Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why governments have not much to loose, but a lot to win on Social Media

While it is obvious that governments are increasingly making use of Social Media, this does not automatically imply that they are doing it in the right way. Just having a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean to be able to claim the label "E-Government" or any other related term.

According to Prof. Mergel, the strategies that best describe how governments make use of Social Media are a (1) Push Strategy, (2) Pull Strategy or (3) Networking Strategy (see Gov 2.0 Revisited: Social Media Strategies in the Public Sector). In my opinion, those three dimensions cover this topic in a very good way. So what do they mean?

The (1) Push Strategy can be best described as a street which only leads into one direction. Government agencies can send out any message, but citizens are not able or allowed to give any kind of feedback or interaction. Obviously, this might have some advantages to government officials. Lower costs, more control and no risk of any bad publicity. People might have a look once or even twice, but you will never see most of them again. Why should they? One reason could be that those messages are supposed to be exclusive to this specific channel. Hence, it depends on the mission and the goals.

The (2) Pull Strategy is supposed to function like a magnet. Social Media can be a tool, which pulls interested readers to where the actual source should be (from the perspective of those using this strategy): the main website. While this strategy involves actual interaction with the audience, the whole purpose is still to have all the information condensed in one place and to have control over it. For people that only want to consume this information in one-direction without the need to interact, this might be working for some cases.

Finally, the (3) Networking Strategy is the approach which removes the old-fashioned mindset of hierarchical structures. This implies that there is neither a one-way street, nor a two-way street, nor a magnet. It is a large community on one platform as a form of a web, which connects everyone to each other and gives everyone the same rights. Therefore, it can have benefits for all the participants in terms of information sharing, real time feedback and reaching to (but possibly also influencing in a negative way) a big audience in a vey short time.

In my opinion, government agencies of course have to first determine which goals they have before they think about how to get there. But in a world which is increasingly connecting at such a high pace, one big danger might be one that most government officials don't even think of: Being left out. Although this might sound provocative to imagine how governments are only a small player on the playfield of the Internet, but if there is an information vacuum then it can be filled out. And this does not necessarily have to be the almighty government. The question is then, who will take this role? And I doubt that this is always someone who's first mission is to serve the people for a good purpose (assuming this is the goal of a government of course). Bearing this in mind, I think governments should take the chance and be more brave on Social Media. There is not much to loose, but a lot to win...


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