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Tech Tonic

'Poke' your babus online

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Government officials are finally realising the power of social networking with many departments now boasting of their own Twitter accounts or Facebook pages. TOI-Crest profiles a few successful initiatives With over 6, 000 followers, the presence of Public Diplomacy on social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube helped them bag an award for 'being the first central ministry to propagate and use social media extensively' at the Gov2. in Awards on March 11

While most people are obsessed with uploading flattering pictures of themselves on Facebook, a select few choose to post photographs of overflowing garbage bins. Delhi's 2, 078 designated garbage collection sites, commonly called dhalaos, are finding a place on social networks because of a few alert citizens such as Anita Kapur Bharagava. The 50-year-old resident of South Delhi gives every photo an elaborate caption with the exact location of the dump. And her efforts are being monitored by friends, as well as the Additional Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and his sanitation team who joined Facebook in January to "interface with citizens directly".

Like the MCD, a host of national, state and locallevel government agencies are signing up, 'friending', 'following' and 'tagging' to connect with citizens in the virtual world. The aam junta can choose to 'like' the 12th plan of the Planning Commission and post their ideas on its wall, or complain about a cratersized pothole on the Facebook page of The National Highway Authority of India.

SNAIL MAIL GETS AN UPGRADE

On October 2009, the Department of Posts created a Twitter account, making it the first government organisation to adopt social media in India. Since then, its presence on the network has helped create goodwill for the department.

"It was reassuring to see to how fond people are of the postal service, " says P N Ranjit Kumar, Director (Global Business), India Post. "Although our main motive behind signing up was to market our products, addressing complaints became important once we began interacting with the public, " says Kumar who operates the account along with a three-member team. He believes people prefer using the micro-blog because it is "tailormade for open and transparent interaction".

Indeed, @PostOfficeIndia's timeline of tweets displays posts redressing customer complaints. The account is also being used to garner feedback on changes made within the service. For example, Kumar received feedback from a mixed-bag community of techies, graphic gurus, usability experts and regular users on the network when it introduced its new e-commerce portal www. epostoffice. gov. in.

Today, India Post (IP) has over 6, 000 followers on Twitter, including UK's Royal Mail (RM). The interaction between the world's largest post office (IP) and the oldest (RM) usually involves the exchange of details on mail packages. "The response is fast and there is no need to worry about different timezones, " Kumar says.

BEING DIPLOMATIC

You may have read about it in the newspaper, and you may have also seen it on TV, but did you know that the Public Diplomacy division of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) posted real-time updates about the evacuation of Indians from Libya and tsunami-devastated Japan?

While, on the one hand, tweets of despair from stranded Indian citizens flooded the network, joint secretary Navdeep Suri, and undersecretary Abhay Kumar - who together tweet for @IndianDiplomacy - were quick to react to posts that carried useful information about the ground situation.

With over 6, 000 followers, the presence of Public Diplomacy on social media like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube even helped them bag an award for 'being the first Central Ministry to propagate and use social media extensively' at the Gov2. in Awards held on March 11. "Twitter helped us communicate more effectively with people in the Gulf. One gentleman pointed out that our website in a particular country wasn't working and we used that feedback to get it fixed immediately, " Suri says.

One look at its account and you will notice that the MEA is particular about the use of language on the forum. "It is deliberately conservative, less chatty and more formal, " he says, adding that the idea was to propagate useful information, and receive feedback without "getting into personal opinions".

Indian Diplomacy's Facebook page is used to communicate work that Indian embassies do around the world, while on YouTube, the MEA has uploaded short versions of documentaries they have been producing for embassies. Last week, when Japan was hit by devastating quakes, @Indiandiplomacy was quick to react: "Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan. Indians are safe".

The tweet must have come as a sigh of relief for relatives and friends of the 25, 000-strong Indian community, which is concentrated in the Kanto and Kansai regions of the country. Followers were linked to the MEA website that confirmed there were no reports of casualties. When asked whether there were any plans to evacuate 'Bharatiyas', @Indiandiplomacy promptly replied, "The Ministry is monitoring the situation in Japan closely and will take all necessary steps required as per exigencies". On March 17, @Indiandiplomacy tweeted, "Air India has started daily flights with enhanced capacity frm Japan to assist those who wish to travel back. "

LARGEST PEACETIME EXERCISE GOES SOCIAL

She doesn't have a name. Her clothes are simple: a blue kameez, white salwar and black bag that she slings across her shoulder. But she still managed to make 14, 267 people 'like' her on Facebook. She is the mascot of the largest peace-time exercise in India: The 2011 Census. Till March 5, this Facebooker was exhorting people to cooperate with enumerators.

Behind the scenes, a team of account service managers, copywriters and portal administrators from digital agency Tribal DDB India managed the Twitter and Facebook accounts of India Census 2011. Their job involved setting up the accounts, creating applications, posting updates and replying to comments made by users.

Some Facebookers were visibly surprised after they received a response from officials. One comment read, 'Never thought that 'Census 2011' would actually answer queries and take action too!"

