Exhibiting poise, insight and respect, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has risen to the top of the list of politicians using social media effectively. Johnson set up a Facebook account a little over a month ago and has posted at least once a day since. However, it is not simply the number of posts that makes his account one to watch for interested politicians and pundits, but rather the content therein – he discusses many dimensions of the government’s actions and policies, even reversing one of his decisions based on the comments that citizens left on his Facebook page. Read on for an in-depth look at what makes his use of social media such a success.
Jonathan’s Facebook page was set up on June 28th, and the first message appeared later that day:
Today, in fulfillment of the promise I made at the 26th convocation of the University of Port Harcourt on Saturday, 15 May 2010, I have created a facebook fan page to interact with Nigerians. As I said on that day, there is an unchallengeable power of good in the Nigerian nation and her youth and through this medium I want Nigerians to give me the privilege of relating with them without the trappings of office. GEJ
And he has done just that. Every post to his wall is an invitation for Nigerians to engage with his government, on issues ranging from new government appointments to the environment, inflation to soccer. His posts garner between 1,000 to 3,000 comments a piece – huge numbers that indicate that the people of Nigeria are eager to have their voices heard.
Many politicians have a Facebook, Twitter or other social media presence. However, a true measure of success is whether they are truly engaging with their constituents – or whether they simply use social media to broadcast a one-way “party line” type of message. While it is impossible to reply to 3,000 comments per day, Jonathan does, in fact, hear what Nigerians are saying on his Facebook page. He replies directly to some commenters, in general to the majority, and even brings some of the comments to government meetings and events. For instance, on July 4th he posted a call for suggestions pertaining to improving the power supply to citizens, and on July 5th he updated his status to read:
Again I spent time reading your comments and yesterday a youth named Toyin Dawodu indicated that he had an idea for a project that could deliver 4,000 MWs of electricity. I believe in the creativity and the spirit of innovation resident in our youth and I want to give Toyin Dawodu a chance to be heard. Toyin, someone from my office will make contact with you regarding your idea. I know I can not attend to every comment or suggestion due to time constraints, but please do know that I read them and they influence my actions. GEJ
Along with singling out certain commenters and engaging with them, Jonathan also bring the general sentiment of the Facebook page to bear on political decisions. He recently reversed a ruling to ban the Nigerian football team from international play due to their poor performance at the World Cup, and cited several Facebook comments as key to his decision.
Jonathan’s Facebook account is not part of a political campaign or a marketing strategy. It is not simply there so that his government can say they “understand social media and new technology”. He is using Facebook as a tool to engage in a two-way conversation with his citizens, hearing their concerns and raising his own. This increases transparency and accountability, while showing the world that his government is active and concerned about its citizens. Governments around the world could learn a thing or two from Jonathan’s Facebook page.