Are Civil Servants made for Social Media?

Picked up from Robert Hicks' post on FutureGov.

"Most senior civil servants are Generation Xers, born at a time without the internet. But does this mean that web communities are too ‘young’ for top officials to operate in effectively? In interviews with FutureGov, government officials from Australia, Malaysia and the UK argue that although civil servants may not feel comfortable using social media to reach young citizens, the rewards are worth the risks".

I'd partly agree with that, but thinking of the UK demographic of public sector employees, I think that majority of the decision makers fall into the Baby Boomer category (born 1940's to early '60's) than Generation X (born 1960s- 1970's), and it's these decision makers that are primarily responsible for blocking access to social media in their departments. They see no impact or consequence of blocking social media because they don't use it, either for work or personal use. Regrettably, they are limiting the opportunities for their departments to engage with the increasing number of citizens of all ages who are using social media, and risk creating departmental 'ghetos', isolated from the conversations that may have some direct relevance to them.

Glyn Evans the Director of Business Change at Birmingham City Council in the UK make a good point …"external communication has traditionally been mediated through communications professionals whereas social media engagement is direct and potentially puts the civil servant personally ‘in the firing line’." True, but with suitable training, and having a clearly defined and communicated social media policy, most civil servants should be able to deal with this.

The post concludes with reference to how British civil servants are being encouraged to get more involved online. The greater use of digital technologies was a key part of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent speech, and the Conservative opposition has been making similar noises. With a General Election looming, use of social media by civil servants is “likely to increase significantly". Amen to that!

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