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Opinion: Don’t de-friend the citizen

Pankaj Chitkara | April 5, 2013
Why government CIOs need to jump on the social media train


Supporting multiple channels

With the advent of ubiquitous mobile access, federal government departments are also adopting the use of mobile phone apps to support smartphone users. Agencies use apps to provide citizens with the information they need, when and where they need it.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) has developed self-serve apps that allow its targeted constituents, such as seniors, students, job seekers and families to claim entitlements and transact with the department in the same way they would using traditional channels.

DHS offers an integrated multi-channel environment where citizens can engage with the department across the web, social media and mobile, as well as in person.

While it is not surprising that large federal agencies are driving social media innovation, smaller organisations have also leveraged social media to meet their goals and objectives.

For example, the Australian War Memorial (AWM) is a small corporation that has a strong understanding of its audience - what they want to know and discuss and how they can be engaged.

AWM is using social media applications such as YouTube and Podcasts to communicate the Australian experience of war to its younger audience.

Although social media is starting to grow among the federal agencies, its adoption remains relatively slow, especially when compared to its international counterparts.

The US Customs and Border Protection, for instance, recently released an app that informs passengers of how long the wait is between getting off the plane and clearing through Customs.

The social media presence of other agencies suggests that the adoption is sometimes reactive and less strategic, with some Facebook pages and Twitter accounts untouched for more than a year.


Linking social to strategy

Any investment in social media should be weighed like any other - through a rational assessment of how the initiative links to the organisation's strategic direction.

When developing social media strategies, agencies should consider what it means to citizens and how it will impact existing services, what capabilities need to be included, the expected customer experience, and the final outcomes.

Agencies also need to map out how they manage any issues that may arise by having staff interact with citizens using social media platforms.

It's also important to be aware of the common pitfalls during execution. These include failing to obtain management 'buy-in', not routinely evaluating and customising content, training staff only on social media tools and not communication skills, and forgetting to measure the impact of the social media effort.

Fortunately for many agencies, the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has been promoting the use of social media and the Government 2.0 initiative is a good starting point.

As the public demand for real-time, digital interaction with government services continues to rise, federal agencies need to decide on how they will better leverage social media.


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