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Connecting Citizens and Local


Governments?
Social Media and Interactivity in Major
U.S. Cities


Karen Mossberger, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University, karen.mossberger@asu.edu
Yonghong Wu, Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago, yonghong@uic.edu
Jared Crawford, Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago, jcrawf6@uic.edu

Presented at Public Management Research Conference, Madison, WI
June 21, 2013



How has local e-government in the U.S. changed in the past few years? Measured by the scale
of change, the unequivocal answer is social media. While not as widespread, other tools designed to
improve citizen and government interactions, such as open data portals, have developed at the local
level as well. Changing the relationship between citizens and government is often cited as a goal for
digital government (West 2004; Chadwick 2009; Welch, Hinnant and Moon 2005; Tolbert and
Mossberger 2006; Moon 2002; Ho 2002; Coursey and Norris 2008), and new tools such as social media
have the potential to improve interactions with citizens through dialogue and greater transparency
(Bertot, Jaeger, & Grimes 2012). We examine the use of social media and other interactive tools in the
75 largest U.S. cities between 2009 and 2011.

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Local government is an important subject for the study of social media and interactivity because
of traditions of citizen participation at the local level. Peters (2001) argues that local governments tend
to use more mechanisms that permit direct citizen involvement, in part because they are more
manageable at that scale (see also Fung 2004; Briggs 2008; Sirianni 2009). And, the largest cities, which
we examine here, have generally been at the forefront in the adoption of e-government innovations
(Moon 2002; Ho 2002; Scott 2006).
In this article, we examine social networks within the context of other interactive tools being
implemented by local governments online by constructing an index of interactivity and focusing on how
social networks are utilized in three case study cities. We track the use of social media and other
interactive tools using content analysis of local government websites during spring 2009 and spring
2011, capturing a period of remarkable growth. The rapid adoption of social media in particular has the
potential to provide convenient venues for dialogue between citizens, and with government. Even in
2009, channels for two-way interaction online were markedly limited in major cities, so this is a
development that is worth further investigation. In addition to tracking trends for the 75 largest cities,
we provide more in-depth analysis of social media, more specifically social networks, for three cities that
have been early adopters of these new digital media, using Mergels (2013a; 2013b) typology of push,
pull, and networking strategies. Interviews with local government officials from the three case study
cities provide further insight on opportunities and challenges for social media use. Given the evidence
from the content analysis and case studies, we further explore implications for the future adoption of
social media tools for facilitating citizen knowledge and engagement.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND INTERACTIVE TOOLS
The Obama administrations Open Government Directive called for greater transparency,
participation, and collaboration through information technology (Obama 2009; Deckert, Stern, & Sack,
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2011; Ganapati & Reddick 2012), and interactive tools such as social media have the capacity to advance
such goals. This may be particularly true at the local level, where there are traditions of citizen
participation (Berry, Portney and Thomson 1993; Oates 1972; Oakerson 1999). Previous studies have
indicated, however, that digital government has a limited record of use for democratic participation, and
this has been true at the local level as well. Scott (2006) concluded that local government websites have
a better record for civic information than participation, and the channels that did exist for citizen input
were one-way. A more recent study by Holzer et al. (2008) gave the 100 municipal governments in its
sample a poor grade for e-government use to advance online citizen participation; the study found that
only 11 percent of the local government websites studied had mechanisms for citizen feedback. These
studies did not include evidence on the use of social networks. Is this pattern of limited participation
online changing over time, with the advent of social media, Web 2.0 and open government?
Tim OReilly coined the term Web 2.0 in 2005 to distinguish Internet technologies that feature
generation of content by the user, participation-enabling web structures, collective intelligence, and
scalability (OReilly 2005). Some examples of Web 2.0 relevant for citizen participation include wikis,
blogs, open data portals, and tools for crowdsourcing and ranking ideas (Smith 2010; Leighninger 2012;
Robinson, Yu and Felten 2010; Noveck 2009). Social media
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can be thought of broadly as an extension
of Web 2.0 and is described by Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) as a group of Internet-based applications
that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and
exchange of User Generated Content, (p. 61). User Generated Content is the aggregation of all media
within Web 2.0 which is readily available to the public and is created by the end users, here citizens.

