From transparency to Twitter, government is thriving in the 2.0 environment

Within a day of his being sworn in, President Barack Obama issued a memo to all government agency heads, calling for more transparency.

Within a day of his being sworn in, President Barack Obama issued a memo to all government agency heads, calling for more transparency. “We'll work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration,” he promised.

It's a bold goal. Yet for some time, a number of government agencies have been thriving in the social media environment. These entities are using cutting-edge 2.0 communications strategies to engage citizens on a wide range of issues. And they're succeeding.

For example, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign (a Fleishman-Hillard client), educates children and parents about drug prevention via one of the largest social marketing programs on the Web. Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard has openly embraced social media, starting a blog, a YouTube channel, and dedicating an entire section of its Web site to multimedia tools.

These entities are not alone. According to the General Services Administration, federal agencies operated more than 30 public-facing blogs to communicate with citizens last year. GovTwit counts more than 400 agencies and their components that use Twitter.

However, government agencies face many obstacles in adopting new technologies. Among the greatest is the clash between new communications technologies and complex, sometimes outdated rules. In the new 2.0 environment, the government is expected to communicate in the most user-friendly, accessible, and transparent method possible. It must also navigate a thicket of privacy and security regulations, many of which predate the Internet's use by decades.

For example, the White House, by law, needs to track every public communication – a rule established when those communications consisted largely of written correspondence, public statements, speeches, and the like. How does that law apply to a Facebook chat or comments posted about a YouTube video?

Social media changes the fundamental size, scale, and nature of communications. So, too, must the regulatory framework evolve, to enable government to tap into this medium's full potential.

The good news is that the appetite is there among many government leaders. In the past 10 years, we've worked with more than 20 government agencies to help them develop and implement successful digital strategies. Throughout, we have found federal agencies to be keenly interested in harnessing new, more effective ways to communicate.

The “government 2.0” evolution will take time, but it will happen. In fact, it already is.

Bill Pendergast is GM of Fleishman-Hillard in Washington.

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