Saturday, April 5, 2014

If You Think Facebook Is Irrelevant For Government, You Don't Understand Social Media Strategy


There is all this conversation going on now about the diminishing effectiveness of Facebook as an advertising/PR tool. But for government, the focus should be on responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds. Do we forget that in all the hype and fancy talk over this tool and that.

I disagree with the idea that FB is dying because it's a dwindling PR tool. From where I sit social media was never supposed to be about PR, and especially not for government agencies. Government agencies cannot do PR here in the States. Have we forgotten that? I like the communication that's happening around Healthcare.gov. Connect citizens to services. Go where they go. Use multiple channels. Perfect.

In addition to the fact that we lack a strategic understanding of which social media tool is good for what, in government the bureaucracy holds us back from adapting as fast as the tools evolve. I like what the GSA has done to proliferate tools as well as guidance. That's the way to go. Howto.gov, DigitalGov University, all excellent and pioneering stuff. If only we had that back in 2008 or 2009. And now the Federal Communicators Network is an official community of practice. This is all great.

I like the model that has been established at NARA to anticipate and grow with social media. It is housed in the Office of Innovation (where I work and I oversee the central administration of the function - note this blog is my personal one, and I am only describing the function not representing the agency here). Communications is a client. We keep the two separate for a reason. With the help of General Counsel and looking to the above for guidance and support, we stand up the tools and help others become responsible users of social media in their capacities as official representatives of the agency.

Based on everything I've seen and learned over the years, the most effective use of social media is to influence real users (not agency representatives) to spontaneously share information in their own ways. That may be as simple as a lunchtime conversation or as sophisticated as Snapchat or Spaceteam. I don't think we have to necessarily inhabit all the channels. I do think we have to communicate in ways that are simple and excellent and easily shareable. Give the public clear and understandable information and let them mix it, mash it, make apps out of it, and what have you. Just like the frontline employee knows best what the public wants, the agency outsider knows best how to reach other agency outsiders. This is also a better use of taxpayer funds than trying to "squat" over the entire Internet and social media space.

* All opinions my own

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