Social Media: Changing the Game for Government

This week I heard yet another person tell me that as a government employee she was discouraged from using social media.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. While working for a municipality some years ago, I brought a laptop to my office in order to expedite my work.

While granted this was before the mainstream office use of computers and the laptop did cover most of my desk surface, I wasn’t commended for my initiative.

Instead I was told that if I didn’t remove the computer, a grievance would be filed against me by the union.

Not known for being early adopters, governments haven’t always tapped the potential of technology and social media.

It’s frustrating for many because social media really is an essential vehicle that should be part of every government’s communication strategy.

It used to be that government, non-profits and businesses were doing well if they had a website, ensured their stakeholders knew their URL, and made sure SEO (Search Engine Optimization) was a priority.

However, social media has changed the game and, for government especially, it should be viewed as a means of supporting interaction that will increase engagement and tap the collective wisdom of their stakeholders.

If they aren’t doing it already, governments should be using social media to put a human face on government, reach new audiences with information and services, act as a catalyst for conversations, and surface and solve issues.

Social media tools such as blogs (e.g. WordPress, Blogger), micro-blogs (e.g. Twitter), social networks (e.g. Facebook, Linked-In), video and photo sharing (e.g. YouTube, Viddler, Flickr) etc. are an inexpensive and effective way to promote participatory, transparent, and collaborative government.

Stakeholders can share, create or co-create content, and then edit, rate, comment, and discuss it.

Not only are blogs, Facebook posts, and real-time tweets inexpensive, they can be applied by government departments and agencies to recruit staff and volunteers, discuss topical or controversial issues, get input on policies or planning initiatives, and share information and resources.

More specifically, social media tools are being used by some governments to advise of emergencies (fires, earthquakes, floods), provide news updates, weather information. general website updates, fires, crime watches, fugitive alerts, AmberAlerts, utilities interruptions, traffic, road construction, reminders to file taxes, event invitations, outreach, education, training, to gather public input to surface issues and help solve them, share job postings, conduct virtual town hall meetings, promote new funding programs, and more.

The challenge for governments is that they will need to ensure there are policy guidelines for laying out how staff should and shouldn’t use social media to communicate with citizens and with each other.

Given that government needs to be active in the social media sphere, guidelines will ensure what is and what isn’t acceptable.

However even with policies in place, senior bureaucrats will have to trust their staff and let go of the idea that they can retain control. Because, ultimately that’s why social media is so powerful.

Social media tools ensure everyone has a voice.  And not just any voice.

Social media provides one heck of a soapbox and one very large megaphone so that voice can be heard.

Posted on 07-09-12

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