Being sociable on social media

A man standing against a wall, trying to eavesdrop

A thread on Mumsnet this week debates whether government departments should post on social forums alongside everyday users.

A poster with the name ‘DepartmentforEducation’ was joining education-related threads, raising more than a few eyebrows.

The posts and username inferred that there was a civil servant somewhere monitoring Mumsnet, chipping into conversations to add links to official information.

Now there’s no saying that the poster is definitely a Government department – you can choose any username you like on Mumsnet, as the poster ‘DepartmentofHealth’ shows later in the thread – but it does raise some interesting issues.

There were a range of reactions, from posters feeling uncomfortable that Government was potentially intruding onto what is a social site, to others liking that information was appearing to come from an official source.

The general consensus was that organisations and politicians being upfront about their motives and identities – and going through official site channels – is OK, but simply posting into ongoing threads is a bit creepy.

On the thread, Mumsnet HQ themselves say:

“We have mailed them (the poster) to say that posting on the boards really isn’t on and if they would like to engage with MNetters it is much better to do it through MNHQ.”

This is a great example of making sure that you know the rules of social media – both implicit and explicit. The rules and etiquette of each site vary, any organisation must make sure it knows what they are.

The case also raises the age-old identity issue. Cybersquatters snap up well-known domain names and spoof accounts are commonplace on Twitter and Facebook, for fun or for mischief, and the same could well have happened in this case.

Whatever the legitimacy of ‘DepartmentofEducation’, the question this raises for me is: just how sociable should public sector organisations be on social media?

Creative commons: QUIET … I’m trying to eavesdrop by Nikos Providakis via Flickr

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