The State and Local Scene: Social Media

A recent InformationWeek blog asked the question: Why aren’t more state and local governments leveraging social media in their communities? Here’s a look at a few that are trying.

Writer Mitch Wagner took issue with blog post from Seattle, Washington CIO Bill Schrier who believes its up to Twitter and Facebook to come up with local-government friendly applications.

Privacy is one of Mr. Schrier’s chief concerns with Facebook. He doesn’t believe that his neighbors need to have the same level of access to his information as his poker buddies. Mr. Schrier also thinks Facebook needs to develop an application that provides “an easy way to correlate” community-based “reports and allow neighbors to verify issues and support each other…”

As for Twitter, Mr. Schrier finds the whole idea just a bit too daunting to be used as intended. He says Mayor Gavin Newsom gained over 100,000 followers within a few days of being on Twitter and he in no way could begin to address those who wish to communicate with him.

Mitch Wagner responds with, “If local government is lagging on social media, it’s local government that needs to step up.”

One important point Mr. Schrier raises, is the issue of two-way communication between the government and its citizens using social media. As one industry expert put it, “Local governments using social media for one-way communication is one thing, but they’ll struggle with the feedback aspect. King Co. Washington and Fairfax Co. Virginia are doing some great things in responding to requests, but management may turn into a full-time job,” says Jesse Manning, Director of Product Strategy at CivicPlus, an e-government solutions provider.

Despite these challenges, some communities have begun efforts to utilize social media.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune is reporting today that the communities of Falcon Heights, Minnetonka and Edina are leading the way in state and local adoption of social media. The cities have begun tapping Twitter to send instant alerts on everything from snow emergencies to spring sewer back-ups. “Everybody’s trying to figure out how to best do this, similar to when websites first became prevalent,” said Justin Miller, Falcon Heights city manager.

Steve Luncford, creator of GovTwit, agrees: “They’re certainly at the forefront of local government reaching out to their citizens in new and different ways,” said Lunceford in an interview with the Star Tribune.

Legislators in Georgia are also taking after their D.C. brethren by taking uncomfortable public shots at one another via Twitter, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week. “I can see the use of Twitter as a very good political tool.” state Sen. Eric Johnson said after blasting fellow members for looking the other way on personal tax issues.

And in Rhode Island, the Treasury is now tweeting the state budget. R.I. General Treasurer Frank Caprio announced a few days ago that his office will be using Twitter to report the state’s cash flow “on a real-time, daily basis,” the Providence Journal reported. Today’s @RITreasury tweet reads: “Real-time cash-flow numbers for Thursday, April 02: General Fund Receipts: $7, 138, 527 … General Fund Expenditures: $14, 835, 523” Before this daily update, Caprio’s office was using Twitter to promote his press releases. “As our state fiscal crisis [continues], our legislature must make the difficult choices to balance our budget. I hope that this latest effort will serve as a reminder of how urgently we need action,” Caprio says in a YouTube video.

It will be interesting to see how governments and municipalities try to empower their citizens to participate in social media. What do you think? Respond in the comment section to tell your thoughts.