Social media and government -- yes or no?

More transparency and communication in government is good, right? We get tweets from the White House and subscribe to updates from the Department of Agriculture, so why doesn’t that same quest for knowledge hold true for local government?

To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it until a recent discussion with someone who worked in a state government office. She was advocating for her department to get into the social media space and she was getting a lot of push back … and not just from people she works with. There was a lot of commotion from citizens complaining that we don’t pay taxes so someone can “play on Twitter all day.”

While that is true, I also know that government — particularly local government — should definitely say yes to social media. Why?

government social media

*Government should embrace every opportunity to engage with citizens.
Yes, you have to be prepared to deal with a lot of questions and complaints, but if you’re ready for it and put forth a good customer service effort, you’ve got a happier bunch of citizens.

Social media lets government control the message.
Instead of  toiling away in obscurity, let us know what you’re doing with our tax dollars! Got a new program? Tweet about it. Is there a crime alert in the area? Put it on your Facebook page. Have a very specific RFP? Post it on LinkedIn. We, as citizens, would love to have a greater knowledge of what our government is doing for us. Don’t make us go to you and your confusing websites for more information, come to us and make it easier for us to be on board with your initiatives.

Social media gives government the channels and opportunity to ask for help.
As evidenced by the recent hunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the Internet is populated by millions of people ready, willing and able to help. You just need to ask for it. From Amber Alerts to disaster assistance, use social media channels to ask for the public’s help and you’ll be overwhelmed by the citizen response.

Social media saves money.
It can cost a lot of money to staff the phones and return calls. It can save a lot of money to answer brief questions and direct people to the proper resources with one tweet or Facebook response. As long as governments adhere to the quick feedback model people have come to expect from social media, it’s a fast track to a more satisfied and informed citizenry.

What are your thoughts about government and social media? Waste of taxpayer dollars or good investment? Where is government doing social media right and where are they doing it wrong?