Social Media and State Government

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I am fascinated by potential application of social media to enable citizens to have a transparent, public and open dialog with government officials. Because of these innovations, government can become more responsive than ever before to the needs of citizens.

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Before the Internet, a person who reported difficulty with government bureaucracy probably would not have had the ability to get the word out and bring attention to his concern. He could call the bureaucracy and attempt to work his way up the chain of command and hope that his concern would be taken seriously, or he could write a letter to the newspaper editor and hope that the editor would publish his concern. However, he would have very few options to get the word out where the mechanism to spread his message was entirely within his control.

With the advent of social media, all that has changed. Everyone now has the option of putting their concerns into a tweet, a Facebook message or a Google Plus post.

A well-written tweet, a thoughtful post or a picture of concern can go viral at a moment’s notice and leverage widespread attention. This has the effect of improving the response of the government to these areas of concern because no government official wants to have to answer for ignoring a concern that receives public attention.

I believe that government should not fear this new medium of communications. To the contrary, government should encourage and embrace social media as a method for transparent communication. Government should not limit use of social media to a one-way communication to deliver its side of the story, but should allow for two-way communication through which citizens are invited to ask questions and receive answers and everyone can see the conversation.

By fostering a transparent forum, the communications between citizens and government will be open for all to see. This will provide the public with a tool for judging the quality of government response to citizen concerns. This will also help good public servants who might not otherwise have a forum for pointing to their quality of work and will certainly help the citizens to differentiate between quality service and poor performance by the government.

In the past, I heard from inside government where there was a willingness to use social media. However, there was a lot of confusion about whether state government employees were authorized to use social media and if so, what the specific policies that governed its use were. Creating a standardized social media policy became an important part of one of our early government modernization initiatives. During the 2010 legislative session, we won approval for this initiative as part of House Bill 2332.

Now that some of the legal hurdles have been met, it is an excellent policy for state agencies to use social media every day and it is encouraging to see examples of those who use social media best practices and allow for two-way communication.

I am not sure anyone in Oklahoma state government is doing this better than the University of Oklahoma parking services office. Tweeting from the account @OUParking the office provides its followers with frequent and very specific details regarding the availability of campus parking. Followers can see exactly how many parking marking places remain open in specific parking lots and they are also notified when a parking lot fills up.

The account is used to foster two-way communications so commuters can report parking difficulties to the office and the office can respond with specific directions or information. A user who wants to make a public statement regarding parking conditions at OU for all to see can do so by simply including @OUParking in his tweet. The account also makes use of popular hashtags enabling new followers to find and follow the OU Parking account. As you might expect, this service is especially valuable on football game day or other high traffic events.

I certainly hope more state government agencies will follow this example and use social media to provide citizens with transparent access to their services.

Thank you for reading this article. Your interest and input are much appreciated. Please do not hesitate to email Jason.Murphey@hd31.org with your thoughts and suggestions.

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