Editor’s Viewpoint: Heavy traffic on the information highway
Social media is like teen sex. Many want to do it, but few know how. And, when they finally figure it out, they ask themselves, “Is that all there is to it?” Now, just as communities are becoming comfortable using technology to become more efficient and effective internally and better able to serve the public, a new wrinkle appears — emblemized by Facebook and Twitter. Initially embraced by teens to share their innermost inane thoughts, Facebook is being mastered by millions of their parents and other adults, which, of course, means that the kids are running for the exits.
Digital market watcher comScore says that only 9 percent of teens use Facebook and 11 percent tweet. Taking their place are people aged 35 to 54 whose engagement in social networks increased by 60 percent in 2008, according to Forrester Research. Its survey also noted that 80 percent of Americans use social media at least once a month. OK, many of us apparently want to share our crushingly boring lives, too, but the tools also can help local and state governments reach their residents in ways that complement their other online efforts.
You don’t have to leave your desk to see how your colleagues are using social media. Visit San Francisco’s Social Media Center site, www5.sfgov.org, where you can read Mayor Gavin Newsome’s blog, join the Board of Supervisors Twitter feed or link to the city’s Facebook page and its YouTube postings. Earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley launched his own YouTube channel, and South Sioux City, Neb., has been posting an average of two videos a month for the past two years on YouTube.
Social media suffers from a problem common to most technology advancements: It is easily misunderstood as complex or worse, revolutionary. It’s not. However, creating a campaign to inform your residents that they can sign up for your tweets is relatively easy, compared to offering information people want or need.
Social media also joins the mind numbing number of online vehicles you can use to engage your audiences — Web sites, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, emails, tweets, Webinars, message boards, podcasts — each with their own attributes. For example, a Web site is a tractor-trailer, a workhorse capable of hosting great volumes of information, such as videos, blogs and news. On the opposite end is Twitter, the short haul truck that is perfect for reminders, invites and even warnings.
As you get comfortable with the current crop of online vehicles, keep in mind that new models will be regularly entering the information highway. Maybe social media is more like aging than teen sex. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, a new wrinkle appears.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.