Understanding the value of Twitter to local government

junecovIt was November 5, 2007 when I first joined Twitter.

In a previous post, I shared my early impressions of the Twitterverse. At the time, I wasn’t impressed. And, it was a long time before I would revisit the potential of Twitter. It was March 2, 2009, to be exact, when I decided to give it another try. With Twitter’s recent popularity and headlines, I wanted to explore whether local governments could derive some value by using Twitter on a regular basis.

From my own experience during the last few months, I have found Twitter to be a powerful tool for communicating and building relationships … that has represented a value to me personally in using Twitter, but it also represents a significant value to local governments.

Municipalities around the globe have begun to embrace Twitter (as well as other social media vehicles like Facebook and YouTube) as ways to engage the public. Possible uses for Twitter include advising of new information posted online; notifying the public of emergencies or upcoming events; and engaging in two-way communications with citizens. With these uses taken together, Twitter becomes an enabler of Government 2.0 – a way for citizens to participate in government, with ready access not only to information, but to their elected and appointed officials as well.

US President Obama demonstrated the power of social media during the campaign leading up to his election. Now, political candidates at all levels are following that lead, using new tools like Twitter to keep their message alive at campaign time and to potentially connect with a new demographic – youth and young voters who rely on such tools for their information to a much greater extent than they do traditional media like newspapers and television. But, the value extends far beyond the election. With their responsibility to serve every citizen, it would be short-sighted for governments to not include social media in their communication toolkits. (President Obama continues to show a profound understanding of this, actively promoting the use of social media throughout the US administration.) These lessons are as true at the municipal level of government as at any other, and there are now numerous examples of municipal governments engaging the public through social media – some of these are discussed in the links below, and some will no doubt be the subject of a future posting.

Social media is certainly not a replacement for traditional media and methods of communication. And, it’s not without its challenges either (lawyer Lou Milrad discusses some of the related issues around privacy and personal information in his article in the June issue of MW). However, as information (including, and perhaps especially, government information) begins to be shared and used in an infinite variety of ways online, municipal governments must accept that communication, too, is evolving. They must pay attention to the new ways in which their citizens are connecting – with each other, and with their governments.

Will it work for you? As regular MW columnist Peter de Jager describes in his article in the tech issue – regarding his own early Twitter journey – you’re going to have to try it for a while to find out. When you do, I invite you to join me online at www.twitter.com/MWEditor.

Interested in learning more? Here are 10 great links to help you get started:

  1. A Beginners Guide to Twitter in Local Government
  2. Councillors, Twitter, and Customer Interaction
  3. Good transparency practice: Posting your profile and your Twitter policy. See how James Cousins does it.
  4. Why UK municipal councils are turning to new media; more examples.
  5. Twitter, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools revolutionizing the way some government managers take care of business
  6. Twitter as a tool to help humanize that “big and scary” government that likes to spend our tax dollars
  7. Web 2.0 in government: By blocking SM sites, agencies deny access to information/understanding how public uses web
  8. Overview of social media and government (slide show by Jeffrey Levy, US EPA)
  9. Stop the Posturing About Government 2.0 and Do It Already
  10. How governments and businesses are seizing the power of Twitter

This is just my “short list” of articles that can help those involved in local governments to understand the value and usefulness of social media in the municipal sector. There are no doubt many, many more. If you have some particularly good ones to share, please note them, with links, as comments to this blog.

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