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Spanish Town That Runs on Twitter Shows Off the Power of Social Media

Twitter, along with countless other social media websites, is often viewed as a productivity killer. But a small town in Spain has actually been using the platform to improve communication between authorities and the people. In fact, Twitter is so important to the people of Jun that they actually built a monument of the iconic ‘blue bird’ in the town’s square.

Since September 2011, the 3,500-strong community has used Twitter to spread local news, developments, job opportunities, orbituaries, and even school dinner menus! Residents book doctor’s appointments, register consumer complaints, and report crimes through their tweets. Jun’s Mayor, José Antonio Rodriguez Salas, has his own account, with a massive following of over 340,000. Locals can contact the Mayor by tweeting him directly.

All the town’s public services, including the police force, have their own Twitter accounts. The force, consisting of only one officer, drives a squad car with ‘@PoliciaJun’ painted on the bonnet. In fact, the bird logo can be seen everywhere, including the Mayor’s office. Even the guy who sweeps the streets tweets amusing messages, with before and after shots of his handiwork.  The town’s elderly aren’t ignored either – there’s a special program in place to teach them how to use the internet and social media.

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The town’s unique communication strategy has caught the attention of the world, so much so that researchers from MIT’s Media Lab are now conducting studies in Jun. According to The Independent, they’re trying to find out if social networking holds the key to improved public services in larger cities.

Salas, better known online as ‘@JoseantonioJun’, calls Twitter “the social network of our immediate society” and credits it with enhancing government efficiency. The record for the quickest resolution to a problem stands at three-and-a-half minutes – a resident had tweeted about a faulty streetlamp with a photo, and it was resolved immediately.

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“We’ve broken through the heavy, creaking bureaucracy that has occupied public office in Spain for the past 300 years, with the use of a single bird named Larry,” the social media savvy mayor said. In his book, Theory of Complaining, Salas insists that residents do not participate in the local government because they don’t think their opinions matter.

“The Spanish, and in general people from the Latin world, do not known how to complain effectively,” he explained. “When we have a problem we usually go to the nearest bar and grumble about the mayor or president, but the problem remains. Thanks to Twitter, people can complain directly, which helps us grow as politicians. The employees, whose work was previously not appreciated, now take pride in achieving their tasks. It brings residents closer to the administration at the same time.”

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An article in the Huffington Post says that this ‘mutual visibility’ serves as both a carrot and stick: “On one hand, the government’s performance comes under greater public scrutiny. If a broken streetlight isn’t fixed, everyone knows it and the slacking employee is more likely to be disciplined or, if it becomes a pattern, fired. That’s the stick. But the good work done by public servants is also now visible to all and thus more likely to be recognised and rewarded. Carrots can be as small as a message being favourited or retweeted… or as great as winning the esteem of one’s neighbours and new status in the community.”

Sergio González Naveros, head of education and sports in Jun, adds that Twitter “eliminates hierarchies and empowers residents because it’s a horizontal system where everyone’s opinions are as important as the mayor’s.” But he believes there are downsides as well: “When you have children, a family or are studying, being connected all day is hard. Being seen all day, mobile in hand, it’s not the example I want to set. But it’s our work, we believe in the project and try to make time… we’ve put innovation at the heart of our mission.”

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Salas agrees: “When a resident asks me something on Twitter and it takes more than an hour to respond, people sometimes think something must have happened to me, but that’s because I usually always answer within minutes.” But he adds that he doesn’t always feel the pressure to be online. “It would worry me more not to know what’s going on,” he said.

Psychology experts have varied opinions on the subject, as the report in The Independent indicates. Tom Stewart, psychologist and founder of System Concepts, said that “always on, always instant is not always right. “We need common sense to stop it becoming its own burden. If it creates an additional pressure that can be distracting.” But psychologist Dr Jon White has no such qualms. “We integrate different technologies into our lives. Society and government evolves accordingly,” he said.

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Despite what experts say, Salas has great faith in the Twitter model of governance. He is convinced that society will eventually transform its “archaic and backward structures.” He also warns that “politicians and governments that are not incorporated in this process will become less credible in a society that doesn’t want to do without active listening and active response.”

“Our model, based on communications on Twitter, has been such a success that it has attracted worldwide attention and people from all over the world have commented on what we have done, the message I remember most was from a New York policeman who congratulated us on what we had done,” Salas said. “When council meetings are taking place, people are kept informed and updated via tweets, and citizens can submit questions or comments via Twitter.

 

To show their gratitude to Twitter the town has arranged for a monument in the form of an obelisk topped by the platform’s bird logo to go on on display in its main square,to underline the importance of the social media network in turning the town into an international success story.”

Photos: Twitter

Sources: The Independent, Digital Trends

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