Sunday, September 15 • 3:01pm - 3:20pm
"Are we there yet? A comparison of micro-blogging activities in public organizations from a community engagement perspective”

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The purpose of this research is to examine the move towards social media as a platform for engagement between government agencies at the national and local levels and their publics, addressing a gap in micro-blogging research (Chun and Reyes, 2012; Medaglia, 2012; Sandoval-Almazan and Gil-Garcia, 2012). Overly complex social media policies, bureaucratic control processes (Marlin-Bennett and Thornton, 2012), and legislative protections of user privacy (Fyfe and Crookall, 2010; Klang and Nolin, 2011) constrain many government initiated online engagement efforts (Mergel, 2013; Nam, 2012). 

We report on preliminary findings of a comparative content analysis into how federal government departments and municipally funded local public libraries use Twitter to inform, interact with and engage with their citizen-publics. From the government and public library perspectives, community engagement has been represented along a hypothetical spectrum of participation (Sheedy, 2008). Critical activities range from communicating to consulting, engaging and partnering. Social media participation across citizen-institution boundaries can also be characterized with this framework. We address the following research questions: What kinds of communicative acts are taking place via Twitter, and where do they sit on the continuum of community engagement? Is Twitter used differently by national and municipal public organizations? 

Twitter samples were collected for a two week period in May 2012 from two sources. The federal government sample (G1) was collected using the Twitter API through the DiscoverText system. All outgoing English language tweets from 10 federal departments and all tweets that mentioned those departments using @username were collected using scheduled feeds, resulting in a dataset of 2604 tweets. The municipal public library sample (G2) was collected using the Twitter API through Social-Biblio.ca an online open archive of Twitter feeds of 133 (21%) Canadian public libraries. G2 (N=1290) represents all tweet and mentions from the top 10 most frequently tweeting public libraries during this two-week period. Data analysis consisted of manual content analysis using a coding scheme adapted from Lovejoy & Saxton (2012). Tweets from each data set were coded by multiple coders according to a framework organized along three dimensions: a) information; b) interaction and c) action. 

Data analysis is still in progress and full results will be available at the time of the symposium. Preliminary analysis indicates that the majority of organizational tweets are informational in nature, focused on sharing and broadcasting information about current and ongoing activities of the organizations. Department followers are frequently retweeting this information, but a wider range of motivations can be found in the public tweets. Library tweets show more frequent occurrence of 'interaction' and 'action'-oriented tweets than federal government departments. Findings suggest Twitter is being used primarily to reinforce traditional modes of communication. Until institutional 'voices' that reach beyond traditional public relations and marketing styles of communication and information can be developed, the broadcast mode of interaction will continue to dominate these types of interactions. Informing citizens does not, by itself, constitute civic engagement. Questions about how to more rigorously theorize the study of these information behaviours are also invited by this work. 


Chun, S. A. and L. F. Luna Reyes (2012). "Social media in government." Government Information Quarterly 29(4): 441-445. 

Fyfe, T. and P. Crookall (2010). Social media and public sector policy dilemmas. Toronto ON, Institute of Public Administration of Canada. 

Klang, M. and J. Nolin, (2011). "Disciplining social media: An analysis of social media policies in 26 Swedish municipalities." First Monday 16(8) Retrieved on 29 January 2012 and available at http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/3490/3027

Lovejoy, K. and G. D. Saxton (2012). "Information, community, and action: How nonprofit organizations use social media." Journal of Computer Mediated Communication 17: 337-353. 

Marlin-Bennett, R. and E. N. Thornton (2012). "Governance within social media websites: Ruling new frontiers." Telecommunications Policy 36(6): 493-501. 

Medaglia, R. (2012). "eParticipation research: Moving characterization forward (2006–2011)." Government Information Quarterly 29(3): 346-360. 

Mergel, I. (2013). Social Media in the Public Sector: A Guide to Participation, Collaboration and Transparency. San Francisco CA, Jossey-Bass. 

Nam, T. (2012). “Suggesting Frameworks of Citizen Sourcing via Government 2.0.” Government Information Quarterly 29(1):12–20. 

Sandoval-Almazan, R. and J. R. Gil-Garcia (2012). "Are government internet portals evolving towards more interaction, participation, and collaboration? Revisiting the rhetoric of e-government among municipalities." Government Information Quarterly 29, Supplement 1(0): S72-S81 

Sheedy, A. (2008). Handbook on Citizen Engagement: Beyond Consultation. Ottawa, ON, Canadian Policy Research Networks. 


Mary Cavanagh

Associate professor, University of Ottawa
University of Ottawa, Canada

Luanne Freund

University of British Columbia, Canada

Sunday September 15, 2013 3:01pm - 3:20pm EDT
ROWE 1009

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