Social media encouraged for Asia govt agencies

From Hong Kong to Singapore, government agencies in region are spurred on to use social media to engage the public, but not exclusively.

Government bureaus in Asia-Pacific cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore are turning to social media to engage the public, though they will not be using these platforms exclusively.

"Social media [is] rising in popularity and [has] become an important channel [for us to engage] with some segments of the public," said a Hong Kong government spokesperson in an e-mail interview. Officials are briefed on how social media platforms are used by the public as well as other governments.

For Singapore, the authorities joined the online party as early as 1995 with simple Web sites and now are tapping on Web 2.0 and social media for public communication, said a spokesperson from the country's Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (MICA) in an e-mail interview.

However, both governments do not rely exclusively on social media. MICA said it encourages government agencies to experiment with social media platforms as a communication channel where appropriate.

The situation is the same in Hong Kong as officials are encouraged to choose from a mix of online and offline communications depending on the stakeholders and issues.

Hong Kong officials have used social media to conduct various "e-engagement activities" on different policy initiatives. Examples have included online surveys, blogs, collecting feedback from Facebook, live Web chats, dedicated Web sites to consult the public on specific issues and mail exchange with the public, said the spokesperson.

The Hong Kong government also has a directory on its government portal GovHK where it lists the names of officials who use blogs and social media, with links to the relevant sites.

She added that Hong Kong's chief executive and five political appointees are using blogs, while six out of 34 of the politically appointed officials have Facebook accounts for public engagement.

In Singapore, social media, along with other online platforms such as Web sites was used by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board during the H1N1 outbreak last year.

Apart from social media, regular updates, advisories and information were also dispensed at the MOH Web site, the Web site maintained by MICA, and a dedicated H1N1 Web site.

MICA is also responsible for supporting other government agencies' use of social media through sharing of research on social media trends and providing advice when needed.

The spokesperson added that the ministry also works with the Civil Service College to provide better training, and organize briefings and talks on social media to improve awareness in the public sector.

For Singapore's officials, personal accounts are allowed as long as they adhere to the civil service guidelines and applicable laws, said MICA.

Elsewhere in Asia-Pacific, Australian government agencies will be implementing their own social media policies, opening up Facebook and Twitter in the office.

In China, the government reportedly hires commentators, dubbed "50 cent army" for how much they are paid, to post positive comments.