By Nathan Rudyk

Should government workers be banned from social networking sites like Facebook?

As a smart team of tech PR and product launch experts nestled next to Ottawa, a national capital, it’s inevitable that market2world's Web 2.0 communications expertise gets tapped by both government departments and associations eager to understand the ramifications of citizen journalism, the wisdom of the crowds, and the tools such as blogs, podcasts and social networking sites that enable the long tail to lengthen. Over the last few years, our government and association client list includes the National Arts Centre, Transport Canada, Canadian Nurses Association, Canadian Bar Association, City of Ottawa, MADD Canada, the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, and the City of Ottawa.

So it was interesting to get tapped for comment in this month's InterGovWorld.com feature article by Rosie Lombardi entitled Web 2.0: Government's social networking debate.

The Ontario Government has chosen to ban social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube, meanwhile CEOs like Cicso's John Chambers are championing social networking technologies as key sources of competitive advantage. (Have a listen to our OCRIRadio.com podcast of John Chambers' speech in Ottawa last October - well worth your time whether you're in the public or private sector.) For the time-challenged, here are some key quotes from that Chambers speech:

“We will learn how to social network together as many of the young people in this audience already do. And that social networking will be the way that we institute and change business structure, organization and drive productivity at what I think will be a three to five percent pace for between seven to ten years.”

“This is the hard part. Moving from hierarchical organization, command and control – which most of my leaders including myself – got to where we are today by being good at command and control. And yet we’re saying you’ve got to empower, trust and have a replicable process.”

 
The crux of the government and social networking debate comes down to command and control, empowerment and trust. Government organizations are great at command and control, and struggle with empowerment and trust. Yet they are desperately seeking workers from the Facebook and YouTube generation. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that as a result of current retirement trends, governments at all levels could lose up to 44 percent of their workers by 2010. 

As I discussed with Rosie in her article:  

"[Rudyk] warns the Canadian government risks becoming irrelevant to citizens if it cuts itself off from widely-used social networking sites. "Ontario's Facebook ban was a tragic decision, and should be reversed. It cuts off the bureaucracy from experiencing the information diet of the very near future." Young people don't use e-mail anymore, and increasingly rely on handheld devices and social networks to remain constantly connected to the hive.

"If government sites aren't designed to operate that way, you've just cancelled that 14 to 24 year-old demographic." he says. "And if the government can't understand the dynamics of social media and non-hierarchical collaboration, it will be on the losing end of the battle for talent."

The light at the end of this Facebook-banning tunnel, for Ontario at least, comes from e-government head Karl Cunningham, who assures us in Rosie's article that his province's ban is a "play for time" as they develop a Web 2.0 strategy that could come out this summer. That's good, but what John Chambers did was better.

While his competitors played for time, Chambers leapt into the social networking fray, re-engineering not just his communications technology tool-set, but his entire managerial culture, to embrace versus ban the possibilities offered by Web 2.0.

Is Chambers a misguided revolutionary or is he on the money? Click on this comparative market cap chart, and do not adjust your set. As of 9AM on Jan. 30th, the stock market – perhaps the ultimate arbitrar of the wisdom of the crowds – says Cisco is worth more than 10X its nearest rival, Lucent, and (this is the very, very sad part) more than 26X Nortel's.

As a taxpayer, my observation is Canada currently has an excellent competitive position in the world, much like Nortel did in the late 90s when Cisco was a comparative peer instead of today's networking industry goliath. Embracing social networking technologies and associated collaborative management styles will, I believe, help us maintain and even increase our position. Banning them, and by virtue of that tarnishishing the attractiveness of a career in the civil service, cancels an opportunity to remain one of the best countries in the world to live, work and play.

I don't know about you, but I think the job of government is to help create winning conditions for its citizens.

(Nathan Rudyk is President and CEO with market2world communications inc., Canada's Web 2.0 tech PR and product launch agency, and the founder and co-host of OCRIRadio.com.) 

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