In his latest VLog (http://is.gd/bTIJZ), @cheeky_geeky (Mark Drapeau) asks those of us who work with government why we would use what he calls an unreliable service (Twitter and Facebook) on official government websites providing these services with a de facto endorsement. I think Mark clearly knows the answer. I think the fact that he is asking it now has more to do with the fact that he now works with Microsoft than anything else. It’s not just government that uses these services, obviously, Microsoft, IBM, etc. use them as well. It’s where the people are. And the fact that they are free has a lot to do with that.
Several years ago, when I noticed Twitter, it struck me immediately as a service that had business value for government. I immediately started using it with the idea that it provided an extremely fast way to communicate with people, both selectively and non-selectively. It was something that government needed to do, but still had not resolved. We had seen many costly services that proposed to do the same thing, but none with the same potential as Twitter. When some of our emergency management people became aware of Twitter, it was an immediate attraction for the same reason. The fact that people could subscribe via multiple channels such as SMS and RSS was a huge bonus. And although government follower numbers can’t compete with those of celebrities, growth has been regular and steady. I also provides a very convenient way to communicate with traditional media.
I was more reluctant with Facebook. I think the same can be said for most government people. What struck me last year was when I joined the Salt Lake City Facebook network and it had over 300,000 people. Since then, that number has grown significantly. The sheer numbers associated with Facebook make it a channel we cannot ignore. When I first looked, one of our state parks, Bear Lake State Park, had put up a Facebook site and it had attracted over 12,000 followers.
With these facts staring us in the face, we determined that a shared social media strategy was essential to our success. We also wanted to make sure that content was not leaking away from our official site, so that if an agency posted something solely on Facebook for example, a citizen who chose not to join Facebook could still obtain that information. With that in mind, we developed our social media guidelines, a policy regarding supported social media platforms, a Facebook, aggregator, a Twitter aggregator, and our social media portal at Connect.Utah.gov.
The fact that long-standing companies like Microsoft and IBM now want a bigger piece of the social media pie doesn’t change any of the reasons why we joined Twitter or Facebook in the first place. And the service from both Twitter and Facebook has been more than acceptable. In fact, if you look at the overall ROI, I would say it is excellent. So, no – we aren’t likely to stop using Twitter or Facebook anytime soon.
And this doesn’t reflect anything about MS or IBM, we use many services from both companies and probably will for quite a while into the future.