LIRNEasia is a regional ICT policy and regulation think tank active across the Asia Pacific

Can government use social media to strengthen its relationships with citizens?

I was asked to say a few words on how to use social media at a meeting of government information officers. I anchored my comments around what had occurred in the last few years to make me change my thinking on whether government could effectively use social media.

Government organizations provide a range of services to citizens and non-citizens (e.g., foreign investors, visitors). In many cases they are monopolies. They tend to hold and generate sensitive information that can move markets and ruin reputations. Therefore, the quick release of information which has not been quality checked that is associated with social media is a problematic fit for government. Depending on the organization, the sensitivity of the information and the damage that could be caused by inaccurate release would differ. This means that social media policies must be worked up agency by agency from the bottom.

Related is the issue of time. Government works at a slow pace. For them, replying a letter in a week is fast. Social media works at hyperspeed. Expectations are for responses within hours. Getting accurate information out within hours is tough for hierarchically organized government organizations. The kind of delegation we practice at LIRNEasia is tough to implement within government organizations, where multiple approval are needed. What this means is that social media activity must take place close to the top of the power hierarchy, preferably by the head of the organization herself.

The biggest difficulty I see is the demand for interaction. When one starts to respond to questions and comments the message control that government organizations require is difficult to maintain.

The issues were illustrated by what happened to one of my tweets/Facebook posts while the meeting was going on. The Deputy Minister who spoke after me said he’d been told by Facebook that LK now has 6 million Facebook users. This was a little higher than we had reported, so I tweeted it out.

By the time we got to discussion, I had already responded on Facebook to questions and comments on the tweet.

This is how the government website reported the same information a few hours later. More than half a day later, it had been seen by 27 people, including me.

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