In response to the uprising against his government, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak pulled the plug on the Internet in his country. The uproar over this tactic, which isn’t new, highlights the importance of social media, not just for protesters, but also for governments. Governments should not see social media as a bad thing.
In a January 2010 speech on Internet freedom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Internet connectivity is now seen more as a right than a privilege, which the U.S. State Department is now taking advantage of. In all honesty, the U.S. State Department should been seen as the go-to place to understand the possibilities for government use of social media in a global world.
Looking at any recent global crisis, you can observe a response by the U.S. government via social media: Haiti, Iran, Wikileaks, Egypt. The two guys on the keyboards/blackberries are Alec Ross and Jared Cohen, who have been tailed by The New York Times Magazine (Jared has since moved on to Google); U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley was just recently highlighted by The Washington Post. As Ross’ title, Senior Advisor for Innovation, suggests, messages from the government now need to be crafted for a very global and social community.
More government departments, officials, even politicos, should look at how the State Department uses social media. Imagine if the Office of Personnel Management had the tech savvy of the State Department…maybe this winter’s snow-induced traffic mayhem might have been averted. The State Department provides a great example of the institutional use of social media in government; my hope is that there are more examples to come.