Recent global events, like PM Narendra Modi’s innovative use of social media during his 2014 general election campaign or the citizens centric movements that have ushered in major political change in Egypt and Tunisia, have seen the impact social media can make in empowering citizens. They have also brought a progressive shift in the way governments around the world communicate and engage with citizens.

Communication, collaboration and transparency across government departments are a welcome development. Government adoption of social media is on the rise, so much so that a recent report by the Partnership for Public Service says – it’s “not just a passing trend,” rather, an important mechanism for advancing government effectiveness. Social media can connect large populations and remote groups, and content can be customized and updated almost instantly, at relatively low cost*.

Social media provides an interactive two way communication mechanism through which the government can measure public sentiment with respect to new laws or key policy changes. By gathering feedback, ideas, suggestions, and absorbing these into the policy-making process, the government can rejuvenate the concept of direct democracy. It can also use social media for:

  • Communicating emergencies
  • Enabling economic development
  • Political engagement and policy feedback
  • Real-time response

Like all new technology, social media has its risks. Sharing information on social media can sometimes lead to voluntary or involuntary sharing of sensitive or classified information. There is also the menace of online trolling which stifles freedom of speech. Having said that, social media is a huge opportunity for government to interact with citizens in real-time, enable transparency, humanize government agencies and build trust. There are apparent risks, but none that cannot be mitigated by creating a strong social media strategy. The wheels of change have already been set in motion. If nurtured and used effectively, social media can set the precedent for a new era of government-citizen engagement. One that is poised to move us towards a more transparent and collaborative future.