Government 2.0, Social media & networking

Which is riskier: engagement or ignorance?

I’ve just finished reading Ignorance (of social media) is risk, a great post by Craig Thomler exploring the lack of social media engagement by public servants.

I think the issues that Craig raises reflect a lack of perceived relevance (and therefore importance) of social media by professionals in their own context. My experience has been that a lot of people working in a professional context (be it government or corporate) find it hard to determine how social media applies in this context. While many have Facebook accounts that they use for personal use, they are unable (or in some cases don’t want to, as social media is seen as, well, social) to connect this personal use into their work. While they see major brands operating in the space, given the differences in approach/context — e.g. between consumer brands and say public service — it’s difficult to translate this into their own sphere.

Also, they are often unaware of the “non-Facebook/Twitter” options that are available — such as Yammer, LinkedIn, wikis, blogs etc. This is understandable — we all have a tough time keeping up with the things that are directly relevant to our professional sphere, and if social media is not a high priority (either by mandate, crisis, or personal interest) it’s even harder to keep across all these different tools.

This, of course, creates a vicious cycle — they don’t understand how it might apply professionally, therefore they don’t engage, which means they don’t get experience, which makes it difficult to understand how it might apply… This is especially the case, I think, with tools like Twitter, where IMO you have to actively use the tool, and connect with others, to “get it”. Trying to make a decision on the basis of signing up for an account and looking at a couple of suggested feeds means you’re unlikely to truly understand the service. (The number of people I’ve spoken to that reflect this pattern of usage is pretty significant.)

I also suspect that some professionals and senior managers mistakenly see the “social media crisis” as a result of engagement — so “if we don’t engage, we reduce our risk” — “wilful ignorance” if I put it bluntly. This is problematic on a number of levels — not least of which is the fact that many crisis moments emerge because of lack of engagement, or similarly because of a lack of experience in dealing with crisis moments caused by lack of exposure. If this is the case and this kind of perception is bubbling beneath the surface, it might explain some of this lack of engagement.