Note: This is the 3rd column of David Goyette's "Backroom Briefing" for PTBOCanada. For more info on it, click here.
Q: I would love to know if the City is going to update its social media policy and start using social media in more active ways—especially as part of their City communication plan. Is it? –Alana Callan
Goyette: Good question. Let’s begin with the assumption that social media—communication among online communities enabled by electronic tools and protocols—is here to stay. Online and cellular communication has already changed the way that people consume, relate to and share information. This website is an example of that. About 8 million Canadians have Twitter® accounts. There are a prescient few who foresee growing user fatigue, but the digital cat seems well out of the bag.
Governments are not typically early adapters of technologies, and that caution is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when taxpayer money is at stake. On the other hand, the wider public sector has so much to gain in relating to its communities via social media that its employment seems obvious. Consider the advantages to government in dealing with its constituencies: wider and faster reach; interactivity and engagement; new marketing and survey possibilities; program and event promotion; staff collaboration; new payment options; and all with greater frequency and speed at less cost. Add to that the spin virtues of openness, transparency, going green and enhancing customer service and you have a genuine catalyst for change.
On the political front, the Obama campaign of 2007/2008 was a turning point in the value verification of social media. The 2010 Bennett mayoralty campaign employed online innovations such as a virtual campaign office, Twitter®, video messaging, monthly opinion surveys and accessible scheduling. It's important to remember, of course, that if you are going to reach out to the world, the world is going to reach back in ways that may not be to your liking. The promotion of engaged communities always has its price.
By any measure, the City of Peterborough has an excellent website. Eight corporate Facebook® and/or Twitter® accounts are held by City departments or agencies, including the Mayor. The City is now in the process of reviewing its social media policy, and it has to be said that this is more complex than it might first appear. First, it requires a cultural shift involving a more relaxed view of the sharing of information and tolerance for varied opinion. Second, care has to be taken with matters of content, confidentiality, privacy, personal information, record keeping, liability, intellectual property, online/offline integration, compensation and employee conduct outside of the workplace. I have many of these same issues to deal with in writing this column.
Nonetheless, there is no denying the benefits of a form of Local Government 2.0 that one day might have you contacting your public transit operator to check out bus schedules on the go; being engaged in a City-sponsored survey on current issues or budgets; contributing to an online public meeting; or updating a street by street data portrait or photo file. It’s a brave new digital world.
David Goyette is the Executive Assistant to Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett. For more on his Backroom Briefing column, click here. Email your burning questions for David about City Hall to firstname.lastname@example.org.