Twitter as a public service

What a great initiative announced yesterday by the city of San Francisco – enable citizens to use Twitter as one of the means through which they can use the city’s 311 online information and services network.

[…] you will be establishing a two-way communication channel which can be used to send direct (private) messages to SF311. Customer Service Representatives are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to assist you. View "Sample Tweets" of our most requested services to help ensure you provide the information needed to service your request. 311 can help with:

  • Street Cleaning
  • Graffiti Removal
  • Pothole and Sidewalk Defects
  • Abandoned Vehicles
  • City Garbage Can Maintenance
  • Department Information (office hours, location, phone numbers)
  • … and much more!

Have a question or concern? Check out the FAQ before continuing.

This seems to be a well thought out idea judging by the breadth and depth of information the Mayor’s office has published about Twitter and 311, eg, the FAQ. If you’re inclined to use Twitter as a preferred means of connecting with people and services, this will appeal to you.

If not, well, it’s simple – don’t use it: instead, make use of the others ways of connecting to 311.

Public services are embracing informal and social means of communication like Twitter as a way to provide citizens with more means of making use of (self) services and easy on-demand access to information.

For instance, my local council in the UK, Wokingham Borough, is also on Twitter.

If you take a look at both Twitter accounts, the contrast in styles between San Francisco and Wokingham is noticeable. And SF311 looks to be run by a number of different people (the different initials after tweets suggest that).

Still, Wokingham Borough also offers a range of useful information via its Twitter account.

We will use Twitter as an additional way of keeping our residents and visitors informed on the latest news and events. It will also feature information on any emergency situation – for example extreme weather like flooding or snow, and any impact this may have, like school closures, road closures or the closure of the Loddon Bridge Park and Ride.

Not much in the way of two-way engagement but useful nevertheless.

One day, every public service will include a social medium like Twitter as a routine channel of communication, there for the use by citizens or not, as they see fit.