COMMENTARY

Twitter nears the gov 2.0 tipping point

Social media tools such as Twitter are finding more formal roles in helping agencies meet their missions

Steve Lunceford is a senior manager at Deloitte Services, where he is a strategic communications consultant for the firm’s public service practices. He also runs GovTwit.com, which ranked No. 2 on Federal Computer Week’s “10 Social Network Sites to Keep You in the Loop.”

Twitter, the fast-growing social media network that limits users to 140-character posts — or tweets, as they are known — is reaching another milestone in its meteoric growth as it seeks to hire its first-ever government liaison. The new Washington-based position is Twitter’s latest acknowledgment that government organizations worldwide, including the U.S. federal government, are fast becoming some of the most active users of its service.

During the past two years, I’ve been tracking much of this growth up close through my Web site, GovTwit.com, an online social media directory for government agencies that use Twitter. GovTwit began with about 50 government and government-related Twitter IDs in 2008 and has rapidly expanded to include nearly 3,000 today.

Twitter’s search for a Washington presence is a nod to the rapid growth of government users and the fact that we are still early in this revolution called Government 2.0.

A passionate community of forward-thinking leaders in and around government proselytizes about the many benefits of open-government tools and channels. But for the most part, government agencies communicate with one another, the public and other governments in the same way they did in the Web 1.0 world. Simply put, organizational and cultural change in government hasn’t kept up with the pace of new technologies.

But we’re reaching a critical point at which scales might begin to tip toward increased adoption of tools such as Twitter into more formal roles to help agencies achieve their missions. Here are some examples.

  • The U.S. Geological Survey has used Twitter as a monitoring tool to collect and analyze people's accounts of earthquakes around the world — and was featured by Twitter as the first-ever case study on government use of Twitter.
  • The Wall Street Journal reported on how the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is using Twitter as a vital communications platform and resource during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis.
  • Various agencies at the Health and Human Services Department manage more than 60 Twitter IDs on topics that range from food recalls to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, with Twitter playing a critical role in helping the agencies deliver critical information at a rapid pace to large audiences.
  • San Francisco proved that a large city could use Twitter for direct service when it expanded its 311 program to include around-the-clock service and response to people sending messages via Twitter to its ID, Twitter.com/SF311.

You’ll find agencies, Cabinet secretaries, governors and individual public servants throughout government using Twitter daily to rapidly share information, ideas and news and engage in conversations about how to improve government performance and processes.

Twitter is different from other social networks largely because much of the conversations on its network happen in a more public manner. Anyone can follow anyone — no friend requests are required. I believe that approach provides a more collaborative and immediate experience than other networks, and the 140-character limit for messages also weeds out all but the most critical details to pass along, making it a more efficient way to share information for many tasks.

Although it is just one of many helpful Web 2.0 tools and channels that agencies can use, Twitter has already proven to be an important part of the communications mix for many. By adding a liaison in Washington, the service is preparing to expand its government user base even more.

 

About the Author

Steve Lunceford is a senior manager for Deloitte Services LP, serving as a strategic communications consultant for the firm's public-service practices. He also runs GovTwit.com, a government social media directory.

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