The page even boasts a photo album, which takes you on a visual journey through 'a day in the life of the enumerator'. The album is filled with pictures of officials reaching out to ragpickers, labourers, prisoners and the homeless in a bid to collect demographic data. To make sure that people kept coming back to the Facebook page, India Census 2011 also held a photography contest where they encouraged citizens to submit photos depicting India's 'strength in numbers'. "We wanted to mitigate the indifference normally associated with a census-taking exercise, " says Max Hegerman, president, Tribal DDB India.
"The contest was meant to flip the negativity and apathy surrounding India's huge population figures, and to create a positive awareness of the government's efforts in the process of census-taking, " he adds.

RAISING A STINK ONLINE

If you are a Delhiite, getting your neighbourhood dhalao cleaned is as simple as uploading its picture on the Municipal Corporation of Delhi's Facebook page. By evening, officials from the department ensure that the garbage is cleared.

The procedure they follow is simple: Every morning officials log-on to Facebook, look for photos of overflowing dumps, visit the site and clean it, take a new photo of the cleaned premises, and then upload that picture within 24 hours of the complaint being registered.

"Most citizens don't have the time to come to the MCD office or send letters. This is a faster way to communicate, " says additional commissioner Anshu Prakash. "The idea is to encourage citizen participation and show that we're not afraid of public scrutiny. "

In fact, the two-month-old initiative has already managed to increase the credibility of the MCD - and according to Prakash, all the praise coming MCD's way through Facebook helps keep its employees motivated.

Besides, there is the fear of being brought to shame on the internet. "There have been cases where private contractors have asked people to call them and complain, instead of posting on Facebook, " Prakash says. "No one wants it to reach the network because it is being closely watching by the media and senior officials. "

At around 5 pm each day, a summary of the day's work is posted on the page: 'As on 10th March 2011 at 5:00 pm. Total number of complaints received till date = 295, Total number of complaints redressed = 289'. "After garbage dumps, you'll soon see Delhi's public loos on our Facebook page, " Prakash assures.

LAW ENFORCERS

Don't be surprised if you see law enforcement officials on Facebook. Traffic police from cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have been online for a while now. Jump a signal or ride without a helmet, and your picture might just be posted online by an alert citizen. 'Delhi Traffic Police ka koi dar nahi! Dekho triple-seat riding without helmet, ' reads the caption of a photo uploaded by a Delhi citizen.

"Thanks, action will be taken, " is the quick response that one usually sees to these pictures, and it is this promptitude that encourages people to point out offenders.

Delhi, however, seems to be faring much better than its staff-crunched counterparts in Mumbai, but the initiative is still alive.
And then, did you know that 'Central Tihar Jail' has a page on Facebook? Adding it to your friend's list will allow you a peek at the Tihar Olympics, Tihar Yoga class, and the Tihar Factory.

The page, which already boasts over 220 friends, also displays photos of the various products manufactured by the inmates, including handicrafts, garments, and even herbal holi colours. Indeed, enough to elicit comments from the public like, "Thanks for giving them 'another chance' with life! You are doing really great!"

FACEBOOK POPULARITY POLL

National Rural Employment Guarantee Act: 2, 623 likes

National Highway Authority of India: 585 likes

12th Five Year Plan: 3, 420 likes

Indian Embassy in US: 242 likes

DIT e-Demographics & Biometrics Project for National Population Register: 83 likes

Reader's opinion (8)

Sudhir KrishnanMay 17th, 2011 at 20:51 PM

nice article.it would be nice if many ministers and local people connect to audiences through mediums like twitter or Facebook.They can extend their hand shake to the online world.

Sakshi KhandelwalApr 2nd, 2011 at 00:43 AM

a great way to connect with the citizens...
stay connected stay updated seems to be the new motto...great going...

Raju BiswasMar 30th, 2011 at 00:12 AM

It is a good initiative.But I would suggest the govt make LOKPALL BILL.We have RTI to find faults and no way to punish them.People of India wants Development rather than Corruption rather than anything and strong enforced laws to tackle Corruption.

Abhishek SinghMar 29th, 2011 at 13:07 PM

Not to mention that Common Services Centers page on Facebook has 327 likes and growing!! This is the page for the CSC Scheme under NeGP which is setting up 100,000 + Internet kiosks in the country. Around 90,000 Centers are alreadt operational.

Zaira MaquboolMar 28th, 2011 at 10:20 AM

As far as the poking is concerned or rather the awareness is concerned is it only Delhi to shine on the TOI articles? Before the CommonWealth games The Delhi Police made a mark on Facebook by maintaining a decorum of following traffic rules. Is Delhi, the only city in the country aware ?

Tulika ChoudharyMar 28th, 2011 at 09:56 AM

I think the law enforcers have come up with an excellent idea. .
In today's generation where the youth is found 24x7 browsing the networking sites,this is one of the best ways to stay in touch with the generation!!!
May be this way we can hope to have a cleaner country!!!

Abhay KumarMar 28th, 2011 at 00:06 AM

Interesting article! By the way facebook page of Indian Diplomacy has over 900 likes, Twitter page over 7000 followers, You Tube( www.youtube.com/indiandiplomacy ) channel has more than 60 films. Worth checking out!

Arun KrishnanMar 26th, 2011 at 15:18 PM

There is a great leader of modern times Mr Sasi Tharoor who realized the power of social networking .. because people feel they belong to the system of democracy when they are connected to it .. and being a good citizen we have to initiate the change that we want to happen,its slow But its happening

 
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