Get access

A Three-Stage Adoption Process for Social Media Use in Government


  • Ines Mergel is assistant professor of public administration and international affairs in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is a senior research fellow in the Center for Technology and Information Policy and the Campbell Institute of Public Affairs. Her research focuses on the adoption tactics and strategies of new technologies in the public sector. She frequently blogs about these topics at http://inesmergel. E-mail:

  • Stuart I. Bretschneider is the Maxwell Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs and the Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University. He is also director of the Center for Technology and Information Policy. His research focuses on information technology in government, revenue forecasting, public management, environmental policy, and science and technology policy. E-mail:


Social media applications are slowly diffusing across all levels of government. The organizational dynamics underlying adoption and use decisions follow a process similar to that for previous waves of new information and communication technologies. The authors suggest that the organizational diffusion of these types of new information and communication technologies, initially aimed at individual use and available through markets, including social media applications, follows a three-stage process. First, agencies experiment informally with social media outside of accepted technology use policies. Next, order evolves from the first chaotic stage as government organizations recognize the need to draft norms and regulations. Finally, organizational institutions evolve that clearly outline appropriate behavior, types of interactions, and new modes of communication that subsequently are formalized in social media strategies and policies. For each of the stages, the authors provide examples and a set of propositions to guide future research.