The Social Media Center (SMC)
New Media Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Emergence of a new communication paradigm and changes in the municipal policy environment In any democratic society, public policies must be made through constant interaction between administrative organizations and civil society throughout the processes of enactment, implementation, and evaluation of policies. For quite some time, the interaction was mediated by the mass media across the world. However, the widespread use of social media enabling the creation and exchange of user-generated content has allowed direct communication between citizens without a third-party interference. The social media population is surging in Korea in line with the rapid increase of smart device users. 33 million out of 49 million Koreans use smart devices as of January 2013, and they can communicate with administrative organizations anytime, anywhere. Traditional means of communication out of sync with changes in the policy environment In 2010, in keeping with changes in the policy environment, the Seoul Metropolitan Government launched its social networking services on Twitter, me2day (a microblogging and social networking service in Korea), and Facebook. Its major departments also opened their own SNS accounts. Nonetheless, the municipal government was not yet ready to take full advantage of the social media. It used the media only as an extension of its mass media, focusing on informing citizens of changes in municipal policies instead of engaging in two-way communication. Such passive use of the new media by the municipal government was seriously challenged in July 2011 when heavy rains flooded the city’s major boulevard, Gwanghwamun, and caused a severe landslide in the communities around Umyeonsan Mountain in Southern Seoul. The following morning, a newspaper headline read, “Seoul has become a sea”. Citizens took photos of the natural disaster and posted them on social media. The city government failed to respond to the various postings and that fact added fuel to citizens’ criticism of the municipal government’s inability to deal with natural disasters. Increasing citizens’ desire to participate in municipal administration through social media and city government’s unpreparedness to meet their needs On October 27, 2011, a new mayor, Park Won Soon, a famous civic activist, was inaugurated. He held his inauguration ceremony online. He was also accustomed to communicating with citizens through SNS. He was soon called the “Twitter mayor”. His followers, most of whom were aged 40 or younger, sent him numerous ideas and opinions about the city’s administration. Previously, they rarely participated in municipal administration, but because of mobile devices and social media, they could take the time to participate in municipal administration. Citizens’ willingness to participate via SNS kept increasing. From January to October 2012, over 30,000 opinions and proposals were posted on the mayor’s SNS account. The city government simply lacked a system to respond to such a large number of posts. Only one percent or 3,000 postings were answered. Many of them were requests for immediate repairs of public properties like sidewalk blocks. The city government was forced to make fundamental changes in the way it used its social media.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The policy platform of the 35th mayor of Seoul is “Citizens’ Participation and Cooperation based on Listening and Communication”. He regards “listening and communication” as the driving force behind citizens’ participation and cooperation. At the city government’s policy meeting held on November 9, 2011, he asked department heads to take full advantage of social media and to continue to listen to the citizens. The Head of Public Communications Bureau suggests building an SNS hub Following the mayor’s request to make full use of social media, the Public Communications Bureau, which is in charge of social media in the city government, proposed building of a social media hub for the entire city government. The bureau suggested the idea to the mayor in its annual report in January 2012. With the mayor’s approval, the SMC (Social Media Center) was set up, integrating the operations of the city government’s multiple SNS accounts. Building the SMC into the hub for the city government’s SNS communication with citizens The city government completed the setup of the SMC in September 2012. The SMC began operating in November. It integrated the mayor’s account and 44 additional SNS accounts run by 31 departments of the city government. The SMC receives and assigns citizens’ SNS postings to the relevant departments, which reviews, responds, and discloses everything to the public on the web immediately. Setting up an emergency communication system in the SMC Through the flood damage in the summer of 2011, the city government knew that citizens were eager to check disaster news and updates through social media. Thus, it set up in the SMC an emergency communication system that would issue disaster warnings and alerts, as well as recommended actions in emergencies. Since then, in a number of cases, the SMC has been able to issue consistent weather warnings and alerts to citizens, who have in turn retweeted the SMC messages to others and made reports on developments around them. Introducing the “SNS-based City Administration” and implementing it through the SMC The new administration of Seoul has adopted the concept of an “SNS-based City Administration” and implemented it through its SMC. It has actively coped with the changing policy environment driven by rapid developments in information and communications technology. Thus, it has put in place one of the world’s best-quality two-way communication systems with its constituency via SNS.