I spent a day in Brisbane, Queensland, where I had a chance to visit government organizations at the state and local level and discuss with them about social media strategies. The attitude to social media suddenly changed between December 2010 and January 2011, when massive rains caused the Brisbane river to overflow and flooded most of the city. The size and severity of the event caused call centers and web sites to be overwhelmed with demand, and drove several government agencies to revert to social media such as Facebook and Twitter to send out information as well as to monitor how that was being used by citizens to share relevant information about how the situation was developing.
After the event, some organizations have changed their behaviors, for instance opening access to social media to all employees, while others have started revising or developing their social media strategies, realizing its potential value.
However in almost all cases I sensed a difficulty in keeping the momentum created by those difficult moments. Despite the indisputable benefits experienced during the floods, there seems a disconnect, or a discontinuity, between initiatives triggered to face the emergency, and more sustainable process changes to make the use of social media part of the normal course of business. While most departments are asking themselves the right questions about role-based policies, new business models, and balance between communication, monitoring and engagement, they seem to be unprepared to face and support the more organic, employee-centric evolution that characterize sustainable social media deployment and use.
While it is clear that most government organizations need a compelling event to make government 2.0 work – be it a natural disaster or major budget cut – they may go back to normal when extraordinary conditions do no longer hold.
There is no gain without pain. With social media, it seems that there is no sustainable gain unless the pain lasts long enough.