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People Are People: This Is Why Governments Struggle with the Use of Social Media

By Andrea Di Maio | November 08, 2011 | 0 Comments

web 2.0 in governmentsocial networks in government

My busy first day at the Gartner European Symposium in Barcelona ended with a quite interesting round table with a few clients on the topic of social media in government. Almost immediately we ended up discussing about the distinction between internal and external use of social media.

One attendee shared that, despite the success their communications people were having in using social media, they could not get much success internally, and others confirmed they were through a similar struggle in picking the right platform or have employees make sustainable use of an existing platform. As we looked at the difference between the external success of that first client and their difficulties on the internal side, it became apparent that – once again – “purpose” is what makes the difference. Information shared by that agency on social media is about the weather and – let’s face it – almost everybody cares about the weather. But then, if you turn your head inside the organization, not everybody shares the same purpose, unless occasionally or perhaps in small teams.

This is because social media is about people, primarily a tool for employees to do their job better.

Which leads to the other point we debated: the need for a professional identity on social media platforms that is distinct from personal identity. One participant said that employees are actually encouraged to create a separate professional-only identity on Facebook and other consumer social media platforms if they want to use those for work-related purposes. However this may conflict with the terms of use of the platform and – anyhow – the way people will use social media and manage the boundary between personal and professional will be theirs and theirs only (notwithstanding the relevant social media use policies and codes of conduct).

Unless government organizations understand that what really sets social media apart is the word “social” rather than “media”, and that they are people tool and not corporate tool, most attempts at developing effective strategies will be futile.

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