twitter Top 30 percent of pop - 2015

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).

Twitter 20 fastest growing - 2015

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:

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.

Useful links

OECD work on digital government


Do you “Like” your government as much as Chileans Like theirs?

They like us!
They like us!

Today’s post is by Arthur Mickoleit of the OECD’s Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development. Inputs from Kareen Schramm and Sofia Varas of Chile’s Ministry General‑Secretariat of the Presidency are gratefully acknowledged. 

Do you “like” your government? For many Chileans, the answer could be yes, I “Like” (or rather, “Me gusta”). That’s because the official government Facebook account has 23,000 likes). If that number sounds low, take a look at their soon 500,000 followers on Twitter. That’s anywhere between one third and one sixth of all Twitter users in Chile (estimates of overall Twitter users range from 1.4 to 3.2 million)

To be fair, public administrations and officials in the United States and United Kingdom led developments in this area. President Obama is one of the top 5 celebrities on Twitter worldwide. His community of 36 million followers sets him on par with personalities like Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

The UK government’s @Number10gov can count on the highest “per capita” followership among accounts of top executive institutions across the OECD. But it’s closely followed by Chile’s @Gobiernodechile .


Do all these numbers mean anything for you as a citizen?  Maybe President Obama is an exception, but my guess is that most people would prefer a one-on-one with a celeb to a public policy jam with the president or prime minister. No offense, but the odds of being sought after on social media are probably even lower for a civil servant.

If you look beyond the numbers, though, a pattern seems to emerge where governments and public administrations the world over use the web to defeat popular stereotypes (what comes to your mind when you think “public administration”?). So could it be that social media are profoundly changing the way those who govern talk and listen to their constituents?

To get back to Chile, when the current President Sebastián Piñera assumed office in 2010 he did so with a cabinet of 22 ministers. But not just ministers as usual – each of the 22 had a Twitter account upon taking office. Health minister Jaime Mañalich has a reputation for answering e-v-e-r-y question that reaches him via the online service with the little bird: on whether an adult infected with Hepatitis B as a child could act as a blood donor (no);  on the rising risks of canine rabies contagion starting in the month of August;  on the correct timing for vaccinating a baby against meningococcal disease,  etc.

If you’re not in Chile, can you see your own government’s minister for healthcare doing that? Certainly possible, but still pretty unusual. So along with governments like the US and the UK that make bold use of social media, it seems the Chilean government is doing a pretty good job too.

How did this come about? Chile’s experience with social media started abruptly and dramatically. President Piñera took office in 2010, just days after massive earthquakes devastated parts of the country, killing hundreds of people. In many places, power, communications and broadcasting broke down. Amazingly though, a large number of mobile phone and Internet infrastructures like 3G kept going. So citizens turned to services like Google’s People Finder, Twitter and others, whether via fancy smartphone web access or low-key SMS.

Chile’s government made sure it was present on the main platforms. It decided to adapt to a new situation and operate in the same space in which citizens were already operating. That’s a lesson governments all over are starting to take more seriously. To “go where the citizens are” is the motto, instead of trying to bring citizens into government processes that are often complicated or even opaque for the outsider (thanks to David Eaves for bringing this up at the 2012 OECD E-Leaders meeting).

Chile’s government has used the momentum that built up since then. It published a digital guide) for institutions and individuals in the public administration that want to engage via Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube, Slideshare, etc. And their comprehensive ChileAtiende (“ChileService”) strategy gives citizens a wide range of choices for the communications channel they want to use to access information and public services.

You will have understood by now, social media are one of the “valid” channels to get in touch with government in Chile. Compare this with many governments around the world that are still having difficulties considering an email from a citizen as a “valid” means of communication.

Where does all this lead us? What will help more governments take the social media plunge is more knowledge and evidence about what works and what doesn’t.

