Monday, April 27, 2009

Will the government embrace social media in this flu swine epidemic

With the sudden outbreak of the swine flu epidemic, the question, for techies, is:  "When will the government embrace Twitter and other social media tools as a way to reach everyone with real-time information?"

As a longtime, retired military crisis communicator and evaluator for the Air Force, I am wondering when our government organizations will embrace Twitter and blogging as a great way to reach the masses on key communication issues.

As someone with friends in the government public affairs sector, I know their issues and the answers about their use of blogs and Twitter.  First, it's hard to track what's being said about you when your government communications providers believe that blogging and other social media outreaches will bring damage to their infrastructure.  While that's somewhat true, the government needs to set aside a second portal for public information types and their bosses to monitor what's being said about their organization.  And, if you can read about it, there are times when you need to respond quickly about it.

While Barack Obama is becoming the "first communicator" with his special Blackberry, he needs to lead the government to the transformation needed in social media channels.  The best thing that Mr. Obama can do soon is to push out a government directive that tells those computer security guys that it's official policy to provide an outside channel to his public relations team members.   With this in place, the proactive public affairs types can then challenge their communications teams to provide them with the capability to blog and to tweet.

Over 30 years ago, President Jimmy Carter created another directive telling the military that they had to respond to media queries within one hour.  Some 15 years afterwards, I had to inform a three-star Air Force that he had to give me information on the facts surrounding Air Force and NATO jets shooting down Serbian Galebs.    Once I mentioned the directive, the general backed down on holding back on the releasable information.

As someone who has worked in public relations for years, I have seen the changes from electric typewriters to computers to new media.   With the communication capability of social media, the government public affairs professionals must change his or her beliefs about this outreach capability.  The beauty of this is that it would allow someone like an on-scene public affairs professional at a crash site to update information about the crash.  For example, if the local police close off a public road, a PA person could blog about it and then tweet it out via Twitter.

I know that changes are coming within the government sector.  And, it takes time.  However, executive leadership by Mr. Obama could help speed the process up.

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