A global transformation is happening and it has all to do with social media. Coined by Erik Qualman’s Socialnomics it represents “the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution.” But has this shift shaken the bowels of government? Are senior leaders buying into the social media phenomenon? The truth: senior leaders are often resistant to altering the way information is conveyed, despite the public’s yearning for active engagement.
Part of what makes the U.S. unique is in our advancement of good governance through citizen participation. Yet this doesn’t achieve much unless people’s voices are heard by receptive ears. For social media to impact government bureaucracies, it must be coupled by changes in the way government institutions work. But it’s not enough to just setup profiles and sit back for a response. Integrating social media is a process much like anything else in government; it requires a strategy, sustained leadership, the will to connect with the people, and dedication of resources.
Despite the “known” implications for social media—communication, transparency, and collaboration—senior leaders are often naive as to how social media can maximize their role in government. They must achieve performance outcomes and increase accountability; communicate across boundaries and hierarchies; coordinate internal and external functions, and; maximize efficiency and effectiveness to the public. Engaging the public through social media—like Twitter and online polling to survey citizens, or Facebook to highlight news, information and events—can place social leaders at the helm of this revolution in government.
Don’t get me wrong. Success of social media use is not a guarantee. It cannot simply change the mentality of leaders who don’t view the citizen as a valued participant of government, nor can the best strategy accomplish this. The change factor lies in the leader. It lies in those with a vision and understanding of good governance. We need buy-in from the top and participation from the bottom to fully achieve collaboration with social media. While the jury is still out and senior leaders are hesitant to adopt social media, where do we go from here?
Leila Sadeghi, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor with the Center for Executive Leadership in Government, at Rutgers University.