Let's Talk about Civic Engagement

What’s the Matter With Using Social Media?

June 13th, 2013

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Short answer: nothing. I’m a die-hard Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn user. I know some people have ambivalent relationships with this stuff. Not me. A day without checking my Twitter feed feels like a visit to the Dark Ages. Just like when I started using email years ago –- I simply cannot imagine life without it anymore.

But as your commission, your department, or your local government start using social media tools more and more, it's essential to look at these with a clear, un-awed eye .... and realize that the tools we need to do our work well require much more than just a Facebook page.

Social media platforms are tools. They’re good for many uses, but each platform has significant limitations -- there are tasks that they simply cannot do well. It’s like driving a nail with a tape measure. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

One of the uses for which standard social media platforms are often the wrong tool is facilitating broad and meaningful public engagement in complex, messy situations. I've written elsewhere about how public meetings that consist of members of the public coming up to a microphone to give their comments are not  effective ways of enabling constructive engagement.

The open format of a social media platform is basically just a bigger microphone. And if the human tendency to either dominate the floor or hide in the corner often ruins our ability to get anything worthwhile out of a public meeting, how much benefit can we realistically expect from the wide-open platform of a Facebook page or a Twitter stream?

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photo of Della RuckerDella Rucker, AICP, CEcD, is the Principal of Wise Economy Workshop, a consulting firm that assists local governments and nonprofit organizations with the information and processes for making wise planning and economic development decisions.

Rucker is also Managing Editor of EngagingCities and author of the recent book The Local Economy Revolution: What's Changed and How You Can Help -- portions of which will be serialized here on PlannersWeb.com during 2014.

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