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Research reveals the role mediators play in government social media comms


There have been a few studies this year that have looked at the way misinformation spreads through our social networks.  Central to many of the findings emerging from these studies has been the role of key influencers in shaping opinion.  Indeed, one study found that when it comes to voicing political opinion on Twitter, we tend just to parrot the opinions of various influential voices, rather than air our own views.

A recent study suggests however that those influential voices may not be the news media.  The study focused its attention on the way the US State Department used social media to propagate messages to its audiences around the world.  It was particularly interesting to note how the media played its part in this process.

“News media tend to use social media in the old fashioned way,” the researchers explain. “They send out their reports like it was a broadcast—going one way. Communication on social media is a two-way street.”

“They need to engage people in the conversation,” they continued. “They need to recognize that not all users yield equal influence. Organizations need to strategically identify and empower social mediators as bridges that connect their various publics.”

Who are social mediators?

The research defines these social mediators as people or organizations that mediate relations between an organization and the public they hope to reach via social media.  In other words, they’re the accounts that will re-tweet or re-post material online.

“Communication via these social spaces, such as Twitter, depends more than ever upon the willingness of third parties to participate in content distribution in the form of retweets or content endorsement,” the researchers declare. “Twitter is a hybrid between mass communication and personal communication.”

The focus of this particular study was on the #SecClinton hashtag used by the State Department on Twitter.  The researchers explored the various engagement and curation techniques used by the account, gaining an excellent insight into the role mediators would play in funneling the information posted by the State Department to its intended audiences around the world.

Key findings

A number of key findings emerged from the study, including:

  • Engagement was high between users and mediators, but low between users and the news media, who primarily used social media to broadcast out messages.
  • These social mediators would often vary in their formality and interdependence from the State Department.  For instance, formal mediators could be other government agencies, whilst informal mediators could be NGOs or even individuals.
  • There were regional differences in how mediators would influence the relationship between the State Department and their audience.  In the Middle East and Africa for instance, informal mediators would be particularly influential, whereas formal mediators would play that role more in other parts of the world.

The researchers suggest that organizations could do more to fully understand the role mediators play in their own social media strategies, and adapt their behaviours based upon this understanding.  They go on to report the growing role social media is playing in the communication government agencies have with their audience, both at home and abroad.

If you work in this field then it’s an interesting report to check out.

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