Gartner Blog Network

Social Media is A Nuisance for Government, After All

by Andrea Di Maio  |  February 8, 2011  |  6 Comments

Political leaders, senior government executives, consultants praise the virtues of social media as a new means to engage or re-engage citizens, to become more effective and efficient, to attract digital natives to the public service, to transform government by bringing it closer to people.

However the examples that make the news and most of those that I hear from clients have a negative connotation. From Wikileaks to the role of Twitter and Facebook in the upraises in Tunisia and Egypt, from crowds griping about education commissioners in Florida to people coalescing against the indicted politicians in Europe, from students disrupting the teaching and evaluation processes in schools around the world, to patients challenging doctors by socializing information with other patients, most uses of social media cause trouble rather than help government solve problems.

Of course there are the countless good examples that I find in traveling around the world. Vibrant communities who are passionate about solving resource, environmental, social problems. Employees who find smart ways to be better social workers, teachers, nurses, purchase officers by using social media, often walking on a tight rope between professional and personal role, between established processes and innovative approaches. Enlightened political leaders who understand the potential of order-of-magnitude growth in openness and engagement.

Unfortunately most good examples either do not make the news or do not make enough noise. There are many reasons for this:

  • Bad news are always juicier for news professionals, especially when it comes to government (when is the last time you read about an incredibly successful government IT program and how many times do you read about failures?)
  • Most people tend to use social media to complain rather than to offer solutions (just looks at what people do on various airlines’ Facebook pages).
  • Some good examples from the people’s perspectives (such as knowing about some secretive wrongdoing or organizing protest against a regime) are pretty bad from the (ruling) government perspective.
  • Many of the attempts that government organizations are doing to reach out to people through social media do not go beyond a simple revamping of their web presence, and these turn to be either disappointing for people.
  • Government 2.0 and Open Government remain jargon for experts within agencies and lack the momentum to gather enough interest both internally and externally.

Many of us try to help strike the right balance between managing risks and creating value, but in most cases it is a long and bendy road. Business cases are elusive, existing policies are often inadequate, technology and behavioral changes are faster than governments can deal with. So why should government organizations pursue this? Aren’t those who still deny Facebook access to their employees or those who look at tweets as a threat rather than an opportunity, fully justified? In a battered economy, should government spend money on seeding value in social networking or on reducing risks by a combination of blanket prohibition and monitoring?

Ironically, the same tools and approaches may be used to either detect threats or hunt for opportunities. Listening rather than talking, being guests of people’s conversation rather than hosting dialogues, analyzing and predicting rather than publishing. On the other hand, if all governments did on social media were “listening”, people would accuse them of spying and behaving like a Big Brother.

Is there a way out by rebalancing the government role on and use of social media from risk to value and from talking to listening? This is the real issue at the heart of social media success or failure in government, but I am not sure it is being asked as often as it should.

Category: social-networks-in-government  

Tags: facebook  government-20  twitter  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
15 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies strategies, Web 2.0, open government, cloud computing, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Social Media is A Nuisance for Government, After All

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andrea DiMaio, maybe the hawk, Fabasoft eGov, Diego Beas, Sebastiaan Stoffels and others. Sebastiaan Stoffels said: RT @AndreaDiMaio: Social Media is A Nuisance for Government, After All – #gov20 #opengov #wikileaks […]

  2. […] Social Media is A Nuisance for Government, After All […]

  3. […] W ostatnich latach wiele instytucji publicznych na całym świecie zaczęło korzystać z mediów społecznościowych. Obecność w tego rodzaju serwisach uważana jest za jeden z elementów otwierania instytucji publicznych. Temu tematowi poświęcił niedawno dwa wpisy Andrea Di Maio: tu i tu. […]

  4. Oliver Olsen says:

    Is there a way out by rebalancing the government role on and use of social media from risk to value and from talking to listening?

    Yes, there is a way out. Any social media strategy that engages people and their conversations in an actionable process that yields tangible outcomes will prove invaluable.

    Whether government provides the platform and facilitates the dialog, or simply monitors conversations in the cloud, a problem looking for a solution will surface. The question is whether government is prepared to act on that information – and act on it in a positive way with demonstrable results. If the tweets indicate an icy patch on the interstate, how quickly will the condition be acknowledged. And more importantly, how quickly can the salt truck be dispatched?

  5. I suspect if negative news coverage dictated how we do things in society, we wouldn’t have government or enterprise at all.

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.