Power to the People! In recent years GCC governments have moved into the digital world with a number of positive initiatives designed to help citizens access government services.
ocial media began simply as a means of connecting people online. But following the astonishing growth of social media platforms like MySpace and Facebook, social media was very quick to attract the attention of advertisers. Direct communications from corporate entities followed soon after. But relative to marketers and the corporate sector, government entities have been slow in adopting social media tools and platforms. Remember how the Obama Presidential campaign of 2008 was seen as the first US Presidential election to broadly utilise social media? That’s only two years ago. If you consider that social media really took off in 2003 with the launch of MySpace which by 2006 had 100 million international subscribers, it is strange that governments around the world took so long to see the potential benefits of social media. Facebook, launched one year after MySpace, also had over 100 million users by the time the Obama campaign got started. Indeed the Obama campaign will go down as the litmus test for social media usage in the public sector as, following Obama’s success, governments around the world began to look very seriously at what opportunities social media platforms might offer them. Discussions around these opportunities are very interesting for communications professionals, public sector workers and the general citizenry. Perhaps understandably the first method of operation for government social
media usage has been in electioneering, copying Obama’s lead. But not all political leaders, nor political parties, have been successful with the social media tactics they’ve engaged. Broadly speaking, those which have chosen to try and attract voters to purpose-built social media platforms have been far less successful than those who have engaged with the citizenry on their preferred platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. As governments decided they would try to take advantage of the two-way communications which digital media offers, many initiatives failed to grasp this central tenet of social media. I recall one platform created by the provincial government in my home state back in Australia. Designed to allow voters to directly comment on and affect government policy, it was lauded as one of the most innovative and open two-way dialogue models of government-to-citizenry digital media spaces ever created. But, as it was housed on a government website, it failed to attract the level of engagement it was hoped it would. Only a small minority of people are so civically engaged as to choose to communicate with government on its terms. But if you go to Facebook and type in any local political issue you will find the kind of broad-based civic engagement that governments which have embraced social media crave. This is backed by a 2009 Pew report in the United States which found that civic engagement is still linked to income levels, but with more and more people linked to the Internet, more and more voices are being
heard commenting on local issues. But, most importantly, these voices are being heard on their terms and in their spaces, not on the pages/platforms of their local senator or house representative. GCC nations, despite having started their push towards fully-integrated digital connectivity relatively late, are benefitting from the advantage of being able to install the best available infrastructure to service the online needs of local populations. In recent years GCC governments, inspired by broad-based e-government services available in countries like Singapore and Korea, have moved into the digital world with a number of positive initiatives designed to help citizens access government services. Hookumi is one excellent local example. With obvious differences in political systems between GCC nations and those of the countries mentioned above, it remains to be seen if Qatar, UAE, et al, will seek to engage directly with local populations in the same way other nations have. Nevertheless, if two-way communications with local populations are to move from the Majlis to the PC, local leaders will again benefit from the trial and error of other nations in this regard. For governments everywhere communicating with their citizens remains a challenge requiring careful consideration of message creation, delivery and distribution. However, in the digital age, finding the citizenry, at least online, has never been so easy n
By Jamie Morse The author is an Account Director at Hill & Knowlton Qatar. He has an MA in Professional Communications and is a member of the International Public Relations Association.
Qatar Today AUGUST 10