Do we really need another basic guide to social media for government?

‘Social Media in Government: Hands-on Toolbox’ has been written to help practitioners who are setting up social media profiles and using the tools on a daily basis.  It has been written for public servants with limited experience using social media, but also offers tools and tips that will be useful for those practitioners who have been using social media for some time.

Along with a High-level Guidance document, the New Zealand government has released a toolbox guide to help their pubic servants use social media. Apparently they reused content from the UK (although not Australia?) and Gartner analyst, Andrea Di Maio, thinks its a pretty good guide.

Highlights in the toolbox for me are:

  • I like the distinction made between ‘Social networks’ and ‘Media-sharing networks’ (although IMHO, Flickr can be both). 
  • They attempt a balanced look at the Strengths and Weaknesses of the five types of social media addresses in the guide, rather than focusing on risk or over evangelising the benefits. 
  • The methodology of Finding, Assessing, Contributing and Tracking as a way to develop they approach to a particular tool.

Now they are quite upfront that this guide is for people with limited experience and it is impossible to distil knowledge of this medium into a single, static document. I know that, because I co-authored a Toolkit, for the Australia Government Gov 2.0 Taskforce in 2009.

Personally I think this kind of guide remains a double-edged sword. On one hand, we need to encourage people in government to get online. However, I don’t think the patterns of online engagement, tools or methods described in basic guides like this really help to create a deeper and more sustainable engagement with the concepts of open government, Government 2.0 or social media either. To quote Dominic Campbell, who said recently:

There aren’t enough of us working to transform, challenge and change the inside of government. Not enough taking on the really sticky issues beyond relatively quick and easy wins, such as transit data or street-scene related apps. This needs to change before anything can be said to have gone mainstream. Disclaimer: this is exactly what we’re looking to do with apps like PatchWorkHQ and CasseroleHQ, starting to hone in on priority, challenging, socially important and costly areas of government, such as child protection and supporting older people to live better independent lives. The journey is far longer and harder, but (we’re hoping) even more rewarding.

Lets stop focusing on examples of Government using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Instead, lets spread ideas that can really have impact.

This is something Dominic and I discussed at GovCampNSW a few weeks ago. Really, understanding the technology isn’t the barrier and publishing more and more basic guides won’t change that.