I’m a little skeptical about the idea of the federal government using Twitter and Facebook to reach out to citizens. Not because it’s a bad idea. Just because I find it weird. Being one of those early Facebook adopters who joined in college, when it was mostly drunken pictures of frat parties and whatnot, I’m still awestruck by its widespread use as a marketing tool and means of communication today.
In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP of global communication, indicated that with the right messages, the government can encourage even the most wary citizens to at least accept government agencies online, which then helps spread messages virally through Facebook’s news feeds and other tools. The challenge is getting people to act. Schrage said:
“I don’t think the United States has a particularly strong track record of doing that successfully. But I would say, based on my conversations with people in the new administration, they have a sensitivity to these issues and to [social media] as a priority like no other administration has had certainly since the dawn of the Internet era. So you’re going to see much more innovation, much more creativity. We have not yet designed the Internet equivalent, or the social networking equivalent, of Voice of America [the official radio and television broadcasting service of the U.S. government]. Voice of America was, for its time, an incredibly powerful tool. Incredibly powerful. But we have not yet come up with the tools and techniques for the social networking era that engage people in a way that the Voice of America really couldn’t, because it was constrained by being a one-way media.”
He’s right. But with some innovation on the part of the nation’s best marketing minds, Facebook and other social networking tools could really be used to engage Americans beyond simply getting out the vote. I’ve seen it happen for other causes. Be Hope to Her, a national campaign to raise awareness of the poor quality of water in Africa, was held at dozens of college campuses on the same day last month, and it was largely organized by volunteer groups that networked through Facebook. And that’s just one example. Young people, in particular, have become adept at reaching out to others via Facebook, in a way that the government and other entities haven’t yet mastered. Perhaps they should consider hiring some of those students once they graduate.