Civic engagement is challenging to achieve in a culture where individuals no longer assemble around mutual public spaces, such as a town hall or school board meeting. It is becoming more difﬁcult for governments and elected leaders to reach citizens who divide their time between a variety of social groups, various activities, travel and more (Crowdsourcing.org, 2011). Social media are efficient tools used to reach citizens seeking alternative methods to participating in governance. Using social media at the local level seems to offer the promise of increased citizen engagement reaching citizens on a common platform and allowing for citizen comments (Hand & Ching, 2011)
The evolution of social media has essentially changed the communications process and is playing a larger role in the lives of everyday people. Populations are utilizing the internet to find information, look for entertainment and purchase products as well as creating connections with friends or colleagues. Social media tools are beginning to make their way into local governments also. At least one survey by the Public Technology Institute found that 72 percent of responding Chief Information Officers claimed to be using or planned on using Facebook or Twitter in outreach efforts (Trenker, 2010). As governments seek to engage citizens, promote transparency and advance public service, social media technologies have been incorporated into the governmental workplace and have been seen as helpful tools to promote public goals (Oliveira & Welch, 2013).
Although governments are gradually exercising digital channels to communicate with citizens, many entities continue employing traditional approaches, e.g. newsletters through emails, flyers, and word of mouth. Others tools include web-based surveys, text messaging and online surveys to engage with citizens. As popular as social media has become, the most common and visited communication and engagement method is the government website itself (Azyan, n.d). The challenge for local government is how to integrate social media as part of an effective communications strategy to boost civic engagement.
Eastampton Township, a small New Jersey community, has integrated the use of social media as an additional tool to engage residents. Specifically, the Facebook page highlights community activities and occasional status updates. With its inception on July 29, 2010, the effectiveness of online dialogue between government and its constituents appears underwhelming. Approximately 4500 residents over the age of 18 currently live in Eastampton (census.gov, 2014). The researcher’s objective is to answer the question, “What measures can be taken to improve the effectiveness of citizen engagement through social media?
The purpose of this capstone project is to gather, examine and assess feedback of local leaders and residents’ perceptions of social media as a strategies to promote civic engagement in Eastampton Township. Social media...