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6 Lessons Learned to Excel With Social Media

“If you think government is behind in social media, head to the bar right now because you’ll need to drown your sorrows when you find out you’re wrong.”

-Justin Herman, Federal Social Media program manager at GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies

The Social Media Club of DC opened their SocialGov event, sponsored by Chief, with a big announcement: The development of the first-ever Social Media Policy Development kit. This working group includes representatives from 21 agencies and will be a part of the Federal Social Media Community of Practice. Look out for big ideas coming out of this group as they convene this month!

This announcement only added to the excitement and energy of the September 18 event, which focused on the incredible developments in social media happening in government right now. We heard insights and best practices from:

  • Jenn Gustetic, Prizes and Challenges Program Executive NASA
  • Nicole Callahan, New Media Analyst, U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid (FSA.)
  • Deepa Kunapuli, Digital Strategist, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Karen Snyder, Senior Social Media Strategist Supporting the Office of Communications at FAA
  • Cameron Brenchley, Director of Digital Strategy at the U.S. Department of Education
  • Corina L. DuBois, Director of new media outreach and GOV 2.0 initiatives for the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs

With a group so diverse in mission, experience and job title, the most surprising thing was how much they all agreed on. Here are the best practices from the most inspiring minds in government social media:

1. Carry Out Your Mission (Even If It’s in 140 Characters of Less)

All too often social media is discussed as its own realm, instead of as a powerful tool to accomplish complicated mission objectives. Corina Dubois gave a powerful example of a tweet sent out by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico warning American citizens of an imminent narco-terrorism threat. The tweet was retweeted by so many community members that it eventually was covered by CNN and reached an audience of millions. “I heard once that a tweet can’t stop the bleeding,” said Ms. Dubois. “That’s right, but a community of practice on Twitter can stop the bleeding.” In this case, social media was a critical tool in accomplishing the mission of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular affairs: protecting American abroad.

2. Start Small and Make a Big Impact

Sometimes developing a coherent, agency-wide social media strategy seems overwhelming. So don’t! Start with a small project and evaluate lessons learned. Nicole Callahan shared that FAFSA’s Twitter engagement strategy began as a monthly “Ask FAFSA” office hours. Executives were skeptical that Twitter could be effective in addressing the individual needs of the 21 million who fill out FAFSA forms every year. By beginning with a monthly Twitter forum, Callahan and her team were able to move to a larger social media presence by showing leaders the results from this beginning experiment. These office hours, using #AskFAFSA, still continue monthly but now have become only one aspect of the Federal Student Aid Office’s strategy for engaging students and administrators online.

3. Tweet Like A Boss

GovLoop member Jim Garrow recently blogged about the importance of executives and leaders having their own social media presence, not just their agency. Quoting Megan Jasin, Garrow shared that “It’s refreshing to read unscripted content, ideas, and opinions from today’s leaders.” The Department of Education is a great example. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, regularly tweets his ideas and responds to questions. “He’s the coolest secretary,” says Cameron Brenchley, Duncan’s Director of Digital Strategy. Secretary Duncan takes time to tweet in between meetings and during his commutes. “It’s really him tweeting,” said Brenchley. That makes a big difference.

4. Think Beyond Social Media Giants

When we think of social media, many of us think Facebook and Twitter. However, it is important for agencies to think about what social media sites their customers visit and where the government needs a presence. For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noticed that few agencies had used Reddit. The CFPB decided to do a Reddit AMA or “Ask Me Anything” where Reddit users could ask the CFPB any question they had about consumer protection. Digital Strategist Deepa Kunapuli said that the CFPB’s mission is “to turn consumers into policymakers.” The Reddit AMA helped fufill that mission. Another example is the Department of Education use of Pinterest. “We noticed a lot of teachers were sharing ideas on Pinterest, so we are building a presence there too,” said Brenchley.

5. Know What’s Trending

“We use social media as an early warning system to know what people are talking about so we can prepare statements for the press,” said Karen Snyder of the FAA. She gave the example of unmanned aircraft systems, more commonly known as “drones.” When the FAA noticed that discussions of drones were becoming more popular on social media, they began preparing statements and policy papers to address questions in the media.

6. Incentivize Engagement

NASA has a very active social media presence given its unique ability to post about cosmic events, rocket launches, and galaxies far, far away. NASA has decided to make use of its many fans by asking for their help in solving problems. “We can’t keep going back to the same people,” says NASA’s Jenn Gustetic. “We are engaging the public to solver our tough problems through offering prizes,” a project Gustetic called “Inno-centive” (innovation incentives). Offering prizes helps customers truly engage with the agency, beyond a “like” or “retweet.”

What is your agency doing on social media? Would these strategies work for you?

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Profile Photo Henry Brown

Good Article! Will be interesting to see how far and wide this new mindset will travel!

I am aware of one agency which has very little Social media presence. They have been a follower for several years, and when it is realized that ALL of these activities cost and because the return on investment was obvious it was shuttered

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