The other day I came across a blog post in OhMyGov! titled “10 Rules for being a good government Twitterer.” The author, Jenifer Reinhardt offered this observation:
A number of federal agencies and businesses are taking advantage of [Twitter] to get their information to the public in a hip and cutting-edge way, giving them access to a demographic they may otherwise not reach. When used well, Twitter can offer an agency or company that personal touch not available through a Web design and the ability to develop a personality to help branding efforts. And there is the crux of it. Social media, and Twitter in particular, are gatherings of online brand communities. And, as Reinhardt points out, government doesn’t always think in terms of branding: Think about your views on NASA. Now consider how you perceive FEMA. Despite both having very publicized debacles, their brands are quite different and the power of NASA’s brand allows them to continue to retain public support even in the midst of incredible tragedy and failure.
The same cannot be said about FEMA and part of the reason is the manner in which these agencies regularly communicate with the public, one aspect of which now, like it or not, involves Twitter. Clearly, public managers need to think about their “brands” and as such they need also to think in terms of customer service. When individuals become part of a brand community they develop loyalty to that brand and, if all goes well, remain connected to the community. Twitter can extend that relationship by personalizing the messaging and facilitating a real dialogue. Without good customer service all brands falter. When looked at in this light, the obvious governmental uses for Twitter—emergency notification, continuity of service, etc…—are just the tip of the iceberg. In an age when public managers are caught in a “value squeeze” (trying to deliver more and better services under tighten budgets), social media is an invaluable tool. Unlike other tools, Twitter—because of the immediacy and low barriers to entry—offers government the possibility of promoting the citizen-government relationship in an unprecedented way. By utilizing social media tools to build relationships with stakeholders, public managers can make customer service a requirement as opposed to an option.