Last week I hosted a session for the BC Public Service community on the topic, ‘The Future of Social Media in Government,’ in which Steve Ressler was a guest presenter. As Steve has mentioned, I opened the session listing the top 10 reasons for why we shouldn’t use social media in government.
Being the Community Manager, this may have been a counter-intuitive strategy. I did it because if we, as advocates of social media, don’t acknowledge the whole story and challenges of what we’re promoting, the community is less likely to jump on board. People in our community are smart, and ask questions before committing to something. By recognizing the challenges, we can approach the use of social media in government with pragmatism.
So, here are 10 reasons I often hear for why we shouldn’t use social media in government, and how I typically respond.
1. The term ‘social media’ is too vague and people have different interpretations of the term. Also, we frequently use other terms that are along the same lines, such as collaborative media; gov 2.0; web 2.0. This is confusing. How can we embrace social media if we don’t know what it is?
Response: Yes, words often have different meanings. That’s why it’s important for us to talk, so that together, we can create a shared meaning and understanding of where we’re going in government in the realm of online tools. Join the discussion!
2. Existing methods work well, such as the phone and talking in person.
Response: Yeap they do. No one is saying that online communication is going to replace what we already have. Think of social media like a new pair of shoes. Really nice shoes.
3. Are we just jumping on the bandwagon?? This could just be a fad.
Response: Yes, it could be. But, at least it’s fun and worth a shot. If we fall off the wagon it might be a little embarrassing but, as a Community Manager, you can use me as a scapegoat.
4. Maybe it’s just fluff? Social media can be be detrimental, leading to gossip, personal soapboxes, and dumbing down of information.
Response: Well, I dunno, like, sometimes the water cooler chat is uh kinda less than stellar, like did you see the last episode of American idol? Simon is totally such a *&*#.
5. Aren’t there more important things to worry about, like homelessness? Why is this a priority?
Response: Social media will lead to increased organizational effectiveness, which is important in helping us be better able to respond to the complex policy challenges government currently faces, like homelessness.
6. What about the analytics? The measures? I need proof that this stuff is worthwhile.
Response: There are some analytics indicating that social media leads to increased productivity. So far, many of these measures are qualitative. We could wait for more organizations to collect more measures. But then, we wouldn’t be leaders. We have an opportunity to lead, by designing benchmarks and metrics.
7. It’s complicated, time-consuming and annoying to figure out.
Response: Fair enough; but sometimes finding better ways of doing things takes effort.
8. Government culture just isn’t ready for these sorts of things yet. Don’t we need trust, relationships, ‘Emotional Intelligence’? Don’t we need to improve our processes and frameworks and mental modes and structures and policies and norms and reporting structures to be able to support it?
Response: Well, that’s pretty pessimistic and also discriminatory. There are a lot people in government willing and able to use new tools, just like in the rest of society. It’s not like we’re aliens or something.
9. One size doesn’t fit all! Isn’t is ok if Twitter doesn’t work for me? And there is no way I’m joining Facebook. And some citizens are just never going to use online tools.
Response: Use the tools that work for you. This might require some experimentation. Just because your colleague is using Twitter doesn’t mean you have to. We’re all different and that’s ok. But let’s realize that more and more people from all demographic groups are increasingly using these tools, so we should at least understand their potential.
10. Sometimes the technology fails.
Response: We might just have to risk a little.
Nina, thanks for sharing the full presentation! You’re responses are awesome – I’m sure you’re a stellar community manager.
Isn’t the earth flat? Doesn’t the sun revolve around the earth? I don’t understand why more people cannot see the endless opportunities opening in front of us. Thanks Nina!
In response to #6 on the list:
I recently realized that, due to the large number of applications that are being built to analyze the data in things like twitter and facebook, that when we update our status’s on particular subjects that would normally form the content of opinion polls and things, we are participating in edemocracy. We essential are voting, or writing letters to our MPs etc… If the MP’s had an application that analyzed twitter content for references to their names and semantically interpretted whether it was good or bad, their could gauge how their were doing.
Great title, glad you caught me attention with this. I have run into people who feel this is a fad in government positions… Won’t listen to the benefits… I can’t bring them kicking and screaming, so I leave them be and move on…
I caught the presentation on live meeting and really enjoyed hearing about how many people there are concerned with these same issues. I thought there was a lot more of #8 in the rank and file
I appreciate the response to #2. Some people continue to think of people who spend a lot of there time online or using social media tools as isolated, primarily young, anti social weirdos who never get out and talk to people in the real world. Besides being incredibly unkind and unfair, it is also far from reality.
Social media is just a tool, not a lifestyle choice. Its users come from everywhere and every group.
Any tool that helps us reach out to the public and reach out to our fellow employees should at least be considered.
One other comment, I didn’t really see anything in there on directionality. Too often government use of social media is an extension of other kinds communication – mostly top down. Just another medium for an individual or small group to tell something to a larger one.
The strength of social media is the creation of community. The creation of shared opinions and values among equals.