The Open Government Initiative set forth by the Obama Administration in 2009 requires Federal agencies to take immediate steps to achieve milestones in transparency, participation, and citizen collaboration. Most Federal, state, and local organizations have jumped on the social media bandwagon as a tool for communicating with citizens and making their agency’s goals transparent. However, the average American largely still feels disconnected from large impersonal agencies.
An excellent example of the inability of large organizations to genuinely connect with citizens is their Twitter feeds. Most agency Twitter feeds are merely pushing out information, not engaging in conversation. An article published by the Campaign for a Stronger Democracy, an independent group, noted “if you work for a government agency, and you’re interested in social media, ask yourself, can any average person name one person from your agency? If they can’t, you have failed at social media for your organization.”
It is not enough for organizations to merely develop a web presence and have information flowing one way, from the organization to the customer. Public affairs officials need to humanize an agency by putting a face on it and encourage conversations. The goal of the Initiative was to make citizens feel like large agencies care about what they have to say and erode the bureaucratic barrier. Information must flow freely in both directions. Few organizations have reached this level of sophistication with citizen engagement.
Complaint management is another challenge within government transparency. Citizens are taking to Twitter and Facebook to voice opinions on what’s not working in different programs. The volume of citizen feedback is enormous and it is impossible for CSR’s to manually respond to each. Currently, some agencies are making investments in customer service portals to simplify the process. This is a step in the right direction.
Moving forward, it is imperative for the government to humanize their agencies and use social media to initiate a two-way flow of information. The only way to make average citizens feel like their voice is being heard by government is to get a response, and an efficient complaint management system is essential for a multi-channel approach to customer service.