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Social Media for Government - Book Review

1 February 2018
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Social Media for Government: A Practical Guide to Understanding, Implementing, and Managing Social Media Tools in the Public Sphere" was authored by Gohar F. Khan in 2017. As the title suggests, this book, written by a researcher who references numerous academic studies, primarily serves as a practical handbook for government organizations seeking to integrate social media into their corporate communication strategies and engage with the public through digital channels. The book guides from the strategic planning stage to tactical execution. It offers insights and real-world examples of public organizations and their activities to aid those seeking to learn or apply these concepts.


The book covers the following key topics:
  • Introduction

  • Social Media

  • Social Media-Based Governance

  • Culture

  • Sharing

  • Collaboration

  • Openness and Transparency

  • Stages of Implementation

  • Situation Assessment

  • Strategy

  • Execution

  • Monitoring and Analysis

  • Risk Management

  • Social Media Tools

  • Examples of Organizations


This book is highly recommended for individuals within government agencies aiming to stay current in the fast-evolving landscape of digital communication. However, its insights are valuable for anyone interested in this field, not limited to government personnel.




Social Media

In his exploration of social media, Khan distinguishes among four distinct terms:

  1. Web 1.0: This represents an early web version characterized by static technologies and a one-way information flow.

  2. Web 2.0: This more advanced web iteration supports bidirectional data flow and user-generated content.

  3. Web 3.0: Khan describes this as the new revolution in the web, where most applications and content reside in the cloud. They integrate intelligent, fast, and reliable tools that connect content, perceptions, applications, and people.

  4. Social Media: Social media is an easily accessible web platform that empowers users to create and exchange content within multiple contexts. Khan emphasizes that many use the terms social media and Web 2.0 interchangeably but recommends precision by defining social media as the practical implementation of the Web 2.0 concept.

The core features of social media, as explained by Khan, include:

  • Many-to-Many Channel: Social media simultaneously facilitates communication and interaction among numerous users.

  • Participation: It enables user participation through various means, such as blogs, comments, and more.

  • User-Generated Content: The users generate a significant portion of the content on social media platforms.

  • Discussion Channel: It serves as a platform for open and dynamic discussions.

  • Openness: Social media provides access to data and information, promoting transparency.

  • Relationship-Based: Users can establish and maintain relationships through social media platforms.

  • Accessibility: Social media platforms are free to use and offer user-friendly interfaces.


 Social Media-Based Governance


This is not a cliché. Social media-based governance requires more than technology and content; it demands a supportive culture. Such a supportive culture can be constructed on multiple levels:

  1. Leadership: It begins with a genuine organizational commitment from management to embrace transparent and open governance.

  2. Enabling Policies and Legal Frameworks: These provide a legal foundation for social media-based governance.

  3. Organizational Structures and Responsibilities: This includes defining employees' necessary skills and competencies for effective implementation.

  4. Citizen Engagement and Demand: Encouraging knowledge consumption and active citizen participation.

  5. Collaborative Ecosystem: Fostering a collaborative environment that encourages partnerships and cooperation.

  6. Financial Resources: Allocating sufficient financial resources to support the realization of social media-based governance.

  7. National Technological Infrastructure: Ensuring widespread access to computers and the Internet for citizens to participate effectively.

As both the government and citizens develop these infrastructure elements and capabilities, progress can be made on three distinct levels:

  1. Communication: This involves platforms like Facebook pages for information dissemination.

  2. Interaction: Moving beyond communication, this level includes collaborative efforts and public participation, often called the "Wisdom of the Crowds."

  3. Service: The highest level of engagement encompasses communication, collaboration, and providing services through social media, such as license renewals.

Drawing from research, Khan references several models of social media-based governance, each with its unique focus and presentation style.



Collaborative governance, facilitated through social media, aims to harness citizen awareness and engagement effectively. The critical elements of this collaborative approach encompass:

  1. Sharing Information on Social Channels: This involves disseminating valuable information to citizens via social media tools, including news, notifications, and regular updates.

