Where’s all the love between social media and gov?
If this relationship were a romance Uncle Sam would still be stuck on the first date.
While many government agencies made much needed progress in leveraging social media more effectively in 2013, there's still a lot of work ahead – especially for small and mid-sized agencies.
That’s why my #3 recommended New Year’s resolution for gov is:
5 Great Strides
By proactively communicating on a diverse range of social media platforms, our government will make great strides in enhancing:
1) Customer service
2) Citizen engagement
4) Public trust
5) External communications overall
Good News, Bad News
The good news, as Nextgov reports, is that:
The bad news is that too many agencies are lagging when it comes to proactively beefing up their social media presence across multiple platforms, including non-traditional ones.
NextGov warns Uncle Sam in a banner headline: "Agencies,Take Note: Social Media Just Doesn't Mean Facebook Anymore":
"Federal agencies have moved more slowly into social media sites other than Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, partly because of their specialized audiences."
But, as Nextgov reports, Cabinet-level agencies are branching out:
"The Justice Department is planning to spend up to $550,000 to recruit top legal talent via LinkedIn, for example, and the Interior Department has a popular Instagram account populated with pictures of national parks and monuments."
Still Playing Catch Up
It’s no secret that gov generally is infamous for playing catch up to the private sector. But this appears true to a disproportionate extent in the field of information technology, where social media has become instrumental in connecting citizens and government.
To wit: as NextGov also reports, despite progress made at larger agencies, some small and mid-sized agencies are still behind the times:
Bravo to that!
Still, what’s taking so long?
Social Media Job Series Needed
A quick search on USAJobs.gov reveals fewer than 20 federal job openings gov-wide with the term "social media" in the position description. Moreover, the search showed no positions with "social media" or "digital engagement" in the job title.
Some of the positions listed in which "social media" is one of multiple duties include: Park Ranger, IT Specialist, Web Coordinator, Brand Management and Visual Design Specialist -- as well as the more traditional positions of Public Affairs Specialist, Writer-Editor and Outreach Coordinator (not to mention unpaid student internships).
Thus perhaps it's time for OPM to consider a new series and range of job classifications specifically designed for social media and/or digital engagement only. If not now, then when?
If gov can’t get ahead of the social media curve then the least it can do is keep pace rather than falling further behind.
Social media has a vital role to play in promoting civic engagement and communication in today’s fast evolving digital/mobile world.
All gov agencies must be where citizens and customers are if they want to make greater strides among the five factors cited above (5 Great Strides).
Several obstacles are blocking Uncle Sam from maximizing social media. They include, but are not limited to the following:
1) Fiscal Austerity: lack of funding and paucity of staff due to the ongoing period of fiscal austerity.
2) Fear Factor. Some agency leaders are “old school” and indifferent, not to mention change resistant, to building a strong social media presence. This institutional intransigence is leaving smaller agencies in the social media Stone Age.
3) Legalese. Too many legal abstractions and nit-picking by agency attorneys, many of whom understand the letter of the law but not necessarily how it applies in the fast-evolving digital/mobile world. The broader legal landscape is still unsettled regarding issues of social media, free speech and other factors (See Social Media & Free Speech: Appeals Court Gives Facebook Thumbs Up) .
The bottom line here is that Uncle Sam can no longer afford to fall prey to antiquated attitudes and belief systems about how feds should best communicate with citizens on social media in today's Information Age.
Thus let Uncle Sam resolve to "ride herd" on agencies to fully embrace and leverage social media on a diverse range of platforms in 2014.
Government as an institution, along with the public we serve, will be better off because of it.
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* As always, all views and opinions are those of the author only.