As state and federal public sector organizations consider whether to jump on the social networking bandwagon, they should focus on some basic questions. How will using these tools further my agency's or organization’s mission? And, though launching this new thing looks easy, how much time and effort is it going to take to maintain it?
Moreover, it's important to think through the metrics or measures of success. In NASA's case, public support of space exploration translates into budgetary support of evolving technologies like Velcro and microwave ovens, which in turn translates into numberless other economy-boosting commercial applications. Therefore, if NASA can generate 40K hits on its Twitter feed about what the Mars rovers are doing, that's probably a good thing. But, according to a Government Computer News article, even NASA recognized that attending to Twitter could "take up a lot of time. A single Twitter post could lead to a dozen or more comments or questions that often needed answers."
There's a difference between pushing information about your agency's activities to the public simply because you can, and doing so because your agency really needs to in order to effectively execute its mission. New technologies don't make bad plans good or cumbersome processes efficient. They just enable their mass exportation on a scale never before attainable. If you think your agency has a good use for social networking, test the potential yourself. Before you make a decision about whether your agency should start using social networking, stand up your own Facebook page or start your own Twitter feed, or get acquainted with one that gets some steady traffic. Then make the commitment to respond to friend requests and other questions or, if you're following someone else's page, estimate how much time you'd spend doing so, and see how much time and effort is required on your part.
Likewise, when a subordinate manager comes to you and says, "Here's what we should be doing," ask that manager how many hours he or she has actually rooted around in the product he or she's advocating. Then ask the manager to go to a nearby terminal and show you how it works and to demonstrate what it will do for your organization or agency.
The bottom line is this: New social media tools have the potential to help agencies do lots of good things better and faster. But resist the urge to keep up with the social networking Joneses and continue to ask hard and thoughtful questions about how best to execute the missions entrusted to us. If IT can help, great. If not, don't be in a hurry to use it just because it's available.
Colonel Peter Marksteiner is CIO of the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. The opinions stated are the author's and do not represent an official policy or position of the U.S. Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. government.
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