Governments going social. Mind the gap.

“Why do you want to take up social media?” asked the wise man to the politician. “Because everyone’s doing it…” was the scathe reply. Politicians in government and those aspiring to be, worldwide, have jumped on the social media bandwagon. Those forcing their public service organisations to do likewise, without thinking, are in for a surprise. This is not about a facebook page with many followers and a moderation policy.

Governments have legacy and countries have a future; and the distinguishing feature we look out for in democracies is openness. It’s not the means but the end which matters. Social media is the demonstration of openness of this decade – it will be superseded by other more faithful representations sometime (soon).

So what’s at the root of a successful social media strategy if it is to be truly exemplary of a positive transformation? Of openness that lasts beyond the medium itself? Two key points:

1. Instilling a culture of collaborative interaction between public service and the customer (the citizen). The official will listen and act with service improvements and policy formation that is worthy of a rolling democratic process.

2. Bringing together true citizen activism. The age of representative democracies with ‘elders’ or politicians who decide everything for everyone is clearly over because it’s not allowed by the voter anymore. Voter turn-out is going down. The age of blind trust in the civil servant is also clearly not the case. People are informed and have become knowledgeable customers who demand explanations. But, do people care to make it better for everyone? Do they feel that they are empowered to do this? The answer on a general global landscape is “no”. And this can be reversed if and when public servants become demonstrably interested in the public’s point of view – and act on it. Then people will speak up, will become active in change, and will become more appreciative.

This is when we start harnessing social capital.

Everyone will agree that there is a great deal of ‘known’ that’s untapped. All of this ‘known’ is in the heads of our customers, prospective customers, employees and even in the heads of those who currently don’t care. Tapping it means involving people. That’s only possible when the institutions reformat to become collaborative from the top > down. That’s to say that change must first happen internally by opening up to the cross-section of the population that’s the employees.

Employees are the organisation’s main asset in the drawing and execution of a social media strategy. Those of them digital natives have the added benefit of having an affinity for the medium. All of them collectively have an understanding of the service offered and of the customer expectations which is unmatched by anyone else. Employees will understand that the organisation’s reputation can flourish through social media activity. When they are encouraged and trained to be active, online discourse can be distinctly of much much higher quality. Goes without saying, that this will attract other customers and will breed organic growth which is priceless.

We’d like to see employees, seasoned customers and others interact with little formal intervention, harnessing social capital, and thriving on a culture of ‘self-help’ within the community. Self-help is in fact what I figure can be the evolution of a truly transformed public service which tangibly draws on the strengths of openness. A collaborative workspace without citizen activism would otherwise become unmanageable. In contrast, with activism in place, front-offices can focus on handling the truly off-shoot or more sophisticated cases.

We may indeed mature to a point where self-help works so well that people are better educated (and have less issues) and where 99% of issues can be resolved voluntarily within the community. The closer we get to that point, the more governments can focus on governance rather than execution. Dream maybe, but certainly a goal if we need to truly do more with less!

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