Twitter has recently had some reliability problems. That’s led some to question whether government should use it.
I’m not overly concerned for three reasons:
1) Twitter’s existence depends on reliability. I’m confident they’ll improve.
2) We should be using all available tools, especially for emergency info. If one channel fails, we still have others. For example, in addition to Twitter, we use Facebook, large email lists, Flickr, YouTube, and our Web site to disseminate info about the oil spill. And we’re researching cell phone text alerts (and the unified command already uses them). That’s just online; we also meet regularly with non-profits, local governments, and others in the Gulf region.
There are no guarantees any single channel will work at a given moment. During 9/11, cell phones and even some landlines stopped working, but texting still worked.
Another point: we’re in these channels for the long haul; when an emergency occurs, we already have a base of fans/followers/etc. We’re not starting new accounts that no one’s ever heard of.
So diversity is one key to being confident that we can reliably communicate.
3) Getting off Twitter and onto the next big thing is relatively simple compared to the mindshift of getting into social media channels in the first place. The policy and cultural issues are mostly the same.
So we could move pretty fast to something else if Twitter, Facebook, or other sites vanished tomorrow. Whereas agencies that never use these tools because of the possibility one might go down will never gain from the whole concept.
Agencies who don’t currently have the resources to use multiple channels should still get into at least one. Twitter, like any tool, has its pluses and minuses, but if it’s the right tool, I wouldn’t avoid it because of some service hiccups.
To sum up, I’ll steal from a colleague’s email on the subject:
“The benefit of getting the government on the road of social media, even if it gets stuck in a traffic jam , and realizing you just need a wider road or different route, far outweighs the thinking that they have no business being on the road at all.”