I can see that I should have been a little faster on this one.

But hey, someone finally explained what zeitgeist means the other day… I always thought it meant being a little too happy about others misfortune. Except I think they confused zeitgeist with ‘avant-garde’. Which is pretty funny, because if you work in the public sector it’s often a little like, “garded-zeitgeist”.

The Germans will have an actual word for it though.

The idea of push-pull interaction between public and public-sector via social media is something a lot of people have been mulling over recently, and there are new examples of agencies putting all the theory into practice.

And what does this push-pull distinction mean? “Push” media is the traditional, sit on the couch, eat chips, be fed entertainment interspersed with advertising type. You tune in when you have to, because that’s when your favourite show is on. But “pull” media is something new and different. When you go to YouTube it’s to find something. You go when you want to, and you go on your own terms.

The marketing/advertising types are currently working hard to figure out how get their products in the faces of internet users, and the threat is that public service agencies will start to use the same types of methods to engage with the public at large. This is of course the kinds of stuff that people like the NPSC blog are asking that we avoid.

The nubbin of the problem, to my thinking, is ensuring that we transform our approach to public engagement via social media, and not just medium-jump with the same old ways.

I first encountered the transformation concept when working in a previous agency and was trying to argue that a particular process solution fell within the parameters of the Electronic Transactions Act 2002. A problem had arisen where a ‘standards’ team within the agency was convinced that the solution my team was proposing was not allowed by the Act.

The details are unimportant, but what had occurred was a bit of limited thinking. In the minds of the ‘standards’ team a paper transaction could only be moved to a text transaction, and they were unwilling to consider the transaction to have occurred if any other format was used. We, on the other hand, were arguing that was important was the function the transaction served, not the format of the transaction.

As I say, details -> unimportant. But the ‘standards’ team were behaving the same way as many of the old ‘push’ media cohorts, you know, take whatever you’ve got and dump it into the new format. Both seem to be missing the point entirely…

With the advent if social media applications, and our want to use them (note: not “need”), we need to transform the way we think about engagement. And the first port of call should always be, is there a business need for this application? The second is, are we just using it because it’s “so hot right now?” There’s plenty of that thinking going on as well.

Once you get used to the idea that there are clear, and acceptable, boundaries to using social media in e-government, then you need to think about what kind of product you’re intending to use. What is the function you’re trying to achieve? Are you just pushing something out to the public? Or are you trying to pull people into an engagement?

If you’re genuinely desiring the latter (or required to by your superiors…), then you need to re-imagine how a ‘pull’ relationship works. You can’t just “build it and they will come”. You need to conceptualise your little slice of the e-government arcade, and build the kind of space people will feel comfortable engaging with both you, and other citizens. You know, bring them in, sit them down with a cuppa and a good read.

As opposed to just adding to all the noise out there by building a sophisticated “yelling machine”, i.e. the TV or the stereo.