Norman Ng

Governments & Social Media Communications – Have We Progressed?

In Leadership, Social Media on March 5, 2012 at 12:26

ImageI was invited for a chat with representatives from the Singapore Public Service to discuss about “training” opportunities for an internal collaborative platform (much like Intranet 2.0 for the government).

One thing struck me was how dead serious and sincere their efforts was to juice the full potential of digital communications. Don’t believe me? Check out, and you’ll find more than a staggering 300 main / micro social media sites by the Singapore government.

And that’s just the beginning. 2009/2010 witnessed the Singapore government’s efforts to revamp it’s intranet – “where isolation is out, and collaboration is in”, says the Public Service Division. So my conversations explored how they were attempting to structure this. And they mentioned that in the spirit of social media, they wanted to create an intranet platform that works like “social media for the government”. They call it the “CUBE“.

So now they’re venturing into internal communications? I SAY AWESOME.

My optimism needed to be checked much sooner than later, because as we went through the conversation, because they were looking at rolling out training programmes to train portal managers to “engage” and “facilitate conversations” so that collaboration could fall into place. My heart sank deep.

Here, we’ve at the start of a really great portal, which has the propensity to genuinely strengthen communications and collaborations, but can we really expect magic to be created through this “socially engineered” effort? It’s akin to a production line. The Comms and Finanance ministry gives the first foundational roadblocks by giving resources and infra to build this up, and then passes the buck to the next assembly line to “train” people to engage, that’s it?

We’re talking about a huge investment going straight down to the titanic’s resting place.

You can’t socially engineer engagement, it needs to be cultivated from the bottom up, generated by a community of advocates and believers. A measure of success of any web 2.0 effort requires a huge mindset changes and shift in tact by the government to do away with a top-down approach. Individuals, with their “digital signatures” have the propensity to “influence” and shape action to greater degrees. And in the Singapore government’s effort – intra collaboration.

And there’s one critical ingredient that’s left out in this Intranet 2.0 effort – Branding & Culture. What’s the value proposition to pockets of individuals and groups in the government to participate in CUBE? What difference can they make in participating, engaging and collaborating in CUBE? Who will listen? What will change?

People need to see value, intrinsic or not, to motivate active participation. People need to see a brand and identity on a platform that promotes collaboration. For Twitter platforms, it’s clearly seeing the conversations and thoughts in between a person’s life, or an organisation’s conduct of business. But what about the intranet? GovLoop, a US government social network, has thousands of “government innovators” sharing ideas for “improving the government”. Australia’s Victorian Public Service Hub, an open technology platform, gives employees virtual space to discuss ideas.

So in the case of Singapore’s public service, they are making a genuine effort in pushing social media communications further. They’ve seen successes such as crime fighting and enforcement education through its Police Force Facebook attracting almost than 300,000 likes, and makes great progress in sharing policies and government activities in more than 300 platforms of varying success.

But hey, like what Clint Eastwood said in Chrysler’s Superbowl 2012 Ad, “It’s halftime America”…the same goes here, Singapore’s “GovComms” effort are gaining traction. It would take a huge change in mindset and approach to progress further if it seeks to capitalise on the success of earlier social media communication efforts if it seeks extend it to internal government communications.

Lets see what progress we’ll make in the next half.


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