Friday, November 14, 2008

It's time for government public affairs officers to embrace the full capabilities of social media

Mention Twitter to most old school public relations professionals, and it's a topic that most of them don't understand. For government communications professionals, the use of social media tools is not something they understand or want to embrace. Furthermore, most public relations professionals have an archaic perspective to using Twitter or searching blogs.

During my Air Force career, I set up the Internet for the Allied Forces Southern Europe Public Information Office. We used tools like Gopher, Veronica and Archie to monitor the pulse of the Bosnian conflict and the growth of NATO in former Warsaw Pact nations.

Looking back, I realized that I was a trailblazer in this area. I remember my American military colleagues looking at the early stages of the Internet and not understanding its capability. Now, a California developer has created a tool to monitor the use of Twitter and other social media tools with its application. For government public affairs professionals, this is like my use of the older Internet tools at AFSOUTH during the Bosnian conflict.

Having listened to a video and checked out their web site, I think it's a great application. However, the developers have a major technology barrier to overcome. The typical public affairs or information officer has to deal with the firewalls and security infrastructure protecting their organization's information system.

For this new app to work, the government has to allow its PAO and PIO professionals to have access to the world wide web. As most government firewalls protect their information structure by not allowing PIOs to not monitor the blogosphere with their processes and fire walls, it's time for the proactive government communication types to work out a process that allows them fulltime access to Twitter and blog sites.

The easiest solution is to allow PAOs to have at least one or two laptops with an air card that allows them access to the full capabilities of the world wide web. And sadly, the public affairs professionals have enough other "turf battles" that the availability of the fulltime use of the Internet is probably not their highest priority.

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