Facebook is being used as a communication channel between citizens and the government in Sweden. Is it the future of e-government in Europe?
E-government solutions are usually centred on providing services on a government website. Even though the websites can simplify citizens’ dealings with their public administration, the communication remains essentially unidirectional.
Examples of these websites are the French Service-public.fr, the British Gov.uk and the Finnish Suomi.fi, to name a few. The unidirectional communication has often continued in social media such as Twitter, where government agencies simply post information in a one-to-many fashion.
Social media such as Facebook allows however for a bidirectional communication between citizens and the public administration. The Swedish Social Insurance Agency, Försäkringskassan, provides an example of how to communicate with citizens on social media.
On their Facebook-page for parental benefits, people can ask specific questions on parental leave. The employees of the agency answer in the comments and sign their name on each comment. The tone is very friendly and they usually answer quickly, even on weekends. The answers are often followed by other questions and answers, developing more into conversations rather than simple Q & A.
The agency uses the Facebook timeline in a clever way, featuring important steps in welfare legislation in Sweden, giving the government agency more of an identity. They also have a multilingual Facebook page that answers questions in English, Finnish, Polish, Arabic and Spanish for the major immigrant communities and minorities.
The Social Insurance Agency in Sweden has a Facebook-page for the housing benefit for students while the Swedish Tax Agency, Skatteverket, also has a similar Facebook-page where they answer questions on tax returns.
The Agencies’ presence on Facebook is based on the principle that the public administration has to adapt to the needs and habits of the citizens, not the other way around. If the citizens use Facebook then you as a government need to be on Facebook if you want to be there for them.
Sweden can be an example for other countries in how to use Facebook as an interactive communication channel between citizens and their administration. It can shrink the perceived distance between government and citizens, put them on a more equal level and further legitimise the government.
The Facebook-pages are today used only for general questions and answers. Will we see more personalised e-government services on social media in the future?