Gat-NO! . . . Gat-NO! . . .
As Donald Trump might put it if he was running for mayor of New Aylmer: Gat-NO! Trump’s successes show that people everywhere are in an anti-government mood. This can only grow, not subside, with the growth of social media’s ubiquitous rants and conspiracy theories about “big government”. From the largest government on Earth to our local municipalities, the Twitterverse paints bureaucracies and officials with every transgression imaginable.
People can see their tax bills; they clearly have to pay police tickets and municipal fees, but they don’t see what government does with this money and why government needs more. They’re on their own to figure out what government does for them.
This shows a big credibility gap between citizens and leaders, a communications breakdown. Communicating what council or parliament is doing is the responsibility of the government actors themselves, not the media. Media carries the messages, but all the details, all the improvements, tests, and innovations done by government have to be communicated by those governments.
To avoid this alienation from the public, each administration must see communication and promotion as a significant function of government, one of its many functions. It has to be a significant budget item.
To be successful, promotion cannot be given to non-professionals (even if they work behind a door labelled “Communications”), or to novice staffers, contract temps, or even retiring veterans. Seniority means nothing for a successful communications strategy; training and experience are the keys. Results must be continually tested.
The purpose of government promotion of its own programs, plans and accomplishments is to inform citizens, not scare them -- as social media loves to do. Hiding information in websites or within the Twitterverse does not accomplish the task, even if it is cheaper than traditional means of reaching all citizens, youth to elderly, businesspeople to artists.
Without a clear, simple, multi-media communications program, the City of Gatineau, the Government of Canada, and all the rest of today’s “big government” will face this wildfire cynicism stoked by social media. More elections will be lost, consultations unattended, and initiatives unsupported.
Taxpayers will continue to complain that their interests are unmet; politicians will be regarded as charlatans – or worse – and social cohesion will fragment. All because the proper information has not been prepared or distributed in clear, easy-to-use -- and proven -- means.
Facebook explanations, while helpful for local gossip, do not have the capacity to carry much explanatory power. And we are citizens, not birds; we deserve more than 150-word Tweets to explain what we gain from our governments. A Tweet is as explanatory as a t-shirt message.
Look, the fact that so many people still question the value of Aylmer’s forced merger with Gatineau means the city’s communications policy and methodology is failing.
And what, for example, is happening with the condos at 22, rue Principal? Old Aylmer needs densification, will the city manage this project successfully? How about a public consultation, not a one-off Tweet? Or does City Hall really intend to keep proving Trump’s point?