  2. Participation: Encouraging citizen involvement through various means, such as gathering feedback, involving them in decision-making processes, providing immediate services, and enabling the public to report issues or concerns (e.g., potential threats).

  3. Two-Way Communication: Cultivating interactive communication channels where information flows in both directions.

 These objectives can be accomplished through various free-to-use platforms, such as:

  • Official Twitter accounts

  • Official Facebook accounts

  • YouTube channels

  • Official blogs


The book offers a comprehensive, step-by-step guide on setting up and utilizing these platforms, covering everything from initial planning to technical implementation, complete with screenshots and demonstrations.


Recommendations for successful implementation include:

  • Seeking assistance from expert consultants when necessary.

  • Monitoring external media activity and responding to relevant content.

  • Recognizing the importance of community managers as invaluable resources who can answer questions and initiate engagement.

  • Emphasizing gradual learning and committing to a long-term approach, adopting a step-by-step implementation strategy to ensure sustained progress.




Collaboration represents a higher engagement level than simple sharing, involving individuals uniting with common objectives through social channels. Two primary types of collaboration are commonly recognized:

  1. Crowdsourcing

  2. Co-creation of Content or Services


These collaborative efforts aim to achieve various goals, including, but not limited to:

  • Crowdfunding

  • Knowledge Development and Joint Problem-Solving

  • Mass Voting on matters related to policies, solutions, or other issues


Engaging the masses offers numerous benefits, such as reducing conflicts, building trust, expediting policy implementation, and fostering engagement. However, it also presents challenges that require addressing, including:

  • Data Management

  • Quality Assurance

  • Scheduling

  • Sustaining Public Interest and Participation Over Time

  • Maintaining Confidentiality and Compartmentalization

  • Allocating Fixed Personnel Resources for Managing, Maintaining, and Expanding Collaboration Mechanisms


Collaboration can occur across various dimensions, including:

  • Government-to-Public

  • Government-to-Government

  • Government-to-Industry

  • Public-to-Public


Typical tools employed for collaboration include platforms such as Wikis.


Openness and Transparency

Open government embodies governance that includes the following key aspects:

  • Transparency: Ensuring that government decisions and actions are openly disclosed and accessible.

  • Free and Open Access: Providing unrestricted access to government information and data, as elaborated in Khan's nine principles below.

  • Collaborative and Inclusive Environment: Cultivating an environment that promotes collaboration and inclusivity.

  • Policy and Legal Framework: Establishing policies and legal frameworks that facilitate openness.

  • Technological Support: Utilizing technologies that support open data, including open-source technologies. 

The principles of open data encompass the following:

  1. Correctness and Completeness: Ensuring open data is comprehensive and accurate, avoiding partial or limited scope.

  2. First-Hand Collection: Data should be collected firsthand to guarantee authenticity and reliability.

  3. Timely Presentation: Data should be promptly presented, minimizing delays in availability.

  4. Accessibility for All: Making data accessible to everyone without discrimination.

  5. Machine-Readable: Structuring information and data in a format easily processed by machines and computers.

  6. Non-Discrimination: Ensuring that data access is not restricted to specific individuals or groups.

  7. No Preference: Avoid favoritism by equally providing data to all, regardless of standards or criteria.

  8. Free or Licensed: Offering data freely or under specified licenses.

  9. Accompanying Descriptive Information: Including descriptive information that explains the content and its usage.

Khan references approximately 150 government openness projects, which can be found on page 71 of the book. Challenges related to openness within organizations include:

  1. Failure to Adhere to Principles: This encompasses issues such as delays and reluctance to comply with the principles of open data.

  2. Lack of Cultural Integration: Organizations may face challenges integrating cultural aspects, as detailed in the preceding chapter on culture, including transportation, mechanisms, policies, and more.

Khan also mentions the potential use of Google Fusion Table for mirroring government data. 

Stages of Implementation

Situation Assessment

The initial step within an organization involves a comprehensive understanding of the organization's current status regarding open and transparent governance. This understanding is best assessed by evaluating the organization's readiness and maturity. Khan highlights several possible approaches for conducting such an assessment:

  1. World Bank Readiness Assessment: As outlined in the book, this assessment primarily aligns with the cultural aspects discussed earlier.