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Expanding citizens’ participation in municipal administration through the popularity of SNS communication The initiative of Seoul is noteworthy as the city government sharply increased citizens’ participation through social media, instead of its traditional means of communication. The efforts of the city government are also significant since there was no precedent for an arrangement like the SMC in the world. In October 2013, a group consisting of renowned experts in communication and administration highly rated the city’s SNS-based administration. It strongly recommended the dissemination of the model to the public and private sectors of the country. Upgrading policy feedback and emergency communication through real-time, interactive communication Seoul Metropolitan Government was able to revolutionize its policy feedback and emergency communication systems through the SMC, allowing real-time, interactive communication with a great number of citizens. The city government can now analyze in real time what policy issues interest the citizens at any given moment and utilize these results to improve and impact policies. A good example is the “operations of all-night buses” launched in April 2013 as a result of citizens’ SNS requests. Citizens greatly appreciated the service. The SMC found out that citizens and visitors were having difficulties moving around late at night. They received plenty of complaints about buses right before buses stopped operating. Furthermore, there were additional complaints about taxis after midnight because taxi drivers became very picky about whom was picked up.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Mock snow removal based on SNS messages (December 2012) In December 2012, the city government created the hashtag #Seoul Snow Removal and conducted a mock snow removal. Through this, Seoul was ready for immediate actions based on emergency SNS messages. Additionally, citizens were prepared to respond to emergency messages, retweet them, and make reports themselves. As a result, the city government effectively dealt with a snowstorm in January 2012. Checking the entire city government’s SNS sites and preparing procedures to handle citizens’ SNS messages (January 2012) Based on a survey on all SNS sites run by its different departments, the city government saw the need to set up an integrated SNS channel. The city government began to process systematically citizens’ opinions posted on the mayor’s Twitter account in preparation for the SMC procedures of : content classification → assignment to departments → designation of personnel in charge → reviews → response. Forming the “SNS Strategy Meeting” participated in by nine departments (February ~ March 2012) The city government formed the “SNS Strategy Team” with representatives from nine departments including New Media, Public Communications, Information System, Disaster and Emergency, and Civil Service. The SNS Strategy Team had its inaugural meeting on Feb. 9, 2012, and 11 additional meetings until Mar. 29, 2012. Launching a pilot SNS project to prepare against storms and floods (June ~ October 2012) The city government developed “Guidelines for SNS Communication with Citizens in preparation against Storms and Floods.” Such enabled the city to cope with weather disasters more effectively in the summer of 2012. Establishing the Social Media Center (September 2012) The city government established the SMC in September 2012 within six months of starting relevant discussions. The initiative was able to fully utilize the electronic infrastructure of the municipal government led by the Information System Planning Division. Implementing education and completing SNS message handling procedures (October 2012) The city government implemented an education program on the details of the SMC operations and published procedures for the operations of the SMC. Launching SMC operations (November 1, 2012) The city government launched the operations of the SMC on Nov. 1, 2012. The SMC received 20,742 SNS postings for a year until October 31, 2013 and handled 100% of them. Developing “Seoul’s Guidelines for SNS Communication in Emergencies” (November 2012) The city government developed “Seoul’s Guidelines for SNS Communication in Emergencies.” The completed guidelines can be applied to a total of 55 different types of disasters in the city. So far, 90 emergency messages have been issued by the SMC. Citizens diligently retweeted the messages and posted their own reports. Signing of MoU between Seoul Metropolitan Government and Twitter Korea on the establishment of LIFELINE (July 2013) The city government signed an MoU with Twitter Korea on the establishment of LIFELINE wherein anyone can check information on fatalities, missing persons, and property damage on websites or via mobile devices in real time in case of disasters in the city.