Designing a social media strategy to fulfill your agency's mission.

Author:Mergel, Ines

Social media applications have become acceptable communication and interaction channels in the public sector. Driven by online behavior of citizens, available social networking platforms, and the governments' need to become more participatory, transparent, and collaborative, public managers must design a social media strategy that helps to fulfill the mission of their organization.

Social Media Use in the Public Sector

Social media applications have become the newest wave of e-government and are making government websites more interactive and engaging. Tools such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and photo-and video-sharing sites have become accepted communication channels in the public sector.

Most government agencies have added a sharing button to their official website. These buttons encourage citizens to share government content on social networking sites and to engage directly with agency representatives via comment functions. Some even happen in close to real time.

Much of this trend was driven by the Obama administration's 2009 call to "harness new technologies" to increase government's participation, transparency, and collaboration, and "open new forms of communication between government and the people."

However, every social networking site has its own goals, interaction routines, and culture. Government therefore is in a constantly reactive mode to provide guidance, best practices, and accepted information technology (IT) standards and regulations.

Third-party commercial social media services, such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, are hosted outside of government servers by companies who frequently change technological features. Agency IT professionals must keep up with those application changes so that citizen interaction is maintained and upgraded when possible. Changes to the agency's social media policies often happen after major mishaps trigger the necessity for updated standards and policies to safely use social media services again.

Other substantial concerns include security and privacy issues, as well as open questions regarding records management, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued in 2011. While these concerns need to be addressed, many government organizations are still in the early stages of social media use and are concerned about much more basic questions, such as:

  1. Why should an agency use social media applications outside its existing IT infrastructure?

  2. Who is the local (or global) audience?

  3. How does the use of social media support the agency's mission?

  4. Who should be responsible to provide and verify content on a daily basis?

  5. What are the policies and rules that guide the agency's online interactions?

  6. What is acceptable citizen behavior on government-run social media accounts?

  7. Who is responsible for content accuracy and corrections when invoking...

To continue reading