“While governments are adopting social media, it seems like many government agencies are there simply because they recognize that they must, in some form, come to terms with the radical shift in how information is created, consumed, and delivered.” (via techvibes.com)

According to Mashable, Government 2.0 is “any technology that helps citizens or agencies solve problems, either for individuals or the community, and enables government to operate more efficiently or effectively.”

While social media provides great opportunities to connect with the community, spread information and be responsive, it also raises a cautionary flag for governments to develop new policies and procedures. Many governments are apprehensive about incorporating social media due to the possibility of negative backlash. Developing a social media policy and a best practices guideline will ensure that the added-value of using social media is balanced with proper guidance.

According to the Pew Internet Project, surveys in several communities found that people who believe their local government does a good job sharing information are more likely than others to feel satisfied with civic life. Additionally, those who think their government shares information well are more likely to say that average citizens are empowered and can have an impact on government.

Below are a few ways that governments can use social media in a positive way:

Community events
Informing a community about events is a great way to engage with citizens. Local festivals, community days, concerts, charity fundraisers and sports events are all opportunities to engage with local community, so why not extend it online? The government’s social media channels should be a source of information — accessibility is key. Keep citizens informed about upcoming events, help promote local businesses and community partners that are attending, and even live-tweet at the event.

Setting up a blog for an event is a great way to post updates, publish guest lists, speaker lists, and post photos, all in one platform.

Facebook Events is a great way to promote an event by extending the reach across social networks. Once someone has RSVP’d to an event, their attendance is posted to their news feed and profile for all of their friends and followers to see. On Twitter, promote following the event’s Twitter account for event updates and include a unique hashtag for the event so people can easily find relevant information, such as #Van2010 for the Winter Olympics.

Emergency communication
When a city is in lock-down due to inclement weather or other emergency situations and traditional means of communicating are not available, turn to social media to keep your citizens informed. The power of social media to unite a broken city was never more apparent than during Japan’s horrific tsunami in March 2011 – Twitter became the go-to service in emergencies.

Mashable states that, “with the phone systems knocked out, the number of tweets coming from Tokyo were topping 1,200 per minute” less than an hour after the quake. A California student from Japan discovered her family was still alive via a YouTube video that was posted from a local Japanese news station.

From tornadoes and snowstorms, to floods and lightning storms, social media channels can be used for any situation that requires a concerted response. Even the USA Center for Disease Control has a Twitter profile (@CDCEmergency) “to increase the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to public health emergencies.”

Social media allows for governments to reach a wider audience, ensuring vital messages reach those who need the information the most. Additionally, it allows for timely updates which are crucial in emergency response situations. It is important to remember that social media is two-way communication – sending out information is important, but being quick to respond to the citizens is crucial as well.

Elections and politics
Social media should be seen as a supplementary mode of communication rather than seen as replacing traditional modes of communication. Governments have the opportunity to inform their communities about public hearings, provide information about potential candidates, answer questions and receive feedback from the public, and even host online town halls.

Individual candidates or politicians are also encouraged to form their own social media strategy by integrating various social media channels including Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and YouTube channels. State Representative Justin Amash used his Facebook page to post explanations of each bill he is voting on, how he is voting, and why.

He also had a separate tab on his page labelled “Contribute” with a direct link to donate to his campaign. This level of interaction increases transparency, and enhances credibility. It is important to remember that social media is two-way communication and responding to citizens is as important as, or even more important than, selling a party’s platform. It is crucial for governments to be open and responsive to the citizens, and even moreso during elections. Transparency is key when engaging and communicating with citizens.