Chile and some other countries are doing impressive stuff, but when governments use social media, is that mostly to jazz up their image or are they really trying to innovate in the way they provide information and services? How do people react – and who are those people? Are young people really the only target group for social media use? What about opportunities to reach vulnerable people too? For example, immigrant groups in some countries are reported to have high uptake rates for Facebook or Twitter. Can social media actually help civil servants work better? Think of crowd-sourcing of ideas for your local government office. Or is that a pipe-dream when more than one third of civil servants are over 50 years old in most OECD countries?

We will raise most of these questions, and hopefully answer one or two of them, at the next OECD E-Leaders meeting on 29-30 October in Switzerland. Tune in to the webcast and talk to us via #eleaders and @OECDinnovation). We hear a lot from government, let’s hear from you: do you “Like” your government?

Useful links

OECD work on e-government

Chile’s Ministry of the Presidency and its government modernisation

Twiplomacy, analysis of Twitter use by political leaders and GovTwit, which looks at Twitter use in the US administration

Follow OECD on social media via the links at the top of the page

The government inspectors

You'll pay sooner or later

Around a third of global assets are held offshore beyond the reach of effective taxation according to the Tax Justice Network. The TJN also estimates that private individuals hide $11.5 trillion in tax havens, depriving the rest of us of $250 billion a year in tax revenues.

You could do a lot with an extra quarter of a trillion a year – finance the UN’s Millennium Development goals or transform the world’s energy system to combat climate change for instance. But in the meantime, the response to the crisis and sovereign debt is increased taxes and reduced public services.

So how can we get the tax cheats to pay up? In Buenos Aires this week, tax commissioners from 45 countries plus representatives of big business and other organisations met to discuss “compliance” at the OECD Forum on Tax Administration. The Forum, created in 2002, brings together the people responsible for taxes at national level to “identify, discuss and influence relevant global trends and develop new ideas to enhance tax administration around the world”.

What have they done so far? Data from 20 countries that publish such information show that an extra $14 billion in taxes has been collected in the past two years. It’s a good start, but obviously a lot more has to be done. They’re dealing with highly mobile money that can be switched from place to place as havens become less safe and at the same time, tax administrations themselves are facing the same resource constraints as other parts of government, constraints the people they’re targeting don’t have to worry about.

The solution according to the FTA is to “work smarter” to optimise international cooperation, administration, compliance, legislation and service delivery. For an outsider like me, one of the most intriguing aspects of this is to be found in a list of publications with titles like “Guidance on Test Procedures for Tax Audit Assurance” and “Tax Reference Model – Application Software Solutions to Support Revenue Administration”. I discovered that the FTA is studying the use of social media by tax authorities.

In the US for example, the IRS has launched IRS2Go, a mobile app that lets users track the status of a refund, subscribe to e-mail updates, follow them on Twitter, and click to call a help line. Apart from providing services to the individual taxpayer, social media could also become important in another main aspect of FTA work – publicizing successes in getting tax avoiders to pay up or tax havens to close down so that those who once felt safe hiding their money feel more and more exposed to public scrutiny and public anger.

And imagine the kudos of having the tax inspector as your friend on Facebook.

Useful links

OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration

Tweeting on your taxes The OECD Observer looks at the social media aspect

OECD work on restoring public finances

A social media revolution?


Click to see the book

Today’s post comes from Professor Annabelle Sreberny, of the Centre for Media and Film Studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Her latest book, “Blogistan: The Internet and Politics in Iran” (with Gholam Khiabany) warns against stereotyping bloggers as dissidents, and argues that the Internet is changing things in ways which neither the government nor the democracy movement could have anticipated.

So the joke goes that Mubarak dies and meets Nasser and Sadat in the afterlife. They ask him, “were you poisoned or shot?” Mubarak shrugs and answers “Facebook!”  Actually, an Egyptian family did recently name their newborn daughter Facebook.

