Aslam Levy serves as the Director of Social Media for Government Communication and Information Systems for the South African Government.
What did you think you were going to ‘be’ when you grew up, and how has that changed?
I’ve always had a fascination for technology. My earliest memory of using technology was when I was five years old and memorised the command line scripts to load games in DOS. From that point I dreamt of a career developing computer games. Thankfully, as I grew older I realised that technology could also be used to improve peoples lives, and I’m now committed to implementing technologies and processes to bring about positive societal change.
What do you wish you knew before you started your first job?
In hindsight I wish I knew that my second job would have me co-found a multimedia development company. Had I known this I would have spent more time noting the way the company I was working for was being succesfully run. Also, I know now that I expected a lot from myself during that phase of my life. Life is about continuous learning, with everyday being an opportunity to become better than the day before.
What does a Director of Social Media in Government do?
Social Media is a fairly new technology that Governments worldwide are now starting to embrace; because of this there aren’t many examples of how governments should use social media. My role is to develop the policy, strategy and implementation plan to ensure that our government uses social media in an integrated consistant way. My portfolio also includes the monitoring and evaluation of social media usage in relation to our Key Performance Indicators, through which we will be able to show the value social media presents government and its citizens.
What are the biggest challenges you’re currently facing in your role?
Teams working in isolation are a systemic government wide challenge. Social media is more of a new way of working than a technology implementation, and thus requires inter-departmental work groups. Second to this would be the need to inform and educate public servants on how social media works, and how governments can use it to be more participatory, accountable, responsive and transparent.
Which of your previous roles prepared you best for this job?
To be entirely honest, all of them! My experience is comprised of every project I’ve worked on before. My previous position as the provincial website manager of the Western Cape Government helped me understand how government processes work and the importance of stakeholder engagement.
Tell us about your three favourite websites?
www.gov.uk is probably a favourite of many in the e-Governance space right now. A few years ago the UK government rebooted their web presence with a blank canvas, building this new website in accordance with the current citizen needs.
www.gov.za has to be mentioned because of the overhaul it’s currently going through. What you will see when you go there now is the first phase of its transformation. I’m very excited about the new website, which will be launched next year.
www.feedly.com is a personal favourite as it allows me to read all my RSS feeds in once place across all my devices. I don’t have time to jump between websites, so this RSS reader really saves me time and brings the content to me.
Tell us about your favourite Twitter account(s)?
@SA Gov News is great for those who are interested in the work of government and has daily tweets highlighting government programmes and activities.
@Khaya Dlanga has a great sense of humour while also tackling societal issues affecting our country.
What’s your top tip for managing a digital presence?
Understand why your audience would want to interact with you online and remember to align what you do to either business or personal benefits. Think about the value of what you are doing.
What is your favourite motivational quote or personal story?
While variations of this writing have incorrectly been attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, I am moved by the Bessie Anderson Stanley version, written in 1904:
“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”
What are you excited about?
I’m excited about the reawakening of Africa. From once being called the “Dark Continent”, we have emerged as a continent that is stabilising and showing greater positive growth. While we still face governance challenges, there are improvements in the quality of life for more Africans.
If you could do anything now, what would you do and why?
I would spend a few years travelling the world with my family, whenever I spend time abroad it extends my view of humanity and how it has overcome challenges it has faced. When I return to South Africa I find myself looking at our challenges in a different light, as they tend to be global issues.
How important has Social Media and Online Brand Management been in managing your career?
Social Media and online platforms have allowed me to reach and connect with other professionals around the world, sharing insights and experiences in realtime communication. Having an online brand allows young professionals to be more visible to peers and give us platforms to showcase and present our work.
How do you measure success?
The measure of success differs between people. I personally think that success is multi-faceted in that singular indicators make for a very limited lifetime. I think the quote by Bessie Anderson Stanley, above, sums it up quite eloquently. Also, there is a greater success that we will never see, when the grand vision and purpose of our work crosses generations and is achieved by future torch carriers.
How are you leveraging the tools that the audience you’re trying to reach is using?
Discussions are underway to develop the first South African Government Mobile Application. We are very aware that there is an increase in the use of mobile devices by citizens and that it’s a technology that allows us reach into the deeper rural areas where government information can be hard to find.
The South African government is in the process of enhancing its social media presence. You can visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GovernmentZA. There are also a number of social media accounts run by National, Provincial and Municipal government entities.
How does the South African Government currently use social media to interact with the citizens, and what are your future plans in this regard?
The current implementation leans more toward a publishing strategy than a conversational one. Despite the various challenges, we plan to use social media to be more responsive and participatory. There will also be an increased use of social media data to drive government policy and programs. Social media will integrate neatly with complementing technologies such as mobile optimisation, open data and Citizen Relationship Management. While this may sound overly complex the citizen experience should be simple to use and easy to understand, with them not being aware of the internal processes and systems. We must remember that social media is one of a basket of enabling technologies that we will use to make our government more participatory, accountable, responsive and transparent.
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