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3/26/2009
11:10 AM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Why Aren't Local Governments Using Twitter And Facebook?

Local governments deal with people one at a time. The face of local government is the face of your neighborhood cop, your kids' schoolteacher, and the firefighter who comes when you smell smoke. Social media like Twitter and Facebook are great for helping organizations deal with people one-on-one. So why aren't more local governments on Facebook and Twitter?

Local governments deal with people one at a time. The face of local government is the face of your neighborhood cop, your kids' schoolteacher, and the firefighter who comes when you smell smoke. Social media like Twitter and Facebook are great for helping organizations deal with people one-on-one. So why aren't more local governments on Facebook and Twitter?Bill Schreier, CTO and Director of the Department of Info Tech for the City of Seattle, asks that question and concludes that Twitter and Facebook aren't ready for Government 2.0.

Local governments

are the governments most visible and directly involved in the daily lives of most people (although you certainly wouldn't know that by looking at newspaper headlines, the evening TV news and the blogosphere where the fedgov gets a lot more square inches of newspaper or computer monitor space).

Local governments take care of streets and parks, provide water and dispose of solid waste/wastewater. When you call 911 your local police or fire department responds, not the FBI or the Army. Local governments are very much connected to neighborhoods and individual communities. Almost everyone can walk into their county courthouse or city hall and ask for help or complain about a service. People can actually attend City Council meetings and make comments, or even - most cases - talk directly to the officials they've elected to run their city/county government.

Schreier rattles off a litany of services that social networking tools should provide for the community: Facebook could be used for organizing neighborhood watch programs. Social networks could be used to propagate information and dispel rumors during disasters (this is already happening). Twitter might be used for communicating about potholes and other areas of municipalities requiring government attention and repair.

And social media could be used to get input on the legislative process. He cited President Obama's use of Google Moderator to allow people to post ideas and vote on them.

Schreier concludes: "I hereby challenge the Facebooks and Googles and Twitters of the world to make those improvements happen."

But I think he's throwing down the gauntlet in the wrong place. It's not the social media companies that need to act here. They've already provided the tools. But local governments aren't picking them up. Local governments can create fan pages and groups on Facebook for the city as a whole, individual departments and initiatives, and individual elected officials, and then monitor those accounts for activity. They can do the same with Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. And yet, in the overwhelming majority of cases, they're not.

Why not? Governments have been slow to embrace new technology. They tend to be conservative in technology adoption -- no matter how liberal the elected officials might be. For an example close to home for me: I recently signed up with my local government for a series of e-mail alerts on city council meetings, community organizations, and the like. A few times a week, I get an e-mail containing a whole lot of clutter, and a buried link that sends me back to the city's web site to download a PDF document of whatever it is they're telling me about. Why can't they just send me the information in the e-mail?

Sure, social media sites could do more to help local governments get on board. If they did it, they'd be good corporate citizens and might find it to be a good business opportunity as well. But it's not really their jobs. If local government is lagging on social media, it's local government that needs to step up.

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