29/06/2015 12:01 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Friends In High Places: How The Government Is Optimising Social Media

Social media is an integral part of how we interact with our friends and communities. Even governments, including ours, are starting to take serious notice and are incorporating social media into their own day-to-day actions. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are being used to engage with citizens, share information, gather feedback and deliver services more quickly and effectively than ever before.

The trend started, predictably, in the west. From US President Barack Obama's 2008 grassroots campaign to his recent Townhall on Twitter, America is truly getting social. The politicans and the agencies are using the medium to directly interact with the citizens.

Then there were initiatives like YouCut, a crowd sourced platform where the citizens can debate and vote on how to lower the national debt.

The White House itself is on social media to push some of its initiatives. Recently, President Obama joined Twitter in his personal capacity as well.

Most politicians in Canada, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have a social media presence, which usually they manage themselves. During the elections of 2011, social media played a huge role, and was a major tool used by candidates to attract votes and jab at their opponents.

In the recent past, India has jumped on the social media bandwagon with enthusiasm. The Indian Government and its various agencies - along with various political parties and leaders -- are increasingly getting on to platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, engaging with citizens, taking feedback and complaints and even solving issues. There is potential for them to do even more, but first a quick rundown of the social media presence of the government and its agencies.

The Prime Minister: The Prime Minister himself is a social media enthusiast (see here and here) and various other ministers also have a lively online presence.

Government ministries: The Ministry of External Affairs regularly updates citizens about various initiatives on Facebook and Twitter, as does the Ministry of Home (see here and here). The Ministry of HRD also has an active online presence (see here and here).

Delhi Traffic Police: Their Twitter and Facebook accounts are regularly updated with the traffic conditions in the NCR. The Control Room helpline number is also provided in the account, in case you need help.

Indian diplomacy: Thepublic diplomacy division of the Ministry of External Affairs maintains an active Twitter account dedicated to providing updates from the department's engagements with other countries.

State Bank of India: This government-owned multinational banking service is the biggest in India in terms of the net worth and number of branches. The bank's Facebook page focuses on informing customers about new banking schemes and policies.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO): Science and space exploration enthusiasts can check with ISRO's Twitter and Facebook accounts for updates on research and development as well as various initiatives.

Apart from these many other politicians, government agencies and PSUs are now actively using social media. Agencies have become visible, receptive and responsive toward the issues of citizens and information about available services is easily accessible via channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social media has impacted the way a citizen communicates and governments, including in India, know they need to keep up pace if they want to maintain a connect with the people.

Now it is time for the government to go the next mile and start using various social media analysis tools to gauge the opinions of citizens and use this information to guide policy framework. They should work with experts in this domain and adhere to the best practices.