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Citizens who were given few opportunities to participate in offline-centered city administrations Citizens must be primarily credited with the realization of a social media-based open city administration. Previously, young constituents aged 40 or below hardly had time to participate in city administration offline due to their commitments. Now that they can participate through social media and they are voicing their opinions like never before. Following the inauguration of Mayor Park Won Soon, citizens began to send their opinions on various topics including housing, urban planning, city facilities, traffic, and the environment via SNS messages. Prior to the setup of the SMC, the mayor’s SNS account received more than 30,000 postings in a year, indicating citizens’ sharply increasing desire to participate. The situation confirmed that SNS communications were a very effective means of communication between the city government and young citizens in particular. Civil servants accepting significant changes in the way they deliver public service Initially, public servants were reluctant to accept the new idea since they did not want to present their official positions on various topics in a much shorter period of time, among others concerns. To address their concerns, the city government offered 32 educational sessions between 2011 and 2013. On November 1, 2012, it published the “Regulations on SNS Civil Service” to help them with their daily duties. The public servants relented. Now, they handle as many as 500 SNS messages per day. They regard citizens’ SNS messages as citizens’ official participation in municipal governance. Full commitment to communication with citizens by the mayor, a former civic activist Mayor Park fully recognized the value of SNS communication early on. He considered it a significant tool to realize his values: communication, collaboration, and participation. He continued to emphasize the importance of social media in public service among civil servants and asked them to increase its use in their daily public service. He came up with the idea of building an integrated platform for SNS services in the city government. From his inauguration to the dedication of SMC, he reiterated the importance of communication with citizens via SNS on several public occasions.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Social media costs very little. Seoul had extensive experiences running e-government services. The city government has set up an economically effective SNS-based public service system. Financial resources - launching SMC with the minimum budget required to build a website On November 9, 2011, a high-level meeting of the city government decided to boost the use of SNS as a new means of communication with citizens. On January 17, 2012, a decision was made on the setup of an integrated platform for various SNS accounts throughout the city government. The budget for 2012 was set in 2011, but had difficulties reflecting the expenditures in the 2011 budget. The city government’s Information System Bureau agreed to fund the initiative with its budget for maintaining the city government’s website. The city government set up the SMC with a small amount of money equivalent to that required to build an ordinary website for a company. Despite the cost it was a very sophisticated system that could collect messages from a few sources like Twitter, Facebook, and blogs and automatically assign the messages to related departments. Technical resources - making use of private channel and existing e-government infrastructure The city government applied the online civil service procedures designed for its e-government to the operations of the SMC, which has sharply reduced the time required to process citizens’ petitions. Previously, the assignment of SNS postings on 44 SNS sites to relevant departments took a day or two. Now, the SMC does the job much faster as it collects all postings, eliminates repeated messages or retweets, and sends messages that should be handled by district offices for “Citizens’ Grievance Redress System” before assigning the rest to departments in the city government. The SMC is connected to the city’s intranet portal, and allows officials in their respective departments to handle their SNS postings on their individual computers. This has helped reduce officials’ reluctance to accept additional SMC-related workloads. Human resources - collaboration between a social media expert and relevant departments To promote SNS-friendly municipal administration more efficiently, the city government hired a social media expert as A Special Adviser to the Mayor in New Media. The adviser played a key role in the “SNS Strategy Team” composed of representatives of nine city departments. The team worked out the framework of the SMC. Following the setup of the SMC, the SMC Operation Team was formed with the special adviser and heads of various departments offering public service directly to citizens. They have maintained robust cooperative relations among themselves.