Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Social Media in Government

Government communications has been changed forever. That's true of emergency response and crisis communication as it daily media, public and stakeholder communication. Everyone I know involved in government communications is struggling with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and all the other social media channels. Today, that struggle hit major media including this story on Wired's site. And late today (Tuesday) news from CNN that the Marines have banned Twitter.

Of course, security is a huge issue. The government is spending tremendous money in trying to protect against cyber attacks. Recently we saw North Korea launch a ham-handed attack against Federal websites. But to attempt to ban social media channels for security reasons is tantamount to requiring all broadcast channels to shut down because of concern that an enemy will find a way to assume control and take over our world through propaganda. OK, maybe the analogy isn't appropriate, but the point is that the security wonks have been spending too much time in their cubicles and haven't gotten out into the real world lately.

The White House, as an example, has as many or more secrets as our Department of Defense. In fact, when you think about it, all the big secrets are going to end up there. But the Obama administration has led the charge in adopting new channels including all the ones I mentioned. Truth is, a couple of weeks ago, the talk on Twitter was that the White House announced a press conference on Twitter at least a half hour before they got around to letting the media know through normal channels. Maybe the security people in the Pentagon ought to get out of their offices and have a chat with their counterparts at the White House.

The world is changing. Those security folks need to understand that in the recent H1N1 flu outbreak, the public used the internet to get information more than most traditional channels, and they found information coming via the internet the most complete and most helpful. The CDC won kudos among the public and communication experts for its excellent use of numerous social media channels to distribute vital information. Similarly, the US Coast Guard, FEMA and other government agencies have adopted social media as key elements of their communication processes. DOD will as well. The directive of Secretary Gates to the security team: keep us secure without throwing us back into the dark ages. It's your job to find out how.

By the way, thanks to Tim O'Leary of O'Brien's Response Management for alerting me to this issue.

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