Social media has forever altered the way information is created, curated and shared across the world. For centuries, the powerful controlled the flow of information. They decided who saw what, when and where. The Internet changed this. The consequence of democratic societies was an institutionalised information portal. Social media represents an evolution – a fundamental shift. It has moved the world even more towards free-flowing information and ideas.

Social media is the new normal – Kemal Brown

In the context of the political culture, it has allowed persons to form groups and blocks of influence for social causes; show support for candidates they felt represented their interests; organise to unseat others; protest about the abuse (or lack) of power, advocate for rights and justice… even trickling to the occasional angry tweet sent to our Presidents and Prime Ministers alike. It has created a level of access impossible to imagine a few years ago.

Digital media has been leveraged to topple governments as seen in Egypt. It’s being used by citizens to up the ante and bring about meaningful change, through endorsing or speaking out against policy directives and leaders… but there is a flip side to the coin.

While some may paint social media as the tool exclusively used by the citizens to curtail State power, the State itself has a large role to play on the platforms that we frequent online.

Here are 5 reasons we why we believe governments should use social media:

1. Get To Know Your People & Share Ideas

Whether you’re seeking public feedback and/or approval for a new legislative change or political officials, social media has proven to be the most effective method of gauging sentiment, getting feedback, and, in short, getting the word out. Outside of polling, which many of these platforms allow, one need only scroll to post comments or check the replies to see what people think. In the past, sophisticated polls costing millions of dollars were still prone to errors and have not been able to accurately predict election outcomes.

2. Mass Public Engagement

Over 2.8 billion of the world’s population uses social networks. This simply means that no matter what sector of the public you serve; those you represent just might have a Twitter or Facebook account. The most valuable aspect of social is feedback. Through listening, you can track sentiment, see what your constituents care about and craft policies in response, and/or (for the unelected) a campaign to address their pain points. A well-placed, appropriate response to someone who makes known their grievances or unique plight can mean the world and improve your public perception. Twitter, in particular, acts as a soapbox of sorts.

As a government body maintaining a social media presence, it must be written and logged in your Agency’s social media policy that silence and choosing to ignore complaints is simply not an option. While not every response can be addressed, make an effort to resolve all messages amicably. Government agencies are already known for poor customer engagement and service, maybe the online world can redeem them (as we have seen with our client PICA —Passport, Immigration, Citizenship Agency Jamaica).

PICA has maintained a 4.5-Star rating and a standard of 5-minute responses with Digita at the helm of their brand’s social media. Its strategy has consistently involved humanising the brand, while delivering on the promise of customer service and free-flowing information to help its customers get the information that matters to them most. The only way to shed the perception of stoicism is by caring and engaging with people one-on-one and showing ‘uncommon’ courtesy.

Social media presents a great opportunity to change that negative perception. If you say you care about your constituents, show it. Discuss your policies, talk with them to learn more about their needs and engage their ideas so even if you can’t immediately solve their issues, they will appreciate the time you spent connecting and communicating with them.

3. Spread Information More Efficiently

Most adults, young and seasoned alike, use social media as a primary source of information. While this has its negatives due to the rise of fake news and the pace at which it can be spread, it also provides an opportunity to make a direct connection and build trust.

If a policy maker wants to gauge the level of acceptance for a policy directive, they need only speak about it online and feedback will be forthcoming almost immediately. A website lives on its own server somewhere in cyberspace, why not share news to an ever-present audience? Yes, that was rhetorical.

Inversely, when new laws are put into force, social media also presents a quick way to sensitise the masses. Mailboxes have been left vacant in the age of the always on and constantly pulsing smart phone.

4. Save Lives

Social media is a powerful tool for mass mobilisation. Features such as “Checking in Safely” on Facebook have changed the scope and pace of disaster preparedness. PSA’s are now sent across digital channels before they hit the airwaves, as it allows for instant updates to thousands of people at a time.

Whether pre, post or during, social media has proven to be an effective means of updating citizenry in real time about disasters and crises that directly affect them or their distant family members. This builds trust and showcases good governance. Social media instructional videos have also helped persons to better prepare, further increasing the usefulness of these mediums.

5. Inviting Political Participation

Political participation is the lifeblood of a democratic society. Getting feedback from the persons you serve should be an important aspect of daily public life.

6. One of the challenges

While governments engaging on social media is a good thing, they must endeavour to use this medium for good. This assumes that they will understand the rules and how their roles translate across it. Often, as we have seen in Jamaica, elected officials abuse social media, with many using it to launch scathing attacks, negating the proper use.

So many elected officials abuse social media because they are unable to separate their political identities from their personal views. Government officials and agencies alike should make a concerted effort to learn how to effectively and appropriately engage if they wish to communicate with their stakeholders and move society forward.

Social media presents this opportunity, and is not solely a space for spouting opinions, but helping to change them. It’s often said that perception is reality. Social media presents its own reality, 24 hours a day, which people are far more likely to believe.

Never before in human history have people spoken so openly about what matters to them. Governments would do well to listen.

About The Author

Kemal is a serial entrepreneur and motivational speaker. He loves digital media, is a certified techie and re-incarnated lion (or so he tells himself). He trains executives, mentors entrepreneurs, and heads a soon to be well-known company called Digita Global Marketing Ltd.