John Lisle, Public Information Officer for the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) in Washington, DC, shares his thoughts on leveraging social media and the value of using a little personality to connect with constituents.
What was your path to Gov 2.0?
My first government job was with the Arlington County Police Department, and that’s where I had my first foray into social media. We were the first local law enforcement agency to post surveillance videos on YouTube. We also created a MySpace page and encouraged teens to “friend” the department, as a warning to child predators. Both efforts generated a lot of positive media coverage including stories in the Washington Post and on CNN.
Our biggest success, however, has been our Twitter account. We launched it last year in conjunction with “Potholepalooza,” a campaign to quickly address pothole complaints, and pitched it as another way for people to report problems. It really took off in December during the first blizzard and we got great use out of it during the twin blizzards last week. We pushed out important information, but we also solicited reports and photos of unplowed streets from residents. Before the December storm we had a respectable following of about 740 followers and that has grown rapidly to about 2500.
What area of government offers the biggest opportunity for improvement via Web 2.0 tools?
Communications/public affairs for sure, but also customer service. For instanced, some great apps have already been created for the public to submit service requests. The challenge is effectively integrating and utilizing them. We’re still working on that in the District.
How is the work you’re doing changing the way DC operates?
I think all of us who are using these tools are helping to change the public perception of the District Government. It is easy to get frustrated when dealing with a big bureaucracy, but Web 2.0 tools can poke holes in the wall and really improve communications and the experience for the consumer. For example, by responding promptly to questions, complaints, suggestions, etc., on Twitter, it can leave people with a much better impression of our agency, even if they don’t hear what they want to hear, or things don’t get done as fast as they would like. Michael Rupert at DCRA has really used Twitter effectively in this way to assist people who are caught up in red tape. When they voice their frustration on Twitter, he reaches out to them and tries to assist.
Whatâ€™s the biggest challenge to executing open gov/Gov 2.0 initiatives?
Getting buy-in from upper management might be the biggest challenge. It’s not an issue at my agency – quite the opposite – but I’ve heard from peers who have had a hard time getting their bosses to understand the benefits. Many agencies have also created elaborate rules and policies governing the use of social media, or they only use it to repost their press releases or for other formal announcements. I think that misses the point and wastes an opportunity to give your agency a little personality.
What do you recommend to other cities trying to execute open gov/Gov2 .0 initiatives?
If you’re going to get in the water, don’t dip a tentative toe in, dive in! Use these tools to their full potential. However, you should know the risks, too. You have to understand your audience on each platform and communicate with them accordingly; if you botch it you could set yourself up for ridicule. For example, regularly tweeting messages that are too long and as a result get cut off – it’s been done; and don’t do a lackluster job of it. For instance, I think Twitter is only truly effective if you monitor the incoming messages as much as you do what you are sending out. If your followers get the feeling you’re not listening then you could do more harm than good.