- Social Networking can be utilised to approach the public From a position as a pure consumer-led phenomenon, we can now look to social networking tools as being capable of playing a part within a controlled, public sector/citizen communication and collaboration environment
- Social Networking is not new After being talked about for years, usability, standardisation and availability have all improved. Proprietary interfaces are breaking down, and back end standards are enabling consumer tools to interoperate with more commercial systems
- Existing collaborative tools have a place to play alongside social networking Email, instant messaging, and texting are all regarded as mainstream tools, with different socio-demographic groups making greater use of some tools than others. There is a strong need to make public sector social networking approaches inclusive of both existing and emerging communication and collaboration tools
- Many Social Networking tools are difficult to control "Immersive" sites, mass publication sites and many other social networking concepts are not suited to being controlled as easily as a directly hosted public sector department‟s existing web site. Processes and controls need to be in place for content issued via such sites
- Consumer-focused tools have limitations Consumer tools do not have the enterprise capabilities required for full usage within the public sector. However, capabilities such as recording, filtering and audit capabilities can be gained through the use of enterprise back ends that can accept consumer clients at the front end. Also, such back end solutions can provide scalability, integration capabilities, security and flexibility that would be missing from a pure-play consumer tooling approach
- Many tools may have short lifetimes, and successful technologies will have to survive through multiple versions Social Networking is a highly dynamic environment and as such, many tools may not survive in the medium to long term. For example, blogs in a pure sense are not a suitable mainstream tool for public sector usage due to their lack of content control, but may have to be regarded in a "hybrid" fashion of a mediated and reviewed outbound information feed until different solutions come through. Successful tools will have to co-exist with previous versions - choice of a fully supported system will be key
- Emerging tools are far more functional Tooling aimed at larger organisations tends to have the capabilities that the public sector is looking for. Increasingly such tools also provide a highly integrated approach to social networking, with policies as to which tool should be used when being a strong point. Here, the use of social networking solutions becomes part of the overall process, rather than something that is regarded as being an exception to it, and as such can be easily audited and reported as necessary.
Conclusions Social networking can help public sector bodies interact to a far greater extent with citizens as well as with internal and external resources. Full policies are required to be put in place to mediate social networking, and back-end technology needs to be chosen carefully to include support for the majority of clients likely to be found within a consumer-focused end-user environment, as well as kiosks and other systems aimed at the non-computer owning citizen
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