August 23, 2017

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Digital Democracy: How States are Using Social Media to Connect

Digital Democracy: How States are Using Social Media to Connect

This year’s presidential candidates have raised millions of campaign dollars through their respective online communities. Sen. Barack Obama, for example, has broken fundraising records using previously unheard of social
tactics. Both Democratic presidential candidates–or in many cases their supporters–have released a phalanx of
videos hoping to ride the “viral marketing” wave. More and more politicians are maintaining blogs and enjoying the enhanced relationships (and the votes those relationships garner) with their constituency. In short, emerging media is a present and growing force in government today.

What I’d like to do today is take it down a notch, just out of the spotlight and off the beaten path, to the state government level. Tomorrow’s presidents and congressional leaders are today’s governors and state legislators. What is going on at the state level towards embracing new media venues, increasing governmental transparency and encouraging constituent advocacy?

I took a look at several state web sites in search of web 2.0 type applications or tools for the general public to make use of. Quite honestly, I was underwhelmed until I started looking at the Delaware state website.

The first thing I noticed was their “One-Click Search,” in essence a tag cloud based on the most common searches conducted on their web site. Now, this was a site that was speaking my language! Here was something someone of my generation (okay, the generation I pretend I’m a part of) could understand. What I really appreciated about it, however, was that it creates a bridge between generations. This is a simple and logical use of social media–one that makes sense and will help my father understand why my son and I get so excited about these “new fangled” web applications.

At the same time, “One-Click Search” speeds up the search process for visitors who are looking for commonly sought after information. Since the cloud is dynamically generated, visitors can be assured that the most current topics are featured.

Looking around a bit more, I noticed when I refresh the page, the photo on the page changes. Closer inspection revealed that the photos are all submitted by the public. Delaware is actively building relationships with its citizens.
As people submit their pictures, and those pictures are approved and put into the site’s rotation, guess what the photographers do? They tell everyone they know that their picture is on the state of Delaware’s web site, driving traffic to the web site. And, since everyone in Delaware is a “customer” of the government, it’s all “targeted” traffic. Simple, but very effective.

Delaware also has live chat support available from 8:30 to 4:30, RSS, a podcast and email subscriptions, and context-sensitive help and information attached to every module on their site. One of my favorite features, however, is rather low profile.

In the lower right hand corner of every page is a “Save to” section with a couple of somewhat standard
options (Favorites and RSS reader), but they have also provided options to bookmark the page to Digg and del.icio.us. Delaware has embraced social bookmarking, and they have made it easy for their visitors to join the fun, from every page on their site.

Other states have also made significant moves towards incorporating social media. Idaho rolled out legislative RSS feeds for the first time this year, 58 different feeds in all. The featured feeds were the House and Senate calendars with information on bills up for debate. With no marketing of this new feature, not even a press release, these feeds were almost instantly in the top 10 pages
viewed for the legislature’s web page. They were the second (Senate) and third (House) most popular entry pages, behind only the legislative home page, on the entire web site.

The Louisiana State House of Representatives last summer started up a blog, “In the Loop,” for the expressed purpose of providing their citizens another method of commenting and communicating with their Representatives, a way to “stay in the loop.” In addition to publishing opinions from legislators, the blog allows comments from constituents and hosts surveys on issues the legislature is facing. It bills
itself as Louisiana’s “never-ending town meeting.”

Web 2.0 and social media applications are steadily gaining momentum. From speeding up searches, sharing pictures, and social bookmarking in Delaware to providing an “at a glance” view of what’s going on at the Idaho State Legislature via iGoogle or MyYahoo (or any other RSS reader) and being able to interact directly with representatives from the Louisiana House via their blog; state governments are reaching out and becoming more and more involved with the citizens they serve. Looks like digital democracy at work to me.

Soren Jacobsen writes the Idaho State Legislatures internal IT blog and has been published in legislative periodicals. He also speaks on new and emerging media applications at industry events for both government organizations
and travel agencies.  Soren gained invaluable business experience through co-founding, building and.eventually exiting two successful start-up companies.

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