Yesterday, President Obama was the first president in history to send a tweet, sent via the @RedCross account during a visit to the Red Cross’s Washington DC headquarters. There were tweets from the @BarackObama account during the campaign, but these were from campaign staffers. This was the first time the President, our most technologically advanced so far, actually pushed the button.
What followed was “big news story” and the obligatory ribbing from the Republicans. But the real issue that is almost lost in the story is that for all of the hype about Government 2.0, Open Government, and other efforts, digital engagement is still not well accepted at the top levels of government and the word of the day remains “control.”
In the story on CNN, Ed Henry points out:
It’s unlikely the president will be doing much tweeting in office, however. White House personnel – other than a couple of top aides such as Bill Burton – are restricted from using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. There are security concerns with White House computers, and administration officials are also not supposed to be tweeting on taxpayer time.
Okay, I can kind of buy the security concerns. They don’t want some junior staffer leaking the number of pizzas order late at night so that our enemies are aware that we are in attack mode. But the statement that “White House personnel…are restricted from using social media” and those last few words “…not supposed to be tweeting on taxpayer time” that caught me. This is a good indication that this is still one of those “do as I say, not as I do” political initiatives.
It’s not as if there aren’t other CEO’s using social media to reach out to their communities and customers. CEO’s such as Mark Cuban, John Mackey, and other CEO’s effectively use blogs, twitter, and other forms of social media to directly engage with the end user. They may say things that upset people or that they may later regret, but that is the nature of any relationship, digital or otherwise.
Digital engagement with citizens is critical and I think this administration as serious about it as anyone. But only encouraging agencies to adopt a social media track and not doing it at the highest levels of government won’t work. I think if agencies and citizens are to take this seriously, then we need to see some top down leadership. That first tweet was a start. Maybe a Presidential blog laying out that Thursday is meatloaf night at the White House, some pictures of Bo, how well everyone bowled at the White House bowling alley last week, and a post explaining government health care will be next.
What do you think?