  2. Maturity Assessment (Maturity Model): Developed by Lee & Kwak, this model focuses on evaluating elements related to sharing, collaboration, openness, and transparency as implemented within the organization. Khan lists ten specific metrics that can be incorporated into this assessment.

  3. Assessment of Potential for Achieving Organizational Goals through Media: This evaluation involves assessing the organization's potential to attain its objectives through media channels versus its capability to execute such plans. It's important to note that organizations with high potential and strong implementation capabilities can achieve high commitment and fulfillment (refer to page 121 for more details). 



According to Khan, the organization's responsibility for managing social media falls under the purview of IT personnel, specifically the IT Director (CIO). The IT Director is tasked with planning and implementing the social media strategy, with the primary objective of establishing rules and operational procedures aligning social media activities with the organization's business objectives.


The stages involved in the strategy planning process are as follows:

  1. Sponsorship: Appoint a leader to lead the process.

  2. Cross-Organizational Team Formation: Assemble a diverse social media action team from different parts of the organization.

  3. Understanding Organizational Culture: Examine the existing organizational culture in the context of social media activities.

  4. Review of Current Social Media Activity: Evaluate the organization's current social media initiatives.

  5. Goal Definition: Define specific goals, such as engaging citizens through media channels.

  6. Alignment of Social and Business Goals: Establish a clear connection between the organization's social media efforts and its broader business objectives.

  7. Strategy Development: Develop the strategy, addressing critical questions like content creation, frequency, authorship, content approval processes, comment tracking, and feedback management.

  8. Digital Platform Selection: Choose an appropriate digital platform for implementing the strategy.

  9. Resource Planning: Plan the necessary resources for implementation, considering the organization's unique characteristics.

  10. Policy Formulation: Formulate a plan and policies that assign responsibility for social media activities to relevant personnel and specify their tasks.

  11. Success Metrics Definition: Define measurable success metrics.

  12. Activity Monitoring Setup: Establish a system for monitoring social media activity.

  13. Implementation Plan Formulation: Develop a plan for the strategy's implementation within the organization.

  14. Periodic Evaluation: Conduct regular assessments to measure progress and make necessary adjustments. 

 Khan also provides an example of the social media strategy employed by the Australian Department of Justice.



Following the planning phase, initiating the actual social media activities becomes essential. This usually starts with creating a Facebook page and extends to include activities on various other channels. Khan outlines methods for setting up the following channels, as described on pages 26 and 54 of the book:

  1. Twitter Account

  2. Facebook Page

  3. YouTube Channel

  4. Official Blog

  5. Project Wiki


These examples highlight the primary channels relevant to government engagement on social media platforms.


Monitoring and Analysis

SMA- Social Media Analysis is the domain dedicated to collecting, monitoring, and analyzing network content. It's no coincidence that this field has witnessed significant activity in academia and practical applications over the years. Monitoring and analyzing social media activity provides valuable insights into media dynamics. There are seven levels of monitoring and analysis within this field:

  1. Text Analysis: This involves the examination of textual content, including comments, posts, and other textual components.

  2. Action Analysis: This encompasses evaluating actions such as Likes, Dislikes, Shares, Mentions, Endorsements, and more.

  3. Network Analysis: It involves assessing relationships within social networks, like examining Facebook friendships or Twitter followers.

  4. Link Analysis: This focuses on analyzing hyperlinks and deriving their behavioral patterns.

  5. Search Analysis: It involves scrutinizing search content, trends, the effectiveness of advertisements, and related aspects.

  6. Widgets Engagement Analysis: This pertains to analyzing engagement through mobile phone applications.

  7. Location-Based Analytics: Geographical analytics related to users, content, and data. 

 One of the notable challenges in this field is the vast amount of data that can be measured in almost countless ways. A critical question arises: how and what should be measured correctly? Khan provides typical examples of objectives and recommended metrics on page 96. For instance, Khan suggests conducting an action analysis and outlining how to implement this monitoring to assess the effectiveness of sharing information on Twitter or Facebook.


