Public sector officials have revealed a tension between a desire to make the most of the opportunities presented by social media and a fear of its anarchic qualities.
But according to Nick Wallace, research analyst Ovum, when addressing public sector delegates at the Ovum Industry Congress 2015 event, social media should be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.
“These anarchic qualities are what make it so useful,” he claims, “and tools are available to help governments process the deluge and better respond to citizen concerns.”
When the topic of using social media to improve public services came up in discussions with public sector delegates from around the world at this year’s Ovum Industry Congress, Wallace says many expressed frustration at the difficulty of identifying relevant information amid the deluge of tweets and fear of the impact of publicly visible complaints.
“Social media expands the opportunities to improve services and identify failures by creating an open and neutral platform via which citizens can provide feedback,” he adds.
“Governments can encourage this by starting conversations about public services marked with appropriate hashtags.
“Web experience management (WEM) software can be used to manage these efforts and analyse the responses, helping governments to identify public service failures and make improvements.”
On reflection, Wallace says that a minority of delegates seemed uncomfortable with the public nature of these interactions, particularly when they involve complaints.
“However, complaints will be public and social media users will discuss them in public whether government engages or not,” he qualifies.
“Failure to engage will only leave it looking unresponsive and disinterested. The best response is to make the most of the situation and see how unadulterated public scrutiny can lead to better policy.”
Wallace does accept however that it is “probably true” that engaging will, over time, “normalise” social media as a conventional platform for interacting with government and thus encourage more citizens to use it for this purpose.
“But this should be encouraged, not feared,” he adds.
“Social media is an anarchic force that gives individuals greater autonomous power to express themselves - and it is all the better for it.”