Governments Should Harness the Untapped Power of Social Media Influencers

Governments Should Harness the Untapped Power of Social Media Influencers

Dr Lukasz Porwol is the E-Government Deputy Unit Leader at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG)

His research work focuses on leveraging digital technologies such as social media and virtual reality (VR) to support effective communication, collaboration, and co-creation; particularly in the context of e-Participation, e-Governance, and Media Convergence.

Lukasz is an experienced leader, consultant, and a data architect who has been working with politicians, decision-makers, and business representatives on various e-Participation initiatives. He has over 10 years of experience in working and coordinating work in various European Commission and Enterprise-funded research and innovation projects mainly in the domain of e-Participation, open data and cloud computing.

In this exclusive chat with MarTech Vibe, Lucasz speaks at-length about social media initiatives that governments can undertake, the emerging trend of using VR for communication by governments, the overall use of technology and social media by governments, and much more. Excerpts from the email conversation:

1. What can governments do to increase spontaneous citizen discussions on social media platforms?

Governments should harness the largely untapped power of social media influencers to ensure better dissemination and more trust in the government’s initiatives. The influencers can act as an effective intermediary in government-to-citizen communications, bringing policy-making closer to the citizens. Instead of focusing on institutional communication on social media, governments should leverage its power for more personal links.

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For instance, it is observed that personal accounts of popular journalists outperform their organisation’s official accounts in terms of popularity, engagement, and influence. The same applies to representatives of corporate entities in other domains.

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2. How do you see governments driving engagement through e-participations channels?

E-Participation should transform from government-led to citizen-led initiatives. In other words, governments should “go to the places where citizens meet” rather than encouraging dedicated e-participation channels. While competing with social media for citizens’ attention, dedicated e-Participation solutions might not be very effective. If e-Participation channels are to survive, they must be incorporated with existing popular channels. Alternately, e-Participation can also ensure seamless integration with popular channels for better user experience.

3. What are the challenges in harnessing social media-based citizen-led political deliberations for policymaking?

The key challenge here revolves around citizen-representation. It is difficult to ensure a constructive discourse and participation of users who are actual constituents of the representatives of the government. Politicians and decision-makers want to engage with the people residing in their constituency and aren’t interested in interaction with global, anonymous audience; the former is difficult to achieve owing to the anonymity and universal access to social media channels. Therefore, the parties involved in deliberations on popular media do not know “whom are they talking to”, add to that the frequent trolling and unconstructive, emotional responses by random “bystanders” who engage in political conversations. Moreover, many groups of citizens are underrepresented on social media; it stems from the digital divide, language barriers, and other factors making digital media exclusive to tech-savvy individuals. Finally, the limited expressivity of the text-based channels creates a significant communication barrier that can be only alleviated by incorporation of additional audio-visual and VR channels.

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4. How can technology support e-participation?

Technology can support e-Participation on two basic levels:

  • Communication Channel
  • Audience Management

Communication channel relates to the need of giving existing social media channels more expressivity and going beyond asynchronous textual communication. Major investments by companies like Facebook, which acquired the VR technology leader – Oculus, followed by major consumer VR headsets releases (Rift, Oculus Go and Oculus Quest), create new opportunities to help social media gain new communication dimension. The emerging VR and AR technologies have been argued in the scientific literature to provide more trusted and more effective communication and hence providing a space for more constructive e-Participation.

5. Tell us more about your latest research revolves use of VR in social media, and for communication for governments.

VR is set to dominate social media communications within a decade or so. So it does not come as a surprise to see a social media leader like Facebook, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp platforms, be a leading investor in VR technologies. At recent conferences organised by the company, it has been disclosed that the executives aim to bring 1 billion people into VR. There are new television live-shows designed to include AR (augmented reality) and VR for more audience participation. It is only a matter of time before the governments follow suit, in particular social VR for e-Participation and bringing the governance to an entirely new level of government-to-citizen partnership.

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My late research focuses on harnessing the opportunities brought by VR, especially social VR technologies for e-Participation but also business communication and education. My investigation considers the overall convergence of communication inside VR environments where all types of communication can be effectively simulated – whether existing textual and video as well as face-to-face. My early trials and experiments provided some positive premises to further explore the topic of immersive-communication-based group interactions. The inspiration for my research came from experience, where I tried to put many different people in VR and see how they communicate. I performed social VR-based sessions with friends, researchers, and students in various context. I run a couple of experimental training sessions with Mendeley and Elsevier – one of the leading scientific publishing companies. Finally, I have put even my parents in VR, and to my surprise, their first encounter in VR was smooth and exciting! Those early experiences make me very hopeful for future progress in leveraging those technologies for daily communication and going way beyond communication towards multimodal interactions.

6. What can delegates expect from your presentation at the Social Media for Governance Summit?

My presentation will focus on pointing out the key challenges in effective social media-based e-Participation and showing means of alleviating the major barriers hindering effective government-to-citizen dialogue by applying new methods, frameworks, and emerging-technology-based tools. I shall draw from my experiences as a senior researcher as well as consultant and Europan H2020 project leader dealing with media convergence and social media. In my talk, I shall discuss both socio-technical as well as legal ways of ensuring more effective governance via social media. I will provide major policy recommendations and finish with some suggestions on possible investments into specific frameworks and technologies.

This is the first part of Lucasz Porwol’s interview with MarTech Vibe. To read the second part, click here. 

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