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There are varied definitions of what counts as social media or Web 2.0. The Pew Internet and American Life
Project (Smith 2010) defined social media in their survey as social networking, blogs, online video, and email and
text alerts.
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Unlike traditional media types, social media provide the means for a many-to-many interaction
(Bertot, et al 2010).
Social networks fall under the umbrella of social media and are defined by several
characteristics, which include creation of a public profile within a defined system, the ability to connect
with others, and user-generated content (Boyd and Ellison 2008; Kaplan and Haenlein 2010; Mergel and
Greeves 2013). Further, social networks foster collaboration, joint learning, and the speedy exchange of
information between users (Bonson, et al 2012, p. 123). Thus, social networks have the potential to
provide a new platform for communication between citizens and government officials, or for
deliberation and discussion among citizens. By soliciting ideas on social media, governments can gather
diverse viewpoints and different types of expertise from citizens to craft more effective policy solutions
(Noveck 2009, 14, 38).
Social networks may be particularly appealing for interaction with citizens because of the
increased participation of the population on sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. A survey
by the Pew Internet and American Life Project (Hampton et al. 2011) found that 59 percent of American
adults used at least one social networking site. This percentage has more than doubled since 2008. The
most recent growth has occurred among adults over age 35, who now account for over half of social
network users. Prior to 2008, social media networking sites were most popular in the under-25 age
group. Social networks have come of age, and so has their use for connecting with governments. In
December 2009, 31 percent of Internet users reported using social media networks such as Facebook,
YouTube or Twitter or other interactive tools such as text, email alerts or blogs, to obtain government
information (Smith, 2010).

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POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF INTERACTIVE DIGITAL GOVERNMENT
There has been a shift toward more networked forms of governance over the past several
decades, with increased expectations that government at all levels will work with multiple actors to
deliver services or to formulate policy solutions, including nonprofit organizations, civic groups, and
individual citizens (Pierre and Peters 2005; John 2001; Denters and Rose 2005). An anticipated benefit
of more participatory and interactive government online is increased civic engagement on the part of
citizens (Scott 2006; Leighninger 2012; Ganapati 2011). This may be conceptualized as higher levels of
citizen knowledge, interest, discussion, and participation in government and community affairs
(Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal 2008). Customization of information through web 2.0 features such
as RSS feeds or social networks like Facebook or Twitter may lower information costs through sharing
and alerts, and, like e-government in general, they provide convenient and round-the-clock access to
information. Ultimately contributing to citizen knowledge and interest in public affairs. Government use
of social networks and other online tools to discuss policy issues may be viewed as responsive and
accessible because government interacts with citizens where they are online,[and] how they prefer to
be engaged (Leighninger 2012, 4). This may convey the message that government wants to reach out
to citizens in a variety of venues (Chadwick, 2009), and this may be especially true for some groups that
are currently less likely to participate in public affairs. Use of social networks, specifically, poses the
possibility of involving young people, who were early adopters (Hampton et al. 2011). And, while
national surveys have revealed that most Americans have a positive view of government use of social
networks, African-Americans and Latinos who are online are even more supportive than non-Hispanic
whites (Smith 2010). For all of these reasons, features that provide greater interactivity online may
offer resources for civic engagement, whether that is through customization of information, one-way
feedback, or two-way interactions.
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Theories of citizen participation, including deliberative democracy, however, suggest that two-
way or even multi-actor deliberation is particularly important for democratic practice (Barber 1984;
Fishkin 1993; Gutmann and Thompson 2004). It is this potential that sets social networks apart from
many of the ways in which governments have traditionally gathered input from citizens online through
online surveys, comment forms, and email. While chat rooms and discussion boards are online
platforms for dialogue that have been available for many years, they have been little-used in
government websites (Ho 2002; Moon 2002; Holzer et al. 2008; Mossberger, Wu and Jimenez 2010).
The emergence of new tools online may therefore not easily alter these patterns of government
behavior, although citizen expectations may be changing with the development of online discussion on
commercial websites, for newspaper commentary and consumer rating of products.
It is possible that these trends and the popularity of social networks may increase the adoption
of social networks and other interactive tools on government websites, and may also foster more two-
way or multi-party discussion in the government context. Beyond adoption, Mergel (2013a)
distinguishes between three possible strategies for social media use: 1) representation; 2) engagement;
and 3) networking. For representation, governments may seek a presence on many social media
platforms, but they pursue a push strategy of broadcasting the agencys message. Indicators of such a
strategy include the blocking of comments, and little investment in updating information. But, even
governments that are more active pursue a centralized approach that disseminates press releases rather
than inviting citizen participation. Engagement strategies (also described as pull or push and listen)
solicit user-created content. There is some evidence online that governments are actively inviting
feedback or contributions (for example, to share stories, to rank ideas, or to create applications). This
may also include some response to citizen suggestions. Networking strategies rely upon extensive
discussion among citizens, where government officials participate as one set of actors, but view
discussion mainly as an opportunity to elicit insights from citizens. Governments that prioritize a
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networking strategy might pose topics for discussion and set ground rules for otherwise open dialogue.
Both the engagement and networking approaches are participatory. The networking approach
emphasizes dialogue, however, whereas engagement invites co-production of content without
necessarily engaging participants in dialogue. The one-way representation strategy is most prevalent,
and networking strategies are largely hypothetical, according to Mergels (2013a) findings in her
interviews at the federal level.
Other research indicates that even when citizen engagement occurs through the social networks
or other forms of social media, it tends to be a one-way flow of information from citizens to
government, with little multi-stakeholder dialogue or response from officials (Hand and Ching 2011;
Brainard and Derrick-Mills 2011). Participation may require active recruitment, as well as information or
education about issues (Bryer and Zavattaro 2011; Leighninger 2012).
To what extent, then, are cities using interactive tools online, and how are they using them? A
2010 study of small and medium-sized local governments in the U.S. (with populations between 25,000
and 250,000) found that over half of them had adopted social networks (Feeney, Welch and Haller
2011). The officials who were surveyed saw information technology as an important tool for civic
engagement and transparency (ibid.). How does this compare to major U.S. cities, which may be ahead
of the smaller local governments? Do social networks support civic engagement by providing
information on public policy issues? To what extent do these larger municipalities use pull or
networking strategies on social media? In the next sections, we review evidence from the 2009 and
2011 content analyses of the 75 largest cities, with a more detailed exploration of social media in three
case study cities.