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Motivating citizens to increase their participation in city administration In line with citizens increasing daily use of smartphones, citizens can express their views on the city government’s policies anytime, anywhere. From November 1, 2012 to October 31, 2013, the SMC received a total of 20,742 postings from citizens. They range from serious suggestions on policies to personal difficulties in life. At the end of the day, through the operations of the SMC, the city administration has gained the citizens’ trust. The city government has valued citizens’ input highly, done its very best to respond to each and every one of the citizens’ messages, and disclosed all postings and responses to the citizens. The SMC has contributed a great deal in fostering the cooperative relations between the city government and citizens based on the “sharing of information and participation in governance”. Reforming the SNS message handling processes Prior to the setup of the SMC, various departments checked the SNS messages posted on the mayor’s personal SNS account and gave an individual response to the senders. The SMC allows civil servants to answer virtually all SNS messages and shares both messages and replies with everybody, fostering a serious change in city administration. All of the information is disclosed to citizens via SNS in real time. Institutionalizing the SNS message handling procedures for the first time in the country On November 1, 2012, for the first time in Korea the city government put into effect the “Regulations on SNS Civil Service”, a legal basis for public service on SNS. The regulations helped reduce civil servants’ reluctance to accept SNS-based public service. The regulations became a model for the “Guidelines for the Operations of SNS-based Civil Service Windows” by Korea’s Ministry of Safety and Public Administration announced on April 11, 2013. Establishing an emergency & disaster warning and alert system that encourages citizens participation In the summer and winter of 2012, the city government used SNS to spread its emergency & disaster warnings and alerts. In summer, it also established guidelines for emergency & disaster warnings and alerts via social media. Now, the SMC is equipped with a full emergency warning and an alert feature that effectively issues emergency warnings and alerts to citizens through the 44 city government SNS accounts.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Implementing auditors’ evaluation semiannually The “Regulations on SNS Civil Service” require citizens’ simple expression of opinions or requests for routine civil service to be processed within 3 hours, matters requiring relevant officials’ reviews, within 3 days, and suggestions on municipal policies, within 5 days. The city government’s auditors conduct audits semiannually. They issue corrective measures to departments that have failed to comply with any part of the regulations. The city government has also issued an SMC manual containing sample responses to citizens’ SNS messages. These examples have helped improve the quality of officials’ responses considerably. Implementing weekly and monthly monitoring and offering incentives The city government closely monitors its various departments’ performance in dealing with citizens’ SNS messages weekly and monthly. It analyzes the postings based on areas of interest and departments concerned and looks into their response rates. Twice a year, it presents Mayor’s Awards to officials who have excelled in handling citizens’ SNS postings and names them “Excellent Communicators”. Furthermore, they use data on citizens’ areas of concern and share the information with the entire city government body. The city government regularly analyzes citizens’ input registered with the SMC to identify citizens’ major areas of concern to effectively use the data A great advantage to utilizing an SMC is that it gives the city government specific data about growing concerns in real time. For instance, according to the analysis of keywords in citizens’ SNS messages between November 1, 2012 and October 31, 2013, citizens’ main interest was transportation: bus (994 times), taxi (972 times), subway (678 times), and road (212 times) in order of appearance in SNS postings followed by housing, safety, and environment projects (244 times), the tearing down of slum houses (235 times), and waste (218 times). The results were shared with all the departments of the city government so that they can take preemptive policy actions, especially seasonal arrangements for relevant issues.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Obstacles ① Having no precedents and overcoming technical challenges The city government could not find a precedent. It had to create a model for the SMC on its own. Technically, integrating a number of SNS channels like Twitter and Facebook into a single system was challenging. ② Overcoming internal resistance to changes in public service patterns Responding to citizens’ SNS messages means that civil servants must review citizens’ opinions, make decisions on them, and send out answers publicly and immediately. They were reluctant to cooperate for two reasons. First, handling SNS messages meant additional workload for them. Second, responding to SNS messages within a relatively short period of time is difficult since some issues need serious consideration. Approaches Persuading civil servants that their efforts are required for an e-government and that it is inevitable in this social media era The city government convinced officials that it is an extension of the electronic civil service required for the completion of e-government being built by the city. The mayor reiterated that SNS service was inevitable in this era of social media. Through regular education on social media, civil servants gradually