The Gov 2.0 space is full of evangelists trumpeting the ability of social-media technology to make government more responsive, efficient and collaborative. But you can’t guard against the potential dangers that can come from combining social media and the business of government unless you’re willing to acknowledge the risks involved.
“Things like access and transparency sound really great, until someone’s found the location of nuclear materials, TSA manuals or a lot of Social Security numbers, thanks to your government website,” said Elizabeth Losh of the University of California, Irvine, during her presentation at this year’s Gov 2.0 Expo. During her talk, Losh explored some of the biggest mistakes government programs make when they try to put Web 2.0 strategies to work.
Here are some of the biggest mistakes Losh cautioned government employees against during her talk:
- Making promises you can’t keep. Before you respond to a user’s request, make sure you actually have the authority to follow through on everything you say. Losh cited the case of a State Department worker who said they would look into a situation involving a Chinese blogger at a Twitter user’s request — which turned out to be a sensitive matter that had to be quietly ignored.
- Losing track of what your users really care about. Government websites don’t need to provide entertainment. They don’t need to mindlessly kowtow to the latest technology trends. They just have to serve users’ needs — and what most users need from government sites is information. The best way to keep your site relevant is by designing it with your current users’ needs in mind, Losh said, instead of something you think they might want down the road.
- Soliciting user content — and then forgetting about it. If you’re going to ask people to share information, you have to put it to work. Otherwise, “it encourages people to becomes cynical about user-generated content and the government’s relationship to it,” she said.
- Assuming everyone is going to be friendly. Hackers are going to be a problem, but so are trolls who just want attention and conspiracy theorists who are going to see hidden messages in everything you post online. You need to prepared to handle all of those eventualities, she said. At the same time, you can’t let those concerns make you deaf to citizen complaints — even if don’t like the way those complaints are being made.
- Confusing .gov with .com. The social-media sphere is dominated by corporate branding, but its worth remembering that social networks are striking up relationships with their users — and those users’ information — that may not be appropriate in a government space, she said. Don’t get caught up in trying to craft an elaborate brand experience that gets away from your agency’s mission. “This is the government. It’s not a brand,” she said.
Do you agree with Losh’s concerns? What other Gov 2.0 pitfalls do government institutions face? How can government agencies address these challenges?
Image credit: alengo, via iStockphoto