Few public leaders understand the power of social media

This article on Forbes Nearly One Year After The Start Of Arab Uprisings, Few Arab Leaders Understand The Power Of Social Media made me curious how governments are doing here “at home” in Europe. I found the article in the twitter feed of Matthew Fraser, @frasermatthew.

We are after all seeing a raising citizen engagement in many countries over the world and in any case it is always in any government’s interest to communicate with its citizens. But maybe it should be even higher in times of change. Today with Social media communication is easier than ever before. Only I find that if governments actually do use Social Media it is one way only and it is rare that the citizens actually gets to interact with their governments. In fact I haven’t found any proof where interaction is the ”normal.”

According Jared Cohen, Google Ideas, we currently see two systems in the midst of a noisy transition, where one is physical and dominated by states with the traditional division between state and power and the other is a rival system that is virtual, cross-national and dominated by citizens.

Cohen believes that these two systems will eventually find a way to exist side by side and that there will be a sort of checks-and-balances situation where we still will have a system based on states but with a higher interaction by its citizens.

Anyway, this prompted me to make a very non-academic investigation about the status of a few European countries. I have studied the Prime Minister home page of the following countries and noted if there was a link to Twitter. And when I mention the name of the Prime Minister this often refers to the actual office as I do understand that it is rare that the Heads of State engage like this with their constituencies – although from a credibility point of view it wouldn’t hurt them if they did.

United Kingdom: PM Cameron tweets under the profile UK Prime Minister, and rather actively too. Although Cameron seems to like Social Media only when it used to push information not so much when it is used to interact. And he certainly shows a lack of intellectual honesty in his actual approach to Social Media. He cannot on the one hand praise Social Media and the role it played in the Arab spring and on the other hand demand higher control of the same Social Media when it is used to create the same upheaval in the UK.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t tweet, however the spokesperson Steffen Seibert is Twittering and answering tweets, actually only one of two (the other is Latvia) that seems to interact. I did think that countries going trough a crisis would jump on the possibility to communicate with their citizens, if nothing else to try to avoid violent demonstrations.

At the Italian Prime Minister home page there is no trace of social media interaction. However the Greek Prime Minister is Tweeting and quite intensely too as is the Portuguese Government.

For a while I was hopeful about the Spanish Prime Minister as the website showed logos from all the major Social Media networks – but I was quickly thwarted in my enthusiasm – it was only to share the wisdom of the prime minister, not for him to communicate with is constituencies. In particular seeing that Spain gears up to national elections tomorrow (Sunday 20 November) one would think that interaction with the citizens might be of interest. But in all honesty, this might be from the Socialist Party since it is not the office of the Prime minister that is active in an election campaign.

I did have my hopes up about the Nordic prime ministers, we’re after all know as being forerunners of the civic inclusive society; small countries with a flat administration and early adopters when it comes to technology, surely there in the high North we would have seen the light – but alas, Norway and Denmark is a desert when it comes to social media.  There were a few blogs found on the Swedish PM home page but no links to Twitter nor to Facebook. Although there is the possibility to send a mail to the PM’s office. And at least in Sweden public officials are legally bound to answer any communication from a citizen.

The Finnish government is a light in the dark – they even have a page called Government and the social media

France – interesting enough the first link that came up in my search was to Priceminister, but the French Prime Minister isn’t tweeting. Although they do have a good social media approach and the eager user can download various apps which helps the office of the Prime Minister to push information.

In Poland the Prime Minister is tweeting and rather intensely too. Estonia has a tweeting Prime Minister but only over 300 tweets. Latvia is interesting, the PM is tweeting and as far as I can understand interacts with the readership (at least re-tweeting other tweets). The neighbour Lithuania tweets but shows only little over 600 tweets.

In a sense I can see why a government can be hesitant to use e.g. Twitter as a way to communicate. Even if the information we publish on Twitter belongs to us, we have given Twitter the right to use this material pretty much as it chooses. And therein lies the age-old conflict between being public and open and (private) censorship. While I do believe that any government by default can release much more information than currently is the case I do realise that the fact that you don’t know where the released information will end up and how it be used can be a difficult question to manage [for a government]. But with a smart Social media policy this might  be solved. While I overall find it’s better to communicate than not to communicate I realise that some national questions are of concern for national security and can’t be e.g. tweeted about.

But I am nevertheless convinced that a public leader that is smart about Social Media and considers it as a way to interact with its constituencies – and I mean interact – not just push information will win in the long run. And what more if the public leader really listens and adapt and adopt while not loosing sight of hers/his ideological beliefs  s/he might also be considered as a great leader.

True listening tends to do that with you.



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