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CONTENT ANALYSIS OF WEBSITES: METHODS AND RESULTS
This next section examines features of interactivity online through a content analysis of the
official websites of the 75 largest U.S. cities (as measured by population). Prior studies have indicated
that larger local governments are more likely to be first adopters of digital government innovations and
to have more sophisticated websites (e.g. Ho 2002; Moon 2002). Additionally, there is some evidence
that they are most likely to employ strategies for civic engagement (Yang and Kathe 2005).
Content analysis of resources for civic engagement on local government websites was
conducted from March through May 2011, assessing cities on 90 to 94 different variables, depending on
whether or not they had a city manager. The content analysis done in March through May 2009
included 74 to 78 variables. In this article, we use only a subset of the items coded in the content
analysis, the interactive features displayed in Table 1 below, plus some measures for commenting and
policy content that are included in the interactivity score in Appendix A. This interactivity score for
2011 is based on 27 items, including two items for online services (downloadable forms and online
transactions), one for surveys (evidence of citizen surveys conducted either online or offline), and one
open data question. There were 23 interactive tools questions, including whether tools such as social
media or blogs contained policy content rather than service information, and whether comments were
allowed on interactive features. As shown in Table 1 below, there were fewer items coded in 2009. But,
in both years, the interactivity scores (counts of items present at city websites) were divided by the total
number of items used in that year to determine the interactivity indexes The 2011scores, indexes and
rankings for each of the 75 cities are shown in Appendix A.
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The coders examined each website, and a detailed coding manual with website examples and
instructions was used to train the 5 coders and to assure reliability.
2
Pre-tests of the website-
assessment instrument were conducted. Intercoder reliability ranged between 62 and 93 percent (the
mean was slightly over 80 percent), which parallels the results for other website coding (see Musso,
Weare and Hale 2000).
3
To insure greater reliability, each website was coded carefully and
independently by two coders, and differences were reconciled by a third coder.
One issue in website content analysis is how to define the website especially for governments
that have a variety of departments and multiple links (Weare and Lin 2000). In most cases for the
content analysis of the 75 cities, we restricted our coding to the main website and avoided examining
separate departments. Conceptually, we were most concerned with the policies of the city leadership,
especially the mayor, city council, and city manager (where applicable).
4
It is possible that this research
understates some participatory opportunities or information located only on department websites. For
that reason, we emphasize that we are researching the main city website, the city leadership, and major
city-wide policy documents in the examination of the 75 cities.
RESULTS FOR 75 CITIES: SOCIAL MEDIA AND INTERACTIVE TOOLS

