Unless you live beneath a rock in Washington, D.C., though some of you may be reading this from a vault beneath the Pentagon, it will come as no surprise to you that Twitter is making inroads into the District with a new Government Liaison position.
The fact that Twitter needs a government affairs presence with feet on the ground is not debated, as we only need to look to the Iranian election case, but already a #snowpocalypse of blog posts and tweets have rained down calling into question just what with this new role will be responsible for, or more importantly, what does the Beltway community need of it.
Through my experience, however, what it comes down to can be described with a term most often used in the government promotion of Electronic Health Records : Meaningful Use, or more elaborately, leveraging targeted technology progressively towards an ultimate goal.
Back in April I both learned and taught this lesson first hand when after months of months of taking classes through the new Post 9/11 GI Bill my monthly benefits were still being delivered irregularly if at all. If you’re a veteran this story should come as no surprise, nor should it that I was for months utterly unable to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs on their hotline to fix the problem (ring ring, robot voice, hang up, dial tone), or that my Senator’s office was more than happy to intervene but frankly showed up with a only pocket knife for a safari in the rain forest.
Sitting there with no traditional recourse left in the bureaucracy, I took to my phone to connect with the modern gentleman’s best tool since the tie clip: Twitter. Throughout the day I tweeted questions to the Department of Veterans Affairs with the ultimate goal of getting that which I needed, being my estranged benefits. Along the way dozens of others joined me in a stunning example of consensus building as people from around the country shared their own stories, offered assistance, or just cheered us on.
And though I have more than a sneaking suspicion that the VA thought we would just blow over and go away – which is often the mindset in any agency – the fact that Twitter is both a free and accessible tool allowed us to continue until indeed the mission was complete: I received a phone call from the Deputy Director of Educational Services who both corrected the problem and very sincerely explained the cause.
This was the improving of a government service using only the simple application, and a wake up call to both constituents who wonder what power their individual tweets hold and to government agencies on how modern execution of their mission can shake down with the meaningful use of technology.
This lesson sounds like old hat to most of us, but the fact remains that many in the government, whether a federal agency or a Congressional campaign, still have not learned them. Some fear to tread in the waters because as anyone who has worked in a Congressional office knows, if you pick up even a telephone, you are inviting potential bedlam into your world. Others simply don’t see the value yet because its understandable at times to be overwhelmed, or underwhelmed, by the incessant buzz and hype ringing through their ears like those infernal trumpets at the World Cup.
But when I sat there that day in April none of those reasons mattered, as I needed my government services, and the government wanted to deliver them but needed a new way how – and its for that reason that the Twitter Government Liaison is critical to educate, to share, to implement visions that could only come from the land of these strange people we are who are ambitious yet had no desire to go to Wall Street or Silicon Valley. Most of government can have access to Twitter, but it’s that question of what is the meaningful use specific to each mission that still is debated to this day, and that we must find the answer to.
Take a look at the Twitter dashboard for the World Cup. Now imagine that service, improved and expanded upon for elections or an initiative from the Environmental Protection Agency. This is the path forward, not only inviting more people into the conversation but using that chatter in meaningful, contextualized ways that turn mere buzz into a symphony. For those of us who have worked to usher policy initiatives through government we know that consensus building is a key tactic in doing so, and as my own case demonstrated, even with meager participation it can be achieved.
Now if we could just get retweets figured out…