Is there a fine line between engagable government and too sassy?

Hat tip to our friend Lee Storrow for noticing this blog post on "16 Sassy Tweets From The Nation's 16th Largest School District" about Wake County Schools' Twitter feed.

It got me thinking -- is this an ok way for government to open up to be more engaged with citizens/stakeholders?  There's certainly nothing here which is outside the norms of the Twitterverse, and not really objectionable.  But it certainly doesn't feel professional.  I'm not sure it is the ideal for public communication I'd want our students to emulate.  And yet I'm sure there are benefits -- Jeff Nash told me tonight Wake has increased their followers 25% in the past couple of days, which means more outgoing communication is occuring.  And being open to new forms of communication has to be a plus in getting people to feel government is listening to them.

So what's right answer for local governments?  We're certainly no stranger here in OC to elected officials willing to speak out in social media (especially if you live in Carrboro with their wonderful mayor).  But are we ready for staff to be loose in the wild world of Twitter?  Where you can so quickly engage with many people, but it's easy to go too far?  And is the staff time spent on this worthwhile?

Comments welcome here or tweet me @jcbarr    :)


James, there is a fine line, but I think that the WCPSS communications team has done a great job of walking that line. They have been engaging and funny, but have remained information driven and education focused (think tweeting the link to the educational video about bagels). Not an easy trick to pull off. Think about it like this. How would we want a teacher talking to a high school student? We would expect professionalism without formality - and an ability to engage kids where they are comfortable. The tweets sound like what a good teacher sounds like. That tells me that the WCPSS team is on the right track.The nature of communication has fundamentally shifted in the digital era. I personally applaud WCPSS for engaging the community in a new and more interesting way. If you read the comments to the BuzzFeed article, one of the people is excited about getting a reply from the district Twitter account. Who wouldn't want that? 

After giving it some thought, I think the propriety of this type of Twitter participation really depends on who the target audience is.  To the extent that the audience is students in the Wake Co Public Schools, I think the style of this Twitter account is not only appropriate, but brilliant even.I can well imagine that some adults may find it a bit edgy, but these days I think most of the parents expect some Twitter/FB availability.  Those who can't handle @WCPSS probably just should not be on Twitter at all. 

I love this Twitter account. And I think Mark is right here about the target audience. If we want Twitter to be a useful tool for our governmental agencies with real engagment, not just autogenerated updates, then this sort of interaction is just what I think we should be aiming for -- tailored, of course, to the people that government serves. In this case, I think they've gotten it right.

Sassy and engaged is certainly better than the alternative, which is what most of our local governments are doing in Orange County. The more important question to me is whether they are being informative and responsive. Our towns, schools, and county have moderately increased their sophistication at blasting their messages to us constituents in the last few years, and sometimes replying to questions, but I have seen very few changes in their (very limited) capacity for listening to people through social/digital channels.


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