Within the interactivity index, there are three types of features those that promote
convenient and customized information access; features that offer one-way feedback to government
officials; and those that provide two-way interaction. Although Web 2.0 applications such as blogs and
social networks offer new opportunities for interactivity, it is also important to examine older tools such
as online townhall meetings, discussion boards, and citizen surveys in order to have a more complete

2
Available from the authors upon request.
3
The inter-coder reliability is defined as the count of questions with identical coding results for a particular city
from the coders divided by the count of total questions coded. For instance, if the coding results are identical for
85 of the 98 questions, the inter-coder reliability is 86.7 percent.
4
While there were some exceptions, where coders were allowed to look for documents elsewhere, these did not
affect the interactivity score discussed in this article.
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picture of interactivity, as well as any change in practices. As shown in Table 1 below, in 2009 there was
little opportunity for discussion visible on government websites. Citizens could respond to online
surveys, fill out comment forms, or send email to officials. Interestingly enough, some of these one-way
forms of communication with citizens have grown over the two-year period under study. The
percentage of cities with online citizen surveys has increased from 60% to 81%, and online newsletters
or email updates have increased from 79% to 91%.
TABLE 1. Interactive tools utilized in websites of 75 largest U.S. cities Comparison of 2009 and 2011
Tools
2009 2011
Frequency Percent Frequency Percent
Online citizen survey 45 60 61 81.3
On-line newsletter subscriptions or
e-mail updates
59 78.7 68 90.7
Downloadable information
materials
75 100 75 100
Searchable databases 73 97.3 73 97.3
Comment or message box 60 80 56 74.7
RSS feed 42 56 55 73.3
Twitter 19 25.3 65 86.7
Discussion boards 1 1.3 2 2.7
Virtual townhall meetings 0 0 6 8
Facebook link 10 13.3 65 86.7
YouTube link 12 16 56 74.7
Blog for city in general N/A N/A 8 10.7
Blog for elected official N/A N/A 17 22.7
Flickr link N/A N/A 28 37.3
Open data portals N/A N/A 12 16


