Beyond Buttons: Social Media & Governance

Beyond Buttons: Social Media & Governance

Marcia Forbes PhD

October 3, 2011

Beware of the ‘Experts’
In a recent lecture to UWI Masters students in public administration I was at pains to point out that the use of social media in governance goes well beyond the ability to ‘push buttons’ and ‘click through’ . Too often organizations assign social media campaigns to the most junior staff because they are quite likely the Facebook and Twitter ‘experts’. These persons may be great on the technical side of using social networks but are often novices at the fundamentals of marketing and the psychology behind media messages and how/why they are consumed, engaged with.

Push for Openness in Governance
Organizations feel pressured because suddenly social media is being bandied about as the new saviour of democracy and the world, especially against a backdrop of increasing demands for openness and transparency in governance. What with oppressive regimes being toppled in far-away places like Syria, Egypt and Libya, it seems social media is the new darling of the free world. But not so fast! Not everyone is happy with how many of us behave on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Many of our attention-seeking behaviours are not only divisive and can crowd out democracy, but some are downright nasty such as internet trolls who mock the grieving and the dead.

Real Life Requires More Than Clicks
As @stannyha pointed out during my Twitter crowdsourcing session regarding social media and governance, one downside of the use of social networks by Government is that citizens will want government to solve issues immediately after they are raised on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. He mentioned the instant gratification many get from these networks and the reality that this is “non-transfrbl 2 rl life” (non-transferable to real life). It’s true, real life requires much more than clicks, drags and scrolls. Social media is about using web-based and mobile tools to share content and information online, either via the internet or cell phone. Governance is a practised art of melding power and policy. To govern at whatever level requires insights into leadership and issues pertaining to accountability and ethical practices.

 Know the Mandate & Mission
To effectively use social media in governance requires clear understanding of the mandate and mission of the organization and exactly how social media can help to share this with stakeholders, internal and external ones. The tool/medium selected should be decided based on what one aims to achieve and how the particular medium selected can facilitate this. Everything should be clearly spelt out in a Social Media Communication Plan. Until an organization is clear on what it wants to achieve via social media it may just be better to lurk as you look, listen and learn. Additionally, lurking is a great way to monitor what’s being said about your organization. Once you understand the technology then you can decide how it can serve your purpose. You are the master, the technology is your tool, master it for your purpose.