Governments are increasingly using social media...but what makes them successful?

Feb. 13, 2017

Ramon-Ignacio-FranciscoA study by Center for Technology in Government researchers revealed the factors that make social media successful in Spanish local governments, finding a direct correlation between the government’s characteristics and their overall success in using social media.

There are approximately 2.44 billion active social media users worldwide and within the past 15 years, governments have begun to see the value in using it just as much as individuals use it to keep in touch. Municipalities can use social media for a variety of purposes including transparency, open dialogue with citizens, providing information in an emergency, and more.

Some social media services grew fast in government and were early objects of study, such as SixDegrees, but have since disappeared. Recognizing social media’s increased role in local governments worldwide, CTG Research Director/Public Administration & Policy Associate Professor J. Ramon Gil-Garcia and CTG Research Fellow/Associate Professor with the Autonomous University of Madrid J. Ignacio Criado along with Francisco Rojas-Martín also of the Autonomous University of Madrid, set out to find the factors that make social media use successful in government. To do this, they looked at Spanish governments with populations of over 50,000 and who had, at a minimum, an active profile on Facebook and Twitter. These credentials yielded 124 research subjects.

Gathering the Data

The theoretical model Gil-Garcia, Criado and Martín used, called the Enacting Electronic Government Success model, was previously developed by Gil-Garcia for the study of electronic government and focuses on the interactions between government and information technologies. Looking at organizational factors (such as the existence of a social media plan, or access to training), institutional factors (such as laws, regulations, political control), and environmental factors (technological development, political stability, demographics), Gil-Garcia, Criado and Martín analyzed data from three main sources:

Primary data from a 21-question survey they designed and sent to social media managers in the municipalities; receiving a 97.6% response rate.

Country-level statistics (such as figures from the National Institute of Statistics, Electronic Administration Observatory, Ministry of Finance and Public Administrations)

The government’s Klout Scores (a web based analytical tool that determines users’ overall online social influence).


The data confirmed that there is great importance in having an internal leader to achieve social media success, such as staff whose primary role is dedicated to managing the profiles. They also noticed a relationship between the success of social media and the size of the staff, and that staff’s access to training opportunities.

Gil-Garcia, Criado and Martín also found a correlation between a governments’ social media use and their transparency. In other words, governments successful in social media were deemed by their constituents as being more transparent.

Finally, the study found that the political party of the mayors in the Spanish municipalities has relevance, with left-leaning parties producing higher success levels than right-leaning municipalities.

Contributions to the E-Government Arena

Dr. Gil-Garcia, Dr. Criado and Martín focus much of their research in the larger field of e-government, and their findings could open an important door for future research. Additionally, because Spain has three levels of government, these results could be applicable in the U.S. The analysis of the data shows coincidences with leading research in the e-government field, and thus the researchers believe there is a relationship between the size of the organization, the size of the population, transparency, IT development, having an internal leader, and staff training with success of the IT use and social media in the public administration. Though, the authors caution that further research must be done in order to better understand traditional IT and social media similarities and differences.

Read the full research study and academic paper here.