By John Simpson, Business Consultant, GovDelivery Federal
Just after the new year, the Washington Post advertised a recent study showing that an increasing amount of world leaders are taking to Twitter to increase their reach to the public. While this new report from the Digital Policy Council does show a significant upward trend in the number of leaders that are leveraging Twitter, a 75% increase from 2011, the more revealing graph is the one below that highlights which country’s heads of state have the largest amount of followers and supposedly the larger trend towards open government.
The Washington Post continues that “the numbers sound like a big win both for Twitter and for open government, which have gone hand-in-hand since even before the Arab Spring uprisings popularized social media as a form of civic participation in 2010.”
While it is undeniable that Twitter holds enormous outreach potential to a global population that is only increasing its use of social media tools, the assumption that “more leaders tweeting equals a more open society” is a misguided notion. Simply because a member of a leader’s staff maintains a regular presence on Twitter does not mean that anything being communicated is new or the government is becoming increasingly transparent. Having a large amount of followers does not automatically mean that a government is lending itself more to the idea of an active dialogue with its citizens. Without proactive engagement and real participation in public discussions, social media simply becomes an avenue for leaders to spam their followers. It is also not much of an accomplishment to tout a large base of followers over other global leaders when your country already has a large, social media savvy citizenry.
Many organizations that leverage social media, both within and outside of the government, use these tools as simply a device for re-purposing the same, old information. Having a bare bones social media policy does not mean an organization can boast about being more open to the public. Tools like Twitter and Facebook were not conceived as a one-to-many tool, but as a means to connect people across the world and discuss issues relevant to them. Whether it’s talking about your cousin’s ugly baby photos or the organization of a protest against a tyrant, Twitter is about proactive engagement and conversations. A steady and sizable increase in global leaders communicating to their population through social media is a positive trend, but progress cannot stop there. A country’s leader having a large following online doesn’t mean that the country itself is moving towards a policy of open government. It’s what a leader does with his or her social media megaphone that matters.