It's important to acknowledge that effective media analysis demands proficiency across several dimensions:

  • Technical Competence: Essential for implementing monitoring and numerical processing.

  • Environmental Awareness: Understanding organizational intricacies, regulations, confidentiality, and compartmentalization.

  • Cultural Understanding: Grasping organizational norms, values, and behaviors related to decision-making based on analysis.

  • Governance Capability: The organization's capacity to align social media activity with its overarching objectives. 

Baseline measurements typically encompass visits, average number of pages per visit, new visitors, average visit duration, returning visitors, and bounce rate (abandonment percentage).


Khan also offers a valuable list of social media data monitoring tools (starting on page 100), comprehensive explanations for each tool, and guidance on their implementation.


Risk Management

Despite the numerous advantages of social media, it is undeniable that it also presents various risks, particularly in the following areas:

  • Information Security

  • Theorem

  • Privacy Violation

  • Ethics

  • Regulation

  • Cyberattacks

  • Control

  • Copyright

  • Image


To effectively manage these risks, a comprehensive risk management framework is essential. This framework comprises four key components:

  1.  Identification and Understanding of Risks: This involves recognizing and comprehending the underlying risks, including external risk events, historical activity data, knowledge gained from others, and public feedback (listening). It also involves maintaining a repository of potential risks.

  2. Risk Assessment: Evaluate risks based on their potential impact and likelihood, allowing for the prioritization of risk management efforts.

  3. Strategy and Treatment Plan Formulation: Develop a strategy and mitigation plan to address identified risks and implement these measures in line with the identified risks.

  4. Evaluation, Assessment, and Periodic Monitoring: Continuously assess and periodically survey risks to ensure that risk management strategies remain effective and current.


Social Media Tools

Social media platforms fall into several primary categories:

  1. Social Networks: These platforms facilitate creating and maintaining connections between people with common interests. Notable examples include Facebook and LinkedIn.

  2. Content Communities: These platforms gather people who form a community around shared interests, often involving "live" content. Prominent examples include YouTube and Flickr.

  3. Blogs: Spaces or personal sites where individuals regularly post content and express their opinions. Widely used platforms include WordPress and Blogger.

  4. Microblogs: These platforms are designed for posting or exchanging short posts. Twitter is a prime example of a micro-blogging platform.

  5. Collaborative Projects and Environments: These platforms enable people to plan, coordinate, add, control, and monitor content sharing in collaborative projects. Wikipedia, utilizing the Wiki format, exemplifies this category.

  6. Social Tagging and Folksonomies: These platforms organize content based on user perception and tagging. Delicious is a notable platform in this category.

  7. Virtual Worlds: Virtual worlds are environments where individuals can represent themselves as avatars and interact with others via text and message channels. These environments are often implemented as games, with World of Warcraft being a well-known example. 

It's worth noting that additional tools can be developed based on the same principles of participation, collaboration, content creation, and sharing across many-to-many channels, continually expanding the realm of social media.



Khan enriches the book with numerous detailed examples spanning various elements, from policy documents to screenshots that vividly demonstrate concepts of openness. These examples are thoughtfully placed throughout the book and tailored to the relevant subject. Among the multitude of illustrations, two examples particularly stand out:

  1.  New York City Open Data Act (Page 87): This case study provides an insightful exploration of the New York City Open Data Act, offering practical insights and lessons.

  2. Australian Department of Justice Social Media Strategy (Page 129): The book delves into the Australian Department of Justice's Social Media Strategy, presenting a comprehensive case study as a valuable reference point.

Moreover, the book is interwoven with many other examples encompassing diverse areas, including goal setting, metric definition, monitoring techniques, and more, corresponding to the abovementioned chapters.


In conclusion, while this summary provides a condensed overview, it's highly recommended to reference the book for comprehensive insights and guidance, which can be valuable for government organizations and beyond.



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