Profile photo of John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

The Surf’s Up! German Local Authorities And Social Media

7. June 2011 – 11:44 by John Heaven (TuTech Innovation GmbH)
picture of a ship

Photo by Wrote on Flickr

Like their counterparts worldwide, local authorities in Germany are working out how to surf the web in something that is more like a huge ship than a surfboard, and how to provide something that surfers want instead of intruding on what they are doing and making them flee for the safety of the beach. As one PEP-NET Member, the City of Hamburg, publishes its social media guidelines, I review social media in German public administration.


The current issue of Kommune 21, a German E-Government magazine, gives a good overview of the social media landscape in Germany. There is a piece on Stuttgart’s comprehensive strategy for integrating several social media tools to ensure that their message gets to its target audience whilst remaining open to feedback; the City of Moers is also trying out several social media tools and has developed social media guidelines; and the City of Braunschweig reports how it has helped create a community of equals, Facebook users who exchange insider tips on which restaurants and cafés to go to.

However, Germany is well known for its suspicion of anyone who attempts to collect their data, whether the state’s pre-emptive collection of telephone records or Google’s photographing people’s houses for Street View. (Try taking a tour of a German residential area on Google Street View and you will see that many people have had their houses blurred out.) This issue will not go away, what with the increasing importance of cloud computing and the wealth of online applications that we use day to day. So Datenschutz, or data protection, is high on the agenda and warrants a place in all social media guidelines, including Hamburg’s.

Hamburg’s recently published guidelines explain some of the most common tools, describing social media use by German local authorities and providing examples of scenarios in which social media could be used. The case studies come from across Germany and indeed from across the world: from San Francisco’s activities on Twitter to the Stadtwiki Karlsruhe via Maerker Brandenburg, the Fix My Street-like service that allows citizens to report problems to their local authority and view status updates online.

On top of that, the suggested scenarios illustrate what can be achieved with social media, and how to go about it. These fictional scenarios are: a directorate uses Facebook, a district office publicises times for vaccinations on Twitter, the Culture Directorate posts videos of cultural events on YouTube, the HR department uses XING to acquire new staff, a senior official blogs, and a directorate conducts a survey with SurveyMonkey.

Each of these scenarios is accompanied by a flowchart which really nails down the procedure that has to be gone through when setting up something as simple as a WordPress blog: the departments that have to be consulted, the problems that have to be anticipated, the extra work involved and issues that have to be considered. I found this part especially interesting because, although it may seem onerous to go through such a long procedure for setting up a Twitter account, I think it is right to be honest with the public and employees about the reality of social media within a large public sector organisation like Hamburg.

So there is a lot going on in Germany in the field of open government, which thanks to projects such as Apps 4 Berlin and Munich Open Government Day, which open data to the public and encourage enthusiasts to develop apps that make use of them, is not limited to social media use. Maybe more on that in a later blog post …

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , , , ,

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. Sep 26, 2011: PEP-NET » Blog Archive » Open Data in Germany and the UK

Post a Comment

The PEP-NET Blog uses the gravatar service to display your picture next to comments!