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But, social media offer new platforms where citizens can interact with each other, and can see
responses from government officials. In 2009, only one city website examined in the study (Seattle) had
a discussion board that facilitated such an exchange, and only a minority of cities linked to social
networks. Interestingly enough, 6 city websites had hosted online townhall meetings in the 2011
analysis, whereas none had done so in 2009. While the number of townhall meetings is still very small,
together with the adoption of social networks and other social media formats, this may indicate a more
general willingness among local governments to experiment with technology for dialogue with citizens,
apart from new social media.
In 2011, social networks were much more common across local government websites than in
2009. Among the 75 largest U.S. cities, 87% used Twitter, in comparison with 25% two years before.
Facebook was also used by 87% of the U.S. cities, with an even larger increase from 13% in 2009.
YouTube links appeared for 75% of major U.S. cities, up from 16% in 2009. This is a rapid jump for all of
these sites, which increased by between 250% to over 600% during this two-year period.
What can be said about social networks other than their presence? In 2011, we added
subcategories for social networks and blogs to indicate whether they allowed comments to be posted
and whether they involved policy content (rather than only service alerts, for example). For the large
U.S. cities, all Twitter and Facebook sites we examined allowed user comments. For YouTube, 90
percent of the cities permitted comments on these sites. Moreover, almost all of these Twitter,
Facebook, and YouTube sites had policy-relevant content (100 percent of the Facebook sites, and 98
percent of the Twitter and YouTube sites). Flickr sites were less policy-oriented, which might be
expected from a photo-sharing site. Only 71 percent of the 28 Flickr sites had policy content.
A new development in 2011 was open data portals, present in only one dozen of the 75 largest
cities. Open data portals were not as common as social media use, as they were present in only 16% of
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cities. Such portals reflect the collaborative ethic of Web 2.0, where users are encouraged to improve
applications and to share them freely (OReilly 2010). Portland and San Francisco were local
government pioneers in open data at the end of 2009, replicating the federal model (of data.gov) at the
city level. The portals include an eclectic mix of information, including the locations of police and fire
stations, employee salaries, lobbying activities, crime data, budgets, vacant lots, building permits,
restaurant inspections, parking information, and more. Cities may post raw data, or otherwise
encourage users to develop applications that make the information more accessible. Many cities with
open data portals have held contests for the development of applications (see New York and Chicago
portals, for example). This form of co-production or collaboration applies to a relatively small group of
citizens who have the requisite technical skills, but other types of collaboration are possible. Some
cities, like San Francisco, establish a reputation system on the portal that allows residents to comment
on and score datasets for improving access processes and the quality of the data. Additionally, open
data portals may involve tools for customizing or visualizing data in different ways, emphasizing
interactivity and responsiveness (Robinson, Yu and Felten 2010).
How do social networks compare to other interactive tools that encourage citizen feedback?
Blogs were less common, as only 23% of cities had them for any elected officials (and only about 11%
had general city blogs). There was a slight dip in the percentage of cities with comment or message
boxes from 80% of cities in 2009 to 75% in 2011. It is difficult to tell from this small change during a
short period of time whether this is a trend, for example, because cities are using social media instead.
Customized information increased over this period, such as RSS Feeds and online newsletter or
email/text alerts. While online newsletters or alerts were fairly common in 2009 at 79%, by 2011 91% of
major cities had them. In 2009, a little over half of the cities used RSS feeds, but this had grown to
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nearly 3 in 4 cities by 2011. Measures of interactivity (downloadable information, searchable databases)
did not change over this period, but were almost uniform across the cities.
How have cities changed over this period? There are clearly new possibilities for participation
through social networks, and open data portals, which allow for customization of information, have
appeared in a dozen cities. Smaller changes have occurred in other ways a few local governments have
adopted online townhall meetings, in contrast with their absence just two years before. While surveys
are one-way mechanisms for feedback, they represent participatory opportunities as well, and there are
some small increases in this area over the two-year period. Information presented in formats that
attract attention and involve citizens could also be expected to contribute to civic knowledge and
interest (Lupia and Philpot 2002). Online videos available on YouTube and photographs on Flickr and
other social media platforms present and promote sharing of information in new ways, taking advantage
of the multi-media capacity of the web to convey both in-depth written information and visual content.
While their use is growing, YouTube and Flickr are a bit less likely to have policy content and comments
than social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter. Open data portals have emerged over this period,
and could foster greater transparency and customization of information. Overall, there is some
improvement in interactive features and participation over this period, although this is largely
incremental, with the exception of social media. There is also broad variation in the index. As
Appendix A shows, interactivity index scores for local governments range between 11% (for Toledo) and
96% (for Seattle). The adoption of new tools, however, poses questions about how they are used in
practice by governments and citizens. We turn to this question in the case studies of three cities.
THREE CITIES: SEATTLE, LOUISVILLE, AND CHICAGO
The rapid diffusion of social network use among local governments, and the emergence of open
data portals present new possibilities for transforming relationships between government and citizens
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through more open government and citizen participation. We are currently conducting case studies in
three of the cities from our 2009 and 2011 studies in order to find out more about how social media and
other web features have been used by citizens and officials. All three of the case study cities, Seattle
(#1), Louisville (#3), and Chicago (#10) are ranked relatively high on the interactivity index (see Appendix
A), and all three have open data portals. The case study cities also represent different regions of the
country, cities of varied size, and different histories for civic engagement. Seattle, for example, is well-
known for its neighborhood planning and citizen participation (Sirianni 2009). While Chicago is famous
for its history of machine politics (Simpson 2001), there have been instances of more participatory
policies such as community policing in recent years (Fung 2004; Briggs 2008). Chicagos ranking in the
2011 study reflects the state of the citys digital government practices before Rahm Emanuel took office,
and the new mayor has held online townhall meetings and has used Twitter to solicit budget ideas. The
Louisville mayor, Greg Fischer, has held regular online question and answer sessions, according to our
interviews. The three case study cities are therefore likely among those that are more actively using
social networks, and they are among only one dozen cities that had open data portals as of summer
2011.
In the following section, we compare the use of social networks in several departments that
employ social media in all three cities. We then examine the content of the open data portals, and
conclude with some observations from interviews. We conducted confidential interviews with officials
in the three case study cities, asking about goals, strategies and challenges for implementing social
media and data portals. The five officials interviewed included chief information officers, chief
technology officers, and other staff members who were responsible for policies regarding the
implementation of these tools in the three cities. The phone and face-to-face interviews typically lasted
one hour in length. The interviews were also recorded with supplementary detailed notes and then
analyzed for content based on interviewee responses.
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STRATEGIES FOR SOCIAL MEDIA
Using Mergels (2013a; 2013b) typology of social network strategies for civic engagement, we
code the strategies for three focal departments for our case study cities: (1) the mayors office, (2) the
police department, and (3) the parks department. We examine these departments because they are
consistent across the case study cities, and are departments where interactions with citizens may be
common. Prior research has indicated that these are areas of city government likely to prioritize citizen
engagement (Feeney et al. 2011).
In her empirical work on social network strategies used in federal agencies and departments,
Mergel (2013a) finds that the majority used three primary strategies: (1) representation of the agency;
(2) engagement of citizens; and (3) networking with the public (p. 127). Representation employs a push
strategy where the new medium is an extension of the existing (relatively static) Internet presence,
(Mergel 2013b, 7). This particular strategy uses social networks, such as Twitter or Facebook, to simply
provide information to the public. The City of Louisville Police Department, for instance, does not
comment on either its own Facebook or Twitter posts or on posts from other users, even though
comments are enabled. In this research, we measure a push strategy by looking at the social network
outlet where, although comments may be enabled, there is no further interaction between the
department and citizenry. It should be noted, one limitation of this methodology is that we cannot
measure intent on behalf of the department. That is, if comments are enabled, but there are no
comments from members of the public, it does not necessarily reflect a simple push strategy. The
intention could have been the pull strategy (engagement of citizens).
The pull strategy is characterized by a few comments from the department as well as links to the
departments web site or other sites that provide additional information to the public. To measure a pull
strategy, we again examine each of the social network sites and assess the level of interactivity between
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the department and citizens. Per Mergel (2013b), the pull strategy includes a few comments on
Facebook or a few retweets, (p. 114), so while there is some back and forth communication, the
degree of interaction is still relatively low. The pull strategy is evident on the City of Chicago Parks and
Recreation Departments Twitter page, where, within a period of a month and a half, the Department
posted numerous times but only commented occasionally.
Lastly, the department may employ a networking strategy (networking with the public) which is
highly interactive, providing a great deal of commentary, or a great deal of additional information, e.g.
via retweets or links to other departments. In all three cities, each mayor was active on Twitter, but the
social media strategies we define as networking are noticeably more interactive than those defined by a
pull strategy. For example, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn consistently answers questions posted to his
Twitter account and he frequently retweets other department news and links. Cities categorized as
pull had some additional comments or retweets from the office or department on some of the posts,
whereas instances of networking showed a great deal of interactivity vis--vis comments, retweets, and
posts.
5
In practice, there was always more than than the threshold we had defined for networking
strategies, with noticeable back and forth.
Coding of social network sites in the three case study cities was done in March 2013. Two
independent coders examined all posts dated between February 1st and March 14th of 2013 and the
related comments/retweets, and applied the push, pull and networking categories using the above
criteria. Intercoder reliability was 89%, and disagreements were reconciled by a third coder.
6


