The government, much like many businesses, has realised the power of social media and the potential for communicating with members of the public and promoting its causes. Because of this reason, many governments have put themselves out there on various social media platforms in order to participate and what is the ‘new form of communication’. Such forms of communication include commonly used social media pages such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and others. However, the government also has different reasons for wanting to use social media, as well as not wanting to use social media, to most organisations.
In this blog post we will aim to examine the drivers and inhibitors of social media implementation and adoption in government. We will also have a look at the similarities and differences of the government’s use of social media versus the private sector’s use of social media, regarding implementation and adoption.
So, why are governments wanting to join the social media scene?
There are many reasons that are valid as to why the government sector would want to be part of a public social media website. One of these reasons is that it is a cost-effective and convenient way to engage with the public in a transparent and more informal format. Other reasons include campaigning for members of parliament, a way to engage with community and it is also a way to create a comfortable and open environment for important discussions. Questions involving the over use of privacy and suspected corruption can be absolved by maintaining clear channels of communication with the public through social media. This is undoubtedly a positive driver for governments to use social media platforms in their favour.
There would certainly be reasons however, why the government would not want to use social media platforms to promote their initiatives or to open themselves up completely to the public. The fact that privacy and suspected corruption is a topic that the public may hold issues with mean that having an open channel of communication with the public on any social media platform may result in negative backlash and issues revolving ‘hot topics’ could be escalated unnecessarily. There is also the issue of members of parliament using their positions of power online inappropriately, such as promoting their personal beliefs, slandering other members of parliament, and using inappropriate campaigning methods.
Other issues inhibiting the implementation of social media use in the government include the possible limitation of resources that can be allocated to such a project. Of course, the government has a large budget in regards to how they promote their initiatives and run campaigns, however, if the risks are seen to outweigh the benefits this may not seem like a sensible investment for government resources. The amount of staff that would be needed to monitor social media presence, as well as the investment in appropriate social media software and IT expertise, may not appeal to governments if they feel they will not see a sufficient return on their investment.
This mode of thinking is very similar to the mode of thinking regarding the drivers and inhibitors of organisations within the public sector adopting the use of social media in the interest of their business.
Businesses within the private sector are always going to be concerned with the return on their investments, regardless of what that investment is in. When it comes to social media investments, some organisations will make that decision easier than others. For example, a small business with a small budget would likely have to put more thought into the implementation and adoption of social media platforms for the purpose of their networking and marketing if they were solely concerned about the return on that investment, because they may not have the resources to allocate toward such a task. A larger business however, will have more staff and a higher budget for such activities and may feel that their efforts would be sufficient to see a significant return on their investment.
Governments are much more like larger businesses in the private sector in this instance. They have the resources to allocate to social media activities specifically, however, they have risks and issues that organisations within the private sector do not have to consider. Here is where they show their differences.
Operations within the government are more structured to a set of rules than most sectors in society. Because of this reason, governments are not able to adopt and implement new technologies as quickly as those in the private sector. There are protocols surrounding the government’s use of new systems and there is more pressure on the government to undertake new methods of communication with precision, whereas, with in the private sector there is a lot more room for trial and error. Government agencies have to move through maturity levels one level at the time, that is, they need to follow a plan in order to ensure that their social media public engagement is successful.
Governments, as opposed to private sector organisations, also have to worry about the issue of privacy and information sharing within government agencies and also with the public. The information that the government deals with tends to have more sensitivity and importance than information dealt with in regular businesses in the community.
Although the government has some inhibitors regarding the implementation of social media use, they also have valid drivers that would ensure positive outcomes from their implementation and adoption of social media. There are also differences between the government and the private sector as far as the implementation and adoption of social media is concerned, however, there are things that each of the public sector and the private sector can learn from each other as far as successful social media use is concerned.