opened up to the new media and committed themselves to the realization of the new city administration’s values through the SMC. Overcoming the obstacles Preparing the relevant regulations and planning for improvements The city government issued the “Regulations on SNS Civil Service” to encourage officials to engage in SNS-based public service more actively. Through education, it facilitated acceptance of the service by officials while enhancing their abilities to handle SNS responses. The city government will further expedite SNS message handling by the SMC. The center will use the city government’s database and simplify the handling of simple SNS messages/queries starting January 2014. That way, various departments involved in SNS responses will be able to focus more on messages with significant implications. They will be able to spend more time and resources before issuing responses to the significant and difficult messages.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Timely setup of the necessary policies and immediate checking of citizens’ responses Through SNS postings, the city government has been able to identify citizens’ main concerns in real time and take countermeasures promptly. For instance, it has introduced arrangements such as “Operations of All-night Buses”, “Hospitals offering 24-hour Patient Care”, and “Housing Rental Support Centers” based on citizens’ suggestions on social media. The SMC also allows the city government to check citizens’ reactions to the government’s new policies through social media’s interactive communication features. The feedback feature of social media brings about not just a hotline between the city government and citizens, but has significant results as well. Transcending the limits of the city government’s administrative power with citizens’ participation Through SNS, citizens request repairs of public facilities, such as traffic lights, street lamps, or sidewalk blocks. Additionally they can file complaints about public transportation service or make suggestions on matters previously discussed rarely by phone, on the website, or in person. The SMC has received a large number of postings on housing, safety, and environment ranging from public transportation to the tearing down of slum houses to waste and construction projects. It helps the city administration a great deal. Without the SMC, the city government could never have covered all those things with administrative power alone. Moreover, in emergencies, citizens have retweeted the city government’s warnings and alerts to their fellow citizens. Thus ensuring that critical messages are checked by as many citizens as possible within a very short period of time. The active use of SNS by the city government has helped it expand its administrative reach like never before. Expanding younger generations’ participation and boosting citizens’ rights Users of social media in Seoul are citizens aged 50 or younger, with those in their 20s and 30s constituting the largest proportion of users. They hardly voiced their opinions offline, simply because they could not take time off their studies or work. Now, they readily participate in city administration as a result of the city government’s continuous efforts to cope with the smart administration environment. Through the expanded opportunities via the SMC to express their views, they have actively participated in municipal administration; the total number of SNS postings by citizens for a year from November 1, 2012 to October 31, 2013 exceeded 20,000 (20,742). The city government has dealt with all citizens’ postings in the most transparent way possible. The interaction between the city government and citizens through SMC for the past year has taught citizens how to raise issues with various problems they perceive with the city administration. It has also contributed to boosting citizens’ rights to participate in municipal administration while increasing citizens’ self-confidence in participation in governance.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The SMC boosts communication with citizens and increases the administration’s credibility Social media is already changing not only the way people obtain information, but also how they live their lives. Modern society is moving toward “collective intelligence,” enabling people to continue creating values through sharing. By definition, it should be an open, transparent society. The city government’s establishment of the SMC is in sync with the mandate of the current era. The operations of the SMC enhance the municipal administration’s sustainability. The central government led by President Park Geun Hye has adopted the Government 3.0 Plan wherein it discloses information on state affairs to the public as much as possible, collects people’s opinions more aggressively, and promotes cooperation with the private sector actively. All governments central or local must work toward completely transparent governance. Expanding public service through citizens’ cooperation with social media economically Citizens’ demand for participation in administration has increased due to advancements in communication, democratization, technology, and media. Now, a change in the governance paradigm has emerged. Participatory administration has developed through attempts at diverse forms of citizens’ participation. In a sense, governments have adopted participatory administration to offer