5
In the study of social media sites of the three cities, we first count the number of posts and the number of
comments/retweets from the department. Then the number of comments/retweets is divided by the number of
posts to calculate the average response rate for each social media site. An average response rate below 20% is
coded as Push, between 20% and 60% is coded as Pull, and over 60% is coded as Networking.
6
The two independent coders only disagree on the strategies of five social media sites out of a total of 45 sites
(five social media sites for each department of one city).
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Tables 2-4 below show similar social networking sites across cities. Consistent with Mergels
findings on the federal government, push strategies (or at least one-way push outcomes) predominate.
One exception is Twitter, which shows evidence of networking and pull outcomes. Perhaps the short
messages and the ease of retweeting make interactivity simpler, especially for officials to respond.
Louisville did exhibit some pull or interaction on Facebook for the Mayors Office. Seattle has pull or
networking outcomes across city departments on Twitter. Networking strategies are present for the
parks on Twitter in two of the three cities. Overall, then, local governments in our case studies engage
in representation or push strategies for the most part, as do federal agencies (Mergel 2013a). But
there are some instances beyond representation, and the interviews discussed below indicate that city
goals and efforts are directed toward pull and possibly networking.
Office
(Department)
Table 2. Seattle Social Networks (Push, Pull, & Networking)
Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube Blog
Mayor Push Networking Push Push
Parks Push Networking Push Push
Police Push Pull Push

