It’s become redundant at this point, but it needs to be said: social media can be a little frivolous. From over-used memes to tasteless tweets, the internet has so much silliness that one becomes sceptical. Are there are any serious advantages to its use in the public sector?
There are, and IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge goes a long way to prove it, and to clear the smoke about just what technology can do to transform a city.
A month ago, I wrote about Marco Rubio’s water bottle fumble, and how he was able to use interest in the viral video to gain support. He turned what could have been a PR accident to his advantage with canny leadership skills. The National Journal has run an update on the event, arguing that government leaders need to beware the meme. They claim that capitalizing on social media is dangerous. Memes have an expiration date, and so does anything connected with them.
Certainly, fads die out. But that shouldn’t discredit the internet as a platform for serious communication. In all the meme silliness, it is easy to forget the huge benefits that connecting with the public through technology like social media, big data, newsletters, and online resources can bring to the public service.
When the city of Edmonton won IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge in 2011, it was able to make huge improvements to city safety and transportation initiatives through technology use. Some of this was carried out in the form of social media, such as the @yeg twitter accounts, where citizens could learn about snow and ice response in real time. Some of it was through revamped online resources, like email distribution, or through accessible big data.
Social media and user-friendly data were integrated into the communications methods used by the city. The public responded very positively to the new initiatives. Because they were user-friendly, practical, and updated frequently, they greatly improved the reputation of the public service’s ability to help citizens. In fact, because citizens are used to the rapid-fire nature of internet communication, they expected this from the city and found it useful for data to be presented in this fast and easy way.
Changing public communication also allowed for change within departments. There was an increase in collaboration among departments and colleagues as servants worked towards common goals.
IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge gave Edmonton the tools it needed to make technology work for the city. Check out the video on Edmonton here, and click here for the IBM white paper. Memes and political gaffs aside, there is no reason that the same platform used for so much silliness can’t also be used for real, transformative change. The public service of Edmonton was able to bring about remarkable change through innovative, interactive technology; there’s no reason that public service in the rest of Canada can’t, too.