5 Tips For Public Servants Using Social Media

Here are five quick tips on how to manage your social graph as a public servant:

1. Pro-actively disclose

Generally speaking it is good practice to tell your employer (or prospective employer) of any activity that is at the periphery of but related to your official activities. For public servants I think that runs the gamut from blogging about related issues on sites like this one, to sharing links with colleagues on Twitter, or participating in discussion groups on Govloop or LinkedIn.
I am of the opinion that proactive disclosure of online activities is less important when those activities are far removed from your professional life. I doubt the powers that oversee the machinery of government care if in addition to your day job you happen to run a local food, exercise, lolcat blog.
Finally, don’t go running to the very top of the organization to disclose your activities, simply disclose them to the closest logical individual up the food chain from yourself.

2. Be careful what you link to

This is where I see the most confusion. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter link to their department or agency right under a bio that reads “all views my own”.
My advice is to not link to any official government website on any of your social media unless you are acting as an official spokesperson for the organization.
Also, and this one is overlooked often, don’t provide a link to your social media (e.g. your Twitter) in your official organizational email footer. The implication is that your use of the service is as official as the position you occupy, your phone number and mailing address, when in fact you cannot conduct official business in that channel (especially with external stakeholders).
The same goes for your avatar, don’t use anything with government logos in it (like a photo of your ID badge) it conflates you with the department or agency for whom you work.

3. Have a disclaimer, but don’t hide behind it

There was a number of blog posts and Twitter chatter in the last few weeks about the subject of disclaimers. Here’s my take: a disclaimer doesn’t absolve you from being an idiot. Much like you can’t claim ignorance if you break the law an online disclaimer isn’t a shield. It doesn’t protect you or your employer, it only creates a small modicum of distance between the two by telling people that you are not authorized to act as an official spokesperson for your organization.

4. Excuse yourself from conversations that you feel uncomfortable about

During the last election one of the federal political parties responded to one of my tweets about open data. The conversation quickly turned partisan. My reaction was to simply tweet that given my role and responsibilities as a professional and non-partisan public servant I was unwilling to engage any further; an explanation that was readily accepted by the party in question.
If you are pressed even after you excuse yourself, just stay silent, let anyone watching it play out draw their own conclusions. I

5. Don’t bitch about work

Venting may feel good now, and a status update is so easy that its often we get caught up in the moment, but there aren’t any private places online where you can complain about your employer.
Good rule of thumb: don’t say anything online that you don’t have the wherewithal to say in person because you will be held accountable by someone somewhere down the line.
Like mom said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Originally published by Nick Charney at cpsrenewal.ca


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[image credit fisserman]

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Amelia Brunelle

I LOVE 99% of this post. I think far too many people don’t consider these kinds of things when participating in online conversations etc. My only beef would be with the last one. Being part of the internet world, for many of us, means full integration of our views, work, personal lives. Try as we might, we cannot be active on the internet and separate into separate bins for different audiences: weekend concert lover here, federal employee over here, politically involved member of society over there. I think by saying ‘never say anything negative about ____’ (it could be your job… we all have days where our job isn’t ideal, that’s normal, or your commute, or a statement by a politician, or a specific breed of dog you dislike for all I care) we area again trying to be separate and disintegrated. Perhaps instead of just not saying negative feedback/comments on the internet, we should be learning to actually vocalize criticism in person.

Alicia Mazzara

Great tips all around! I especially think #3 is one that people often forget. Number 5 is probably the most difficult to follow, because everyone bitches about work sometimes. Perhaps with Google+ there is a little more leeway for sharing things only with specific people? Still, I think you offer a good rule of thumb for avoiding any complaints that you couldn’t say in person (e.g. “it sucks that the copier is broken” vs “my boss is a jerk”).

Stephen Peteritas

Number 3 is probably my favorite as it drives me nuts when people throw an opinion out and then don’t stand behind it.

Also number 5 I’m guilty of… gchat status

Nicholas Charney

@Amelia – I think there is room to be negative, but it must be principled whenever it crosses work related items. For example expressing disdain that someone egged your car is one thing, disagreeing with you Minister (or Member of Congress) on a policy issue upon which you work is something else altogether.

(#5 is hard)

Amelia Brunelle

I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree.

I disagree with my representatives often, both on areas on which I work and those which I don’t, and comment on those issues on the internet frequently. As I follow other steps, like not linking to my professional organization or using work email for posting etc. I see no issue with this. To me, NOT participating in political discussions because of my profession would be to neglect my job as an educated and concerned citizen.

Julie Chase

1. That is why people who respond to messages use a fake name on message boards. If you are using your home computer vs. work computer (Uncle Sam doesn’t like his employees blogging and answering forums on his computers), anonymous is the way to get your point across.

2. Good Rule and I would add “NEVER”. You can say in your bio “I work for Uncle Sam” or “DoD”, but don’t narrow it to the point you can be discovered.

3. That’s a given.

4. The Hatch Act is alive and well, however, it doesn’t stop idiots from fwding jokes via gov computers or links to blogs that are partisan.

5. I like my job, so that isn’t an issue and I don’t discuss work on FB page. There is more to life than 9 to 5.

Very good rules to live by when it comes to your job and social media. It also depends on “who” you work for.