Something to like: almost everyone is using some kind of social media, including legislatures and lawmakers.

Author:Greenberg, Pam
Position:SOCIAL MEDIA - Cover story

Let's face it--most adults are liking, posting, tweeting, commenting and joining social media sites as much as their kids are. In fact, almost three-quarters of adults who use the Internet are signed up on at least one social networking site of some kind, and 42 percent use more than one, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey.

This is an audience many legislatures have decided is worth reaching. Social media users are more politically engaged and influential than most people, research shows. Pew found that Facebook users are more likely to attend a political meeting, more likely to vote, and more likely to try to influence how others vote.

Social media offers lawmakers a way to keep citizens informed and to share unfiltered perspectives about state issues that are receiving dwindling coverage through more traditional media outlets.

"Social media is a phenomenal way to reach constituents," says Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R). "As a policymaker, I find the direct, immediate feedback to be tremendously helpful."

Almost every state legislature or legislative caucus now uses some type of social media to highlight bills or actions on bills, to discuss policy issues or positions on issues, and to post photos or videos that highlight events with constituents or legislators' daily activities.

Nonpartisan offices in about half the states use Twitter. Caucuses more frequently use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and, most recently, photo sharing sites, like Flickr and Instagram.

Are Guidelines Needed?

As their popularity and use spreads, more organizations are developing policies specifically to address the use of official social media accounts in the workplace. Do legislatures need to as well?

Some organizations are comfortable without a specific social media policy, relying on existing policies and trusting the judgment and discretion of those authorized to use social networking sites. Others feel a need to address the way that social media can magnify careless or reckless statements, allow disclosures of sensitive information inadvertently, and threaten computer security through such things as phishing and malware.

A recent Society of Fluman Resource Management survey of private sector employers found that 55 percent have guidelines for social media communications. In the public sector, in 2012, more than 50 percent of states had social media policies for the executive branch, and another 25 percent were working on them when the National Association of State Chief Information Officers surveyed them.

Fortunately, examples of policies and guidelines are increasingly available. In "Social Media in the Public Sector Field Guide: Designing and Implementing Strategies and Policies," authors Ines Mergel and Bill Greeves recommend "identifying a core group of users focused on identifying, championing, and implementing the social media strategies and policies of your organization." This team should involve representatives from management, legal services, public information, information technology, and human resources departments. They recommend that the workgroup also be part of initial experiments with social media in order to determine the value of posting, how resources will be allocated, and if the effort can be maintained over the long term.

Here are some elements to consider when developing an official social media policy for legislative accounts.

  1. Define the Purpose

    This may seem obvious, but a statement of the purpose and goals for the use of social media helps focus and guide its use, and shouldn't be glossed over. Review your current goals and mission and determine how social media might support them. Consider the types of information and interaction citizens and constituents are seeking and how they use social media to communicate.

    For example, the Minnesota House Public Information Services' "Social Media Policies and Best Practices Guide" states that the purpose of social media is to support the department's mission and overall communication strategy. "Our use of social media allows us to open new channels of communication to the public ... and a robust social media strategy will allow us to broadcast our content quickly, effectively, and in ways that users will find engaging."

  2. Define Responsibilities

    Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for oversight and management are an important part of any social media policy to help prevent...

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