There is no doubt that we’re witnessing a world-historical moment.  The insurrectionary wave that started in Tunis in December and is still unfolding across the Maghreb and Middle East has raised important questions about the role of new media technologies and platforms in contemporary political mobilizations. There has quite possibly never been such a dramatic set of political changes in contiguous or close state formations ever in history.  The revolutions of 1848 in Europe were supposed to be inspired by each other; how much more is that the case in a 24-hour transnational news environment and world-encircling Internet. As Lenin said,  “sometimes decades pass and nothing happens; and then sometimes weeks pass and decades happen.”

It is evident that both new and old media have played significant and fascinating roles in the recent insurrections to topple autocratic regimes from Tunis to Cairo and beyond. New media can no longer be considered the epiphenomena of political movements but are rather significant tools of political mobilization. This is NOT to repeat the fatuous claim that Tunisia was a ‘twitter revolution’, as had been claimed for the Green Movement in Iran after the June 2009 election, nor that such tools are indispensible for political change. Clearly people have made revolution without such tools. But in repressive regimes where face-to-face public politics is extremely curtailed, a platform such as Facebook provides a space where silence and fear are broken and trust can be built, where social networks can turn political, and where home and diaspora can come together. Whatever the intentions of their developers, social media are being used to provide news and information hard to come by from regime channels; to plan and coordinate action; and to tell the world what is going on.

But the conditions and mix of platforms differs from country to country. Tunisians faced a more pervasive police state than the Egyptians, with less latitude for blogging or press freedom, but their trade unions were stronger and more independent. The Kefaya movement had been blogging for many years in Egypt and numerous YouTube videos circulated about police torture and bread riots. Libyans have limited internet access but mobile telephony is widespread. The Egyptian Facebook pages We are All Khaled Said, set up by Wael Ghonim,  and 6th of April Youth Movement became important nodes in a growing movement; at the end of March 2011,  they each have over 100,000 ‘followers’.

Even the Egyptian military interim government announced the resignation of Shafiq and his replacement on their Facebook page. Twitter was another way to keep in touch and share useful suggestions across national borders, as the Tunisian who tweeted “Advice to the youth of Egypt: Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas” or like the Egyptian feminist, Mona Eltahawy, telling the world what is going on across the region. These platforms provide the power of instantaneity, immediate diffusion of and access to information, and extensiveness, crossing national borders and addressing diasporic and foreign populations.

But perhaps as significant as the new social media platforms has been the role of broadcasting, especially Al Jazeera Arabic and English. The Arabic channel and BBC Arabic played a multiplier role in articulating the diverse events across the region.  Al Jazeera English kept the rest of the world enthralled, with strong on-the ground coverage and moments of brilliant television direction. These included the use of split-screen to broadcast Mubarak’s last speech live whilst showing the response in Tahrir Square, the scores of shoes being thrown in the air an unmistakable sign that his end was fast approaching. A sympathetic global public opinion may have played a role in the unanimous UN resolution to instigate the no-fly zone over Libya.  In the US, Hillary Clinton has berated the US media for poor coverage which was delivering audiences to Al Jazeera.

We know that the demographic across the region is youthful and, as everywhere else, where possible they have embraced new technologies to download music and film and keep abreast of events around the world. These movements are about the rising expectations and rising frustrations of unemployed young men and the social obstacles encountered by increasingly better educated young women, and ring with an optimistic universalism for human rights and economic opportunities.

There is evidently more to come, in Bahrain, in Yemen, in Syria where the Facebook page The Syrian Revolution has 87,000 followers.  And new policies to support a free press and internet access have to be written in to the new constitutions in Egypt and Tunisia.  Small, alternative media (neither controlled by states nor by big business) are not a simple answer to political repression as Clay Shirky style cultural optimists and Jared Cohen would have the Washington beltway believe. But neither are they so controlled and monitored by strong states that nothing can be achieved, as the pessimists like Evgeny Morozov would argue.

When used creatively within a rich mix of local face-to-face politics, configured in the languages and symbols of national traditions, and in contexts where the older generation simply doesn’t want to give up power, it is evident that small media can punch way above their weight.

Useful links

OECD work on the Middle East and North Africa

OECD work on the Internet economy