Monday, November 17, 2014

Social Media-Public sector interaction in Turkey

Social media is usually considered as the virtual platforms in which social interaction is performed.  It includes web 2.0 and mobile based technologies and applications such as Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, Wikipedia and blogs. Internet users share views, information, interests, comments which they create or which is created by others, through these virtual communities and technologies. Social media differs from traditional communication means which provide one-way street communication, and facilitate multilateral communication. Individuals and communities have chance to send feedback and share the content which they received.  People create, review and share the content together.

Social media also has become a virtual communication platform for people to express their opinions on public policies. In this sense, social media plays a significant and constructive role in public policy making and implementing process by providing a cheap, easy, and fast interaction opportunity among the users and public institutions. Moreover, social media has some special features including participation, openness, and dialog which are very crucial for democratic governments. E-participation through this channel will bring more transparency in public sector.

Social media usage in public sector first came up with top leaders’ participation in social networks in many countries. Presidents, prime ministers, and politicians opened accounts in Facebook and Twitter in order to communicate their constituents, especially to conduct their political campaigns. In Turkey former president Abdullah Gul became one of the pioneers among top officials. Then government agencies followed leaders, and began to use social networks.  However, we cannot say public sector in Turkey fully has adapted and get involved in social networks yet. Some ministries of Turkish government still do not have an organizational Facebook page or official Twitter account.

When we look at social network participation rates among the internet users in Turkey, social media can be an efficient platform for a beneficial interaction between the government and the governed. According to 2014 survey of Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), internet usage in Turkey has increased from 48.9% to 53.8% since 2013. There are approximately 37 billion internet subscriber in Turkey. Although internet usage rate is low respectively, social networks became the most preferred activity with 78.8% rate out of all internet users in the first quarter of this year.

Another report, Global Digital Statistics 2014 from ‘We are social’, introduces that Facebook takes first place among social networks chosen by Turkish internet users. 93% of internet users have a Facebook account while 72% of them have Twitter account. TUIK survey also explains that over the half of internet users went online to use the e-government services, especially to get information from web sites. Another point that pave the way for a better usage of social media in public sector is the fact that Turkey has 92% mobile penetration, and approximately 36% mobile internet usage of total population.  

How public sector increase and transform above mentioned potential into a constructive contribution is the core question for Turkey. Even though internet penetration is not very high in Turkey, it increases gradually in every year. To increase the interaction with public in social networks, government agencies can use push, pull and networking strategies (Mergel, 2010). In this regard, public institutions can utilize social interaction channels to provide information about their duties and works, and get feedback from citizens.  Also citizens can be encouraged to participate in decision making process in public sector. Government institutions should plan and create their own policies and strategies on how to enhance the benefits from social networks. These policies and strategies should also include the involvement of public workers, formation of privacy and usage rules, and safety issue.  Also the feedback from social media channels should be evaluated and processed in policy making and implementation by experts and practitioners. Guidelines, privacy and safety conditions are important to build a reliable relationship through these social medium. Otherwise, disinformation from fake accounts, politicization of issues or violation of laws may transform a fruitful network into an unproductive, useless and dysfunctional channel.  

Social networks has a dynamic nature. New technologies, communication tools, and interaction culture has developed perpetually in this dynamism. Thus, in order to adapt a constantly changing medium, public sector should also transform itself in an interactive and dynamic way. Government agencies should began to plan their strategies related to utilization of social networks in order to promote participation, transparency and collaboration.


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