Adrian Farley has been running California's OTech since 2010
The head of California's
state office of technology sees social media as a "force multiplier" and is
aggressively expanding the state's mobile presence this year, aiming to double
the number of mobile apps offered in 2011.
Adrian Farley, the acting director and chief technology
officer of OTech, told OhMyGov.com in an exclusive interview that the state of California,
one of the earliest adopters of social media in government, had been very
fortunate in experiencing almost no cultural pushback in attempts to
integrate social media into official public communications.
"So far our greatest challenges
have been in informing government staffers of the appropriate types of
information shared via social media tools," Mr. Farley said.
OTech, formally the California Technology Agency's Office
of Technology Services (...no wonder they call it OTech), is the state office
that allows for individual departments to communicate digitally with citizens,
and helps provide a framework to control and manage the various technological
tools at the state's disposal. Social media, one of the most effective and
popular forms on online communication, has become an integral part of the
office's outreach efforts over the past few years.
Mr. Farley was named to his post by former governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger and has stayed on board through the beginning of the new Jerry
Twitter for Tax Help?
In the interview, Mr. Farley pointed to what he sees as three of California's
most notable recent successes in the field of social media, starting with the state's recently launched Twitter feeds (yes, plural) for the Franchise
Tax Board. The feeds are personally branded with employees' names, such as @CA_FTBFiling_SC
and taken together are viewed by Mr. Farley as an "expansive tool that allows citizens' questions to be answered in a
direct way." As the
office responsible for all income taxes in the state of California,
the FTB is in a unique position to provide helpful hints to citizens, which it does on Twitter through informational posts and reminders about important dates for filing tax returns.
Another state-run Twitter feed cited by Mr. Farley comes
from the state's Employment Development Department. The feed, @CA_EDD, lets citizens know about new
job opportunities and unemployment benefits, and includes multilingual
instructions for applying for unemployment benefits. So far it claims over
11,000 followers and has tweeted well over 500 times. Indeed, this can be a
valuable resource for citizens in a state where the unemployment rate has
climbed over 12% in recent months.
"Policy communications" can also be accomplished through
social media, California is
demonstrating. The state is enabling everything from releasing budgetary information to helping California
citizens donate to earthquake victims
in Japan via
social media, Mr. Farley noted.
Looking to the next burgeoning field of digital
communications -- mobile apps -- Mr. Farley noted that California
has 40 official apps so far, with plans for another 40 to be launched
throughout 2011. A
look at the state's mobile website, m.ca.gov,
reveals a wide menu of app options for everything from smog alerts to reserving
a campground at a state park. More 311-related applications set to go online
this year, and feedback on the state's mobile efforts so far has been very
positive, Mr. Farley said. "These apps are mostly platform independent," Farley
said. "They can be tailored to most types of smartphones, and this has led to a
great response from users."
What are the biggest hurdles facing government communicators
looking to use social media? Security and privacy, Mr. Farley said. "These are
real concerns, but they can be addressed through good planning and policy," he noted.
"To the extent that governments can go towards social media
with a plan in mind, they can address any issues that might come up," he said.
California has not faced any issues
such as viruses or data breaches with its social media or web efforts, but have
a strategy to cover the possibility of such a setback.
Traditional web communications are working for California
as well. Last year 16% of Californians paid their taxes online last
year, while over 5 million used the DMV's website to renew their driver's
licenses, Mr. Farley shared. With numbers like that you can understand if he
has a certain level of confidence about the future of the states web 2.0
What Comes Next?
"Money has never been the inhibitor to progress, but rather
it has been time," Mr. Farley said. He added that "Ultimately, the key component for all communications
efforts is personnel. If all communicators across government devote 10% of
their time to these kinds of efforts, it would be the equivalent of hiring 10
to 15 staffers."
"It is a force multiplier," Mr. Farley went on to say. "As
the amount of traditional media coverage declines, it allows for professionals
in government to get information out there in a quick and effective way." He
then made reference to the roughly 60 videos OTech has posted on YouTube as an
example of government using social media in lieu of traditional media as a means
to get the word out to the masses on the latest news and developments.
Ultimately Mr. Farley sees government at all levels, from
local on up, as shifting their roles in the new age of tech communications.
"Cities and counties are shifting away from being tech providers to being
business analysts, leaving the state to take a more active role in tech
services," he says.
And at a time where states across the country are looking at
cost/benefit analysis as the first rule of thumb when piecing together a budget
in the face of mounting deficits and uncertainty, the cheap and effective
performance of social media may indeed be the wave of the future for government
communications. And California,
naturally, seems to be playing a starring role.
Read More: Hot Issues
, Social Media
, Gov 2.0
, State And Local
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