Local Government Social Network Adoption Skyrockets

Social media may be going mainstream at the State Department, but local governments are becoming increasingly Twitter-savvy as well.

According to a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago, use of YouTube and Twitter grew three to fourfold among 75 of the largest cities in the U.S.--including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta--and yes, Chicago.

The rankings of the networked cities was authored by Karen Mossberger, head of UI-Chicago's public administration graduate program, and Yonghong Hu, assistant professor of public administration at the school.  Mossberger and Hu tracked the online activity, transparency, and accessibility of the cities online to compile the Civic Engagement Index, and compared it with their findings from a prior study they conducted in 2009.

Not surprisingly, the Big Apple came out on top, tying with Seattle for first place, followed by Virginia Beach, Virginia, Portland, Oregon. and Kansas City, Missouri.

Overall social media use grew with Twitter taking the lion's share.  According to the study, the micro-blogging site was used by 87 percent of the cities in the study, up from 25 percent in 2009.  Facebook and YouTube fared well, also.

But it's how social media is being used that is grabbing attention.  For example, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer regularly uses Facebook and Twitter to host a regular 'Talk to Greg' digital town tall, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel was one of the first to jump on the social media bandwagon, soliciting ideas for last summer's budget on Twitter.

The cities are hoping that new smartphone apps will enhance public engagement, for example, New York City is in the process of luring tech startups to the city in the hopes that they will generate apps, and Chicago and D.C. are doing so too.

Regarding transparency,  Mossberg and Wu see progress.  In their 25-plus page study, they conclude that the newfound digital transparency has more pros than cons--but questions remain.

"To what extent are discussions actually occurring online?" They ask.  "What is the content of the discussions, and what influence do they have on policy?"


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