Ah, the phrase, “all views are my own.” The ubiquitous disclaimer of all government employees on social media. Of course there’s a reason it’s everywhere – government staff are rightfully concerned that their statements could reflect poorly on their employers. And don’t get me wrong, this is a legitimate concern. The phrase “all views are my own” isn’t a panacea. But too often, I think, government staff allow this concern to prevent them from telling their stories at all on social media, and even allow it to prevent them from using social media to quietly learn and listen. And that’s a shame, because (1) local government staff have some excellent stories we can all learn from and (2) there’s a lot of great content out there these days.
I want to clear the air upfront. I am not suggesting you do this. But I am suggesting that as rank and file government managers and employees, you have very unique, valuable perspectives on policymaking, process innovation and effective project management. The best way to learn about what is working well elsewhere? From the people involved in doing it. From you.
Here are some reasons you should consider upping your social media game:
- Discover colleagues and teammates: The underlying motivation for all social media, of course, is connection. For government staff, it can be a tremendous resource for finding colleagues with similar interests, and can even be the initial spark for future collaboration.
- Crowdsource problem solving: the Internet is full of examples of using social media to crowdsource solutions to tough problems like these. For government staff, social media can not only help solve tangible problems (e.g. what’s the best way to manage my to-do list?), but big ones too (e.g. advice for managing initiatives across several departments, motivating and inspiring your team.)
- Boost your career: If there’s one thing social media is good at, it’s giving individuals a platform on which to be heard. In a professional context, for local government staff, social media is an incredible opportunity to establish thought leadership on a specific topic – leading, ideally, to invitations to speak at conferences, to submit articles, to be interviewed about topics you care deeply about.
For any local government officials reading this: you have the added, very important opportunity, of using social media to tell your city’s story. If you do it well, social media can be an incredible tool for communicating with residents, NGOs and philanthropies about different city projects and initiatives, and why they matter. There’s no better way to build a diverse coalition of people and organizations working together towards a common goal. For great examples, see: Stephanie Stuckey, Kip Harkness.
Before you get started, check to see if your city has a social media policy. If it does, start there. If doesn’t, consider talking to whoever handles communications for your city. Beyond your city’s specific policy, here are some super basic suggestions to keep your engagement both appropriate and useful. Most of these are “duh” tips, but they’re always worth laying out:
- Represent yourself, your interests and your opinions as an individual, not as a representative of government.
- Keep things civil & professional in tone.
- Don’t do it during work hours. Or from government computers.
- If you’re not sure, don’t post it.
For more specific guidelines, with examples, see the federal government’s guide to social media.
Here are topics to consider sharing:
- Universal themes, lessons you’ve learned, and how you have or will apply them.
- Opportunities for improvements in processes. Ever had an idea for how to make department-wide meetings more efficient? Share it!
- Materials you’re reading, listening to, or watching that are work related, and what you found most interesting.
Also, here are some outlets you may want to consider engaging in, and how.
LinkedIn. It’s so much more than a career-building platform. LinkedIn is the easiest way to start a conversation with smart people. It’s a great place to ask questions, solicit ideas and start conversations. If you don’t already have a complete profile, start by completing it – this makes it easier for people to find you, and for you to find other people. Ask questions. Want to learn more about something? Not sure how to tackle a problem? Create your own post and tag people from various backgrounds to get a diverse set of answers. Or you can respond to other people’s posts with questions – you may be surprised about how quick people, even people you don’t know personally, are to share their thoughts.
Blogs. They’re a great way to share actionable advice. Out of all the social media outlets, blogs and blogging platforms (like GovLoop!) are the best place to share your story in ways that peers can actually learn from and apply. They can be great places to share things that are working well for you, and things that aren’t working so well. They can be great places to fill in the blanks, share the twist and turns, the mini-triumphs and the micro-crises. If you want to talk about specific programs or projects you’ve championed, definitely run it by your communications team. But please, don’t let the thought of working with communications folks prevent you from sharing specifics – they’re always looking for content that highlights government success stories and lessons learned. You can start by setting up free accounts on places like GovLoop and Medium. No clue about what to write? Consider these tips:
- Write about how you accomplished something. You can always assume someone is or will be interested. And even if you don’t think it was particularly innovative or creative, someone else probably will.
- Focus on the “so what?” People love insider tips and actionable recommendations. Need an example? Here’s one I wrote with my co-founder Ellory Monks about procurement.
- Be positive. Talk about on how you worked through a challenge, how you learned from negative feedback, how you responded to a crisis. Focus on the lifeboat, not the sinking ship.
If you need proof, the latest group of GovLoop featured bloggers is an excellent example of why government employees at all levels should share their stories.
Twitter. Admittedly, Twitter is the best and the worst: best because it makes sharing and listening easy, worst because it can be an overwhelming stream of information if it’s not managed well. For government employees, Twitter is an incredible place to listen to, learn from and be inspired by some of brightest people in the world. When you create your account, be sure to clearly identify it as the personal account of [Name], [Title] and note that all commentary is your own. The way to maximize Twitter’s value, for most government staff, is to find great people to follow – people you admire, people who inspire you, people you work with. Generally, we recommend a combination of big thinkers and local stakeholders for your work. Some of our favorite big thinkers? Code for America’s Jennifer Pahlka, The Ray’s Allie Kelly, and Bloomberg.org’s James Anderson. Sharing content (articles you read, podcasts you’re listening to) you care about will attract new people who have similar interests. And be sure to use relevant hashtags to make your posts searchable!
Across all the available platforms, the two biggest pieces of advice I can give are: (1) do it consistently and (2) be patient. It takes time to get the hang of social media, but once you do, you’ll find a whole new way to build a network of people who want to help you succeed.
It is admittedly more complicated to be a social media superstar if you work for a government. You do have to tread more carefully, and you do have to be keenly aware of your public affiliation and responsibilities. But just because you have to be more careful than private citizens doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it at all. The upside is just too great to take a pass.