For many municipalities the rush to use social media tools is a flawed exercise in tactics unsupported by strategy. Simply using web 2.0 technologies with their exhibited potential for significant and far reaching impacts, is not the same as integrating them into ones work programs, and the function of an organization. While these tools are often no more complicated to use than existing word processing programs, when municipalities or other government organizations use them for stakeholder engagement; networking; communication; crowd sourcing information; or any number of other activities, the potential risks are as high as the potential payoffs. For example, the breaching of confidentiality and security by US federal officials using Twitter within meetings and during visits abroad earlier this year. Municipal problems resulting from unskilled use of these kinds of tools may be slightly less dramatic, but with no less potential impact on the local scene.Turning on a light does not make one an electrician, and in terms of social media use, municipalities need more electricians than switch flippers.
The skills needed to successfully design structures and methods for integrating web 2.0 into the organizational and legal parameters found within the realm of municipal governance are complex. Expanding or enhancing any activities with such potentially powerful tools should at the very least be done with understanding of: notice requirements; communications policies; records retention requirements; issues of vesting and legal standings associated with various applications; codes of professional conduct and ethics; accessibility issues and requirements; economic and cultural cohorts within the community; and, in camera procedures.
Organizations need people with more than just web 2.0 end user skills, they need people with creativity and broad minded problem solving skills. These individuals will help maximize the potential of social media tools, by adapting their use beyond common limits and/or initial design and integrating them into existing structures and procedures without conflict to policies. For example, blogs can used as management tools for monitoring resources for major projects and employee teams if they are designed appropriately and published internally. These kinds of blogs can reduce reliance on meetings, facilitate telecommuting, improve access to and dissemination of information, remove organizational silos, and enhance succession strategies and training for new staff.
At the very least, knowing how to design and use social media to maximize their vast potential, requires more than switch flipping but also the ability to generate communication policy; understanding of organizational development; strategic systems thinking; and facilitative leadership skills. If your organization has web 2.0 electricians with these kinds of skills you will likely find yourself happy on target and not be taking leaps into the dark when someone flips the wrong switch.