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Social Media: Is it Worth it?

As the Information Age progresses and is still in its infancy, the transfer of information has become nearly instant. Government has been using Twitter and Facebook to connect with its constituents, though some say that social media in government is unnecessary. Others suggest that government should serve citizens the best way possible, including utilizing social media.

Leonard Sipes, a Senior Public Affairs Specialist and Social Media Manager for the US federal government, mulls over the question of if there is enough worthwhile buzz from social media to justify its widespread departmental use. In his article, “Yearning for a Quality Web Experience”, he argues that traffic to an organization’s website via social media “rarely happens … even if they share a personal or professional interest.”
Sipes believes that, if there’s time and room in a bottom line, using social media is worthwhile and should be considered as an engagement tool - but in a measured way.
Not everyone agrees that social media is limited in its importance. Kevin Lanahan, who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said “social media seemed to fit the bill” for his department; he believes social media is an important part of a government agency’s interaction with constituents.

“We now receive more questions through Facebook than our ombudsman does by phone, mail, and email combined. We have one-to-many responses instead of just one-to-one responses, and when we are not at our desks, other fans frequently crowd-source the answers. And they do it correctly most of the time.”

Sipes’ capped the conversation by recommending that agencies seeking to conserve resources should use social media in a manner that is neither expensive nor time consuming.

Mark Capaldini, Executive Vice President for GovDelivery, in a piece entitled “The Changing Role of Government,” wondered whether government should be an information provider via social media or other outlets:

Is “service and information provider” a potential new role for government? Would you like to see your local government provide a way to connect with your neighbors and other local residents to help resolve concerns or problems?

Mark Thatchell, the Strategic Information Management Executive Director for the Ministry of Labour in British Columbia, believes social media should be part of every organization’s communications plan. Thatchell said:

“If we have learned anything from gov 2.0 it is that citizen centric services and sharing information/data with citizens to enable their participation and collaboration are both vital elements for open government … information/data sharing may be another service government delivers that helps citizens make informed choices and engage more robustly with government.”

Of course, using tools to communicate with the public is nothing new. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” If FDR was correct in his assessment -- that education is the key to preserving democracy -- then social media seems to be one more valid tool to educate and engage with the citizenry.

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