Office
(Department)
Table 3. Chicago Social Networks (Push, Pull, & Networking)
Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube Blog
Mayor Push Push
Parks Push Pull Push
Police Push Push


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Office
(Department)
Table 4. Louisville Social Networks (Push, Pull, & Networking)
Facebook Twitter Flickr YouTube Blog
Mayor Pull Pull
Parks Push Networking Push Push Push
Police Push Push Push Push


STRATEGIES AND ISSUES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Social media raise new issues for implementation for city officials, as mentioned in interviews in
the three cities. While the intent in all three cities was to encourage pull strategies and networking, this
has not been easy to implement. Local government respondents reflected on the need to do more
outreach to citizens, to bring them to the data portals, social media, and the city websites in general.
One official mentioned the need for a push-pull strategy, so that citizens could be encouraged to use
the website and to participate on different platforms, as the city continued to push out more
information this way. According to another official, interaction with constituents on public policy issues
through social media was a weakness that needed to be addressed by cities. New questions are being
posed for how to moderate discussions on social media, how to set ground rules for public participation
and for employees, and how to keep records of public comments. More fundamentally, however, is
how to engage the public on these new platforms.
There were also some strategies highlighted from experience for effective social media use.
One respondent mentioned that policy discussions were most productive when there were concrete
questions posed. All three cities had implemented ideation platforms for ranking and commenting on
suggestions, such as Ideascale or Google Moderator, to organize citizen input. Providing feedback to
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residents was also emphasized as important for effective civic engagement. One city responded
individually to thousands of budget ideas submitted on the Mayors Twitter account by assigning
responsibility for follow-up across the relevant city departments.
Geolocation features posed some interesting questions for how to use social media or other
applications. One city used geographically targeted information to send out location-sensitive tornado
warnings on Twitter, and this experience has raised the possibility of targeting other types of
information as well. Other respondents asked how mobile applications fit into social media and digital
government more generally what are the possibilities for citizens to point out needs as they travel
around cities and get feedback?
Questions about audiences and responsiveness were common themes for social media. For
example, officials wondered how social media compared with face-to-face and phone for relationship-
building with citizens. And, given that not all citizens are online, how much time should be invested in
social media versus other forms of interaction? Sites such as Twitter and Facebook differ in how
information is presented, so there is a need not only for multiple postings, but also to package
information differently for different types of social media. And, while social media strategies are
promising in many ways, according to officials, they wonder how representative the views of
participants are. This is especially true given the lower presence of some populations online.
CONCLUSION: PROGRESS AND PROSPECTS
Cities appear to be taking steps toward more open government, with more interactive
platforms. The rapid adoption of social networks by governments is remarkable. Within the span of
only two years, adoption among the largest US cities increased as much as six times over for some social
media. And, most local governments allow comments to be posted and include policy content in their
social network sites. Open data portals are less common, but a handful of local governments are forging
20

ahead in this area as well. Additionally, there are other incremental changes that may further indicate a
trend toward openness and interactivity. Citizen surveys grew by 20% over this period, there are some
increases in the use of RSS feeds and newsletters, and townhall meetings have begun to crop up in a few
cities. There is wide variation, however, with the interactivity index scores for the 75 cities ranging from
11 to 96 percent.
At the same time, there is much more to be learned about how local governments are using
technology, and how or whether citizens are becoming engaged. In the three case study cities, social
media use is primarily representation or push, but there is some evidence of pull and networking
strategies as well. These are primarily on Twitter and taking place in either the parks department or the
mayors office. It may be that brief tweets encourage more back and forth because of convenience.
Our interviews indicate that city officials would like to know more about who is using these new
tools, how they are being used, and what is needed to further develop them. How do social media
compare with other channels for participation and discussion? To what extent should resources be
invested in social media rather than other forms of communication? Which social media are most
effective, for what purposes, and in what ways? Prior to the emergence of social media, there were
opportunities online for one-way citizen feedback, such as surveys and comment forms. But, if two-way
interaction is to occur on social networks, participation online will require time and management by
government. The barriers may be institutional rather than technical.
The absence of extensive participation by citizens on government websites also raises questions
about what citizens want, as well as what government should do. According to Bryer and Zavattoro
(2011), one of the assumptions of the participatory model is omnipotent citizens who are always
ready and able to participate. Some scholars have argued that participation in the U.S. often occurs only
when individuals are dissatisfied, but that citizens value government that is open to such involvement
21

