Twitter 2.0 for the Public Sector

I’ve commented numerous times in the past about public sector organizations using Twitter.

By and large, the use of Twitter by the public sector is unidirectional – from Government to citizen. This isn’t a bad thing – microblogging services like Twitter can be used to notify citizens of all kinds of useful things; traffic delays, school closures, emergency notifications, amber alerts, etc.

However, a growing number of private sector organizations are beginning to use Twitter in a bidirectional manner, interacting with individual customers to resolve problems. I’ve blogged before about Comcast Customer Service on Twitter – the NY Times now has an interesting piece about Bank of America’s use of Twitter. These companies join Starbucks, Southwest Airlines and others using Twitter to interact with individual customers.

So it seems logical to start asking questions about when governments will start to use Twitter as a way of interacting with individual citizens. I’m not aware of any governments doing this yet, even though a growing number are using Twitter to push information out to citizens. But in light of the financial challenges facing state and local governments, this might be an effective way to provide enhanced customer service without laying out huge bucks for new IT systems or hiring and training staff.

Thinking about how this could work for governments, it seems like hashtags would be an ideal mechanism for achieving this. In my home state of Delaware, the primary entry point for a large volume of citizen interactions with state government is through the Delaware Helpline. The Helpline maintains a staff of people to support phone lines that take calls from citizens with questions or problems.

Enabling citizen interaction with the Delaware Helpline via Twitter would be as easy as directing people to add the hashtag #DEHelp (or something similar) to their Tweets:

Where can I get tax forms to pay my 2008 personal income taxes? #DEHelp

What are the hours for DMV to get a car inspected? #DEHelp

Looking for some #DEHelp. Where do I bring my Christmas tree to recycle it?

Using the Twitter API (or popular tools like TweetDeck, Twhirl, etc.) would make aggregating and tracking #DEHelp Tweets easy.

The old adage about the adoption of new technology holds that there is a significant lag between private sector adoption of new technology and public sector adoption of the same technology. The growing number of public sector organizations using microblogging tools like Twitter appears to challenge this long held belief.

Perhaps public sector use of Twitter and other microblogging sites to interact with citizens is also not far behind…