‘To tweet or not to tweet’? That is the question for public sector leaders in an increasingly digital world.

Online networks such as Twitter and Facebook can be tools to improve transparency, accountability and ‘personality’ for chief executives in public organisations, but the perceived pitfalls sometimes loom large.

However, as Duncan Jefferies noted in his feature on social media, a professional attitude and a bit of common sense are generally all that are needed to avoid a mishap. “For many senior staff the benefits – visible leadership, improved communication and access to a wealth of opinion and debate – far outweigh the risks of social media use.”

Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the UK civil service, has found a way of successfully portraying his ‘human’ side by tweeting pictures of his beloved dog to 5,000-plus followers.

Kerslake believes that social media is part of the democratic process. “I don’t want us to just use technology as a one way medium to broadcast selected messages,” he wrote recently. “The civil service also needs to embrace social media as a means of listening to and engaging with staff and the public at all stages in the policy process.”

Along with cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, Kerslake has taken part in popular live webchats on Facebook, fielding questions about the civil service graduate recruitment scheme and kickstarting civil service digital by default reform plans.

It’s notable that these senior leaders are using social media to support their objectives, rather than following huge numbers of people with whom they have no intention of engaging, as Tory party chairman Grant Shapps, - 57,376 followers at the time of counting – has been criticised for doing.

It is not always easy for hard-pressed public leaders to engage online. Robert Madelin, director general of the European Commission’s directorate-general for information society and media, acknowledges that moving to a more social way of working is a considerable cultural challenge. But it can be done; Madelin recommends public leaders to spend some time every day to social media, to experiment and accept mistakes and to use common sense.

Source: Guardian

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