(Hibbing and Theiss-Morse 2002). Whether or not citizens actually participate online, social network
features may communicate the message that government is more responsive, open, and democratic by
allowing citizens to express their views if they wish (Hibbing and Theiss-Morse 2002). Social media,
open data portals and other interactive features online promise to raise new challenges and
opportunities for local public administrators and elected officials to provide more open government and
opportunities for citizen participation.

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25

Appendix A: Interactivity score and index in 2011
City Population
Interactivity
score in 2011
Interactivity
index in 2011
Interactivity
ranking in 2011
Seattle 608,660 26 96.30 1
New York 8,175,133 24 88.89 2
Louisville 597,337 23 85.19 3
Portland 583,776 23 85.19 3
Philadelphia 1,526,006 21 77.78 5
Denver 600,158 21 77.78 5
Long Beach 462,257 21 77.78 5
Virginia Beach 437,994 21 77.78 5
Raleigh 403,892 21 77.78 5
Los Angeles 3,792,621 20 74.07 10
Chicago 2,695,598 20 74.07 10
Houston 2,099,451 20 74.07 10
Jacksonville 821,784 20 74.07 10
Kansas City 459,787 20 74.07 10
Mesa 439,041 20 74.07 10
Arlington 365,438 20 74.07 10
Greensboro 269,666 20 74.07 10
Albuquerque 953,207 19 70.37 18
San Francisco 805,235 19 70.37 18
Oklahoma City 579,999 19 70.37 18
Sacramento 466,488 19 70.37 18
Omaha 408,958 19 70.37 18
Tulsa 391,906 19 70.37 18
Minneapolis 382,578 19 70.37 18
Cincinnati 296,943 19 70.37 18
Phoenix 1,445,632 18 66.67 26
Austin 790,390 18 66.67 26
Fort Worth 741,206 18 66.67 26
Boston 617,594 18 66.67 26
Washington DC 601,723 18 66.67 26
St. Paul 285,068 18 66.67 26
Plano 259,841 18 66.67 26
San Jose 945,942 17 62.96 33
Baltimore 620,961 17 62.96 33
Milwaukee 594,833 17 62.96 33
Las Vegas 583,756 17 62.96 33
Tucson 520,116 17 62.96 33
Fresno 494,665 17 62.96 33
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Colorado Springs 416,427 17 62.96 33
Miami 399,457 17 62.96 33
Tampa 335,709 17 62.96 33
Aurora 325,078 17 62.96 33
Lexington-Fayette 295,803 17 62.96 33
Lincoln 258,379 17 62.96 33
Fort Wayne 253,691 17 62.96 33
San Antonio 1,327,407 16 59.26 46
San Diego 1,307,402 16 59.26 46
Wichita 382,368 16 59.26 46
Riverside 303,871 16 59.26 46
Anchorage 291,826 16 59.26 46
Henderson 257,729 16 59.26 46
St. Petersburg 244,769 16 59.26 46
Indianapolis 820,445 15 55.56 53
Columbus 787,033 15 55.56 53
Detroit 713,777 15 55.56 53
Anaheim 336,265 15 55.56 53
Glendale 226,721 15 55.56 53
Honolulu 953,207 14 51.85 58
Charlotte 731,424 14 51.85 58
Memphis 646,889 14 51.85 58
Oakland 390,724 14 51.85 58
Pittsburgh 305,704 13 48.15 62
Corpus Christi 305,215 13 48.15 62
St. Louis 319,294 12 44.44 64
El Paso 649,121 10 37.04 65
Nashville-Davidson 601,222 10 37.04 65
Newark 277,140 10 37.04 65
Buffalo 261,310 9 33.33 68
Santa Ana 324,528 8 29.63 69
Dallas 1,197,816 6 22.22 70
Atlanta 420,003 6 22.22 70
Cleveland 396,815 6 22.22 70
Stockton 291,707 6 22.22 70
Bakersfield 347,483 4 14.81 74
Toledo 287,208 3 11.11 75