Last week, I attended the Wiki White House panel at the Google office in downtown D.C. The event, co-sponsored by the New America Foundation and Wired Magazine, featured an exciting conversation about the future of social media under President-elect Barack Obama’s administration. You can watch the video of the panel here.
We all understand the Obama era will fundamentally change how government, especially the president, communicates with citizens. It’s a moot point that has been blogged, tweeted, and podcasted about for months. Yes, the Obama campaign (and now administration) used social media to energize and educate millions of people about political issues. But how will that continue once Mr. Obama takes his seat in the Oval Office? Will the ideas translate well to other branches and departments? The panel and audience raised several questions that need to be answered:
Will government leaders understand social media?
The reason social media is so popular is because it builds communities and allows people to interact with others across a variety of platforms. People who are active online understand this, but many large businesses don’t get it.We’ve all read case studies where clients push to use the technology because everyone else is – they don’t think about the reasons for or implications of being active online.
So does the government, and everyone who would be using social media tools on its behalf, understand the importance of communication? For example, many of the government officials I follow on Twitter post a steady stream of press release headlines. They don’t respond to @replies or answer constituents’ questions. This isn’t communicating, it’s broadcasting. What measures will the Obama team take to overcome this?
How will First Amendment rights be observed?
Politics and government are topics that breed discourse and heavy debate. People don’t always agree, and sometimes disagreements can lead to personal, vicious attacks. What will the government do to monitor and regulate these discussions without infringing on the First Amendment?
How will the government engage those who aren’t online?
Not everyone is online, and not everyone who is online participates in social media. Will the government urge more people to be active online? Or, as a panelist mentioned, will people follow the adage “build and they will come?” What about Americans who do not have access to the Internet, especially those with disabilities? The new administration will have to develop comprehensive plans to overcome these obstacles.
What will communications’ positions look like in the new administration?
As someone with a PR background, I’m interested to see how positions in PR and communications will change in a Wiki White House. The panel stressed the need for a CIO and CTO (Chief Technology Officer), but I wonder how traditional positions like press secretaries will adapt to this era of wide open communication. Will these positions become more involved in the process, or will the role grow obsolete?
As always, I’m convinced that integration will be key. Those who work for or as press secretaries will be talking more openly with bloggers and implementing more Web 2.0 strategies to keep up with an administration that recognizes its importance.
I know this is a bare-bones list, but the panel only lasted an hour and a half – I’m sure it could have lasted for days with the numerous possibilities social media makes available to the government.
I’m interested in how you think government communication, both internally and externally, will change in the next four years. Will you be happier with Government 2.0?