The Feds Embrace Social Media

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Last week Doug Belzer at Federal Computer Week has an encouraging article about how Twitter, blogs and other Web 2.0 tools are revolutionizing government business. Belzer writes how government managers and elected officials are using social media to network and collaborate online, quickly connecting with audiences like never before.

“If they’re looking for information about an obscure contract vehicle, they can post a message on a messaging service such as Twitter and see if someone can help them learn about it,” he writes. “Or if they run across a particularly useful piece of information on a community-created Web page, they can give it a high rating so others can find it easily in the future.”

Belzer gives five examples of how bureaucrats have used social media “to take care of business,” contrasting this new and effective strategy with how they would have approached the project or problem before Web 2.0 tools were available and in use, with less impressive results.

One of Belzer’s examples, as a un-recovered peanut butter fan, is near and dear to my heart. When salmonella-tainted peanut butter was found in a number of food products, it was the responsibility of the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration to get the word out about the recalls. In the past, the agencies would attempt to raise the alarm by employing press releases, posts on Web sites, toll-free telephone lines, but the agencies never knew how effective these efforts were at alerting the public. But with this emergency the agencies are using Web 2.0 tools, such as a widgets, blogs, Twitter feeds and other social networks, as well as other social media outreach efforts.

The CDC first offered their peanut-butter widget in early February. And since then, Belzer reports here, about 16,000 sites, including newspapers, health agencies and personal Web sites, posted the widget, resulting in more than 6.8 million views. “That viral effect is really pretty amazing,” he quotes a CDC information officer as saying. “The reach of the widget grows exponentially.”

The promise of Government 2.0 is just beginning to dawn.

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