constituents better public service at virtually no additional cost. The SMC lets citizens participate in municipal administration round the clock. It is a good tool for promoting participatory administration among citizens yet costs the city government very little, as social media incurs an almost nominal cost. Someday, citizens’ media preference may change. Yet keeping up with the change will not likely cost the city government a lot either. It is definitely a strong advantage of utilizing social media. Thus, the initiative is very solid in terms of financial sustainability. Disseminating the initiative to the central government and other local governments Many public agencies and private companies have benchmarked the city administration’s success in boosting communication with citizens via SNS. Some of them have even adopted the city administration’s “Regulations on SNS Public Service”. On April 10, 2013, the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration issued its “Guidelines for the Operation of SNS Public Service Windows” to its numerous agencies nationwide so that the public can express their views with greater ease and public agencies can respond to them with greater speed. The ministry consulted with the city government in the processes of both preparation and review. Korea Forest Service is implementing similar regulations, and so is Yeongdeungpo-gu in Seoul. Gyeonggi Province and KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) have benchmarked the city government’s SMC operations. Each is building its own integrated social media platform. On November 21, 2013, Seoul Metropolitan Government was awarded the Grand Prize among the 20 regional and local governments in the country by the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration for its operations of the SMC and use of SNS in enabling its citizens to request public service via social media.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Confirming the potential for a new type of governance The successful operations of the SMC in Seoul have proven the possibility of using social media as a type of platform for citizens’ participation in governance. It is a significant sign that citizen-based governance, not a technocrat-driven one, may soon prevail. It is the direction that the city administration plans to pursue continuously down the road. Securing a system mobilizing collective intelligence on a daily basis to deal with extremely complex municipal issues The interactive communication with citizens through the SMC has successfully drawn citizens’ voluntary participation in municipal administration virtually anytime, anywhere. It has succeeded in mobilizing the collective intelligence of the community on all issues on a daily basis. The city of Seoul has communicated with its citizens directly on a large scale and consequently found realistic, citizen-friendly solutions to various issues via SNS communication. Focusing on listening rather than talking Social media are self-centered by nature. A number of citizens on social media would like to talk about things happening around them rather than the big policy issues of the city government. Had the city government insisted on using social media as another vehicle of publicity to its citizens, it would have failed to draw citizens. Seoul Metropolitan Government has used its social networks to listen to citizens. That is mainly why citizens continue to send their opinions to the city government through the SMC. The SMC ensures that their personal observations or propositions can be evaluated in an open forum. In the process, the SMC can identify citizens’ major concerns and interests. The city government regularly carries out data mining to find and analyze citizens’ current major concerns and interests. It shares the results with relevant departments and reflects them on policies preemptively. Dealing with citizens’ grievances in advance to get rid of conflict causes The SMC receives complaints and grievances about the city administration from citizens, as well as their ideas to address current issues. Seoul Metropolitan Government has patiently listened to their voices. It has done its very best to solve the problems to their satisfaction as quickly as possible. City administration has gained the citizens’ trust. Without the SMC, their angry voices would move from one social networking site to another, causing a snowball effect among citizens. Citizens tend to react to public policies in one form or another. In the age of social media, their reaction starts the minute a policy is announced. Now, a government must find out their anticipated reaction to a policy before it is finalized and announced. That way, it can eliminate conflict causes in advance while maximizing citizens’ satisfaction. A government can benefit a lot from using social media properly. Seoul Metropolitan Government has set up the SMC, engaged in two-way communication with its citizens, and realized preemptive crisis management in many instances already.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   New Media Division, Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Su Jin Lee
Title:   Manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-2133-6498
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   110,Sejong-daero, Jung-gu, Seoul, Korea
Postal Code:   100-744
City:   Seoul

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