Designing Social Media Policy for Government: Eight Essential Elements

As we all know, despite the increasingly frequent use of social media tools by government agencies, managing this engagement remains challenging for many, especially at state and local levels. Last summer CTG began to explore this topic and what we ended up hearing often from government professionals that we interviewed was that they would really like to have a policy for social media to help them manage this environment, but they were not sure where to begin.

So as part of the bigger project we analyzed 26 government social media policies and guidelines for patterns in content and approach and identified eight essential elements of government social media policy: 1) employee access, 2) account management, 3) acceptable use, 4) employee conduct, 5) content, 6) security, 7) legal issues, and 8) citizen conduct. We detail these in a guide with examples from existing policies as well as brief guidance on how to get started.

The full guide can be downloaded for free here http://www.ctg.albany.edu/publications/guides/social_media_policy.

I recently presented these results at a local government meeting and what seemed to resonate the most with people was the need to control employee access and their personal use of these tools while at work. Is your organization dealing with the same issues? What are your agency’s top concerns?

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Arvind Nigam

I have a strong reason to believe that a lot of fine print will just cut-copy-paste over without adapting to changed scenarios online. For example Ed.gov which calls for ideas in education!

The portal has two basic flaws: 1. The User Interface & 2. The Legal Stricture. Both the issues almost completely exclude the biggest stakeholder of education i.e. “Children” out of the loop. In my opinion, such policy making and effort to reach out is welcome, but half-baked.


Jana Hrdinova

@Scott – I understand where you are coming from Scott, yet government environment requires a certain degree of management. If you read the report you will notice that we do not advocate that content or access should be restricted to the point that the benefits of being social are eliminated, rather we emphasize the areas that managers need to think about when designing a policy. To what degree they allow open access and communication depends on their own environment and circumstances. While using social media tools can bring value to government agencies, there are also risks associated with such use and having a well thought out policy can help mitigate these risks.

Jana Hrdinova

@Scott – I agree with you that government culture sometimes errs on the side of being overly cautious. We found that the degree to which agencies are willing to take a risk varies depending on their mission as well as the personality of their employees. I also agree with you that many of the fears we heard from government professionals during our interviews have not yet materialized, yet we found that simply telling them “don’t worry about it it has not happened yet” is not the most productive way to answer their concerns. There are other risks governments have to pay attention to besides IT security risks, such as being good stewards of tax payers’ money, public perception, legal and regulatory questions, etc. Some of the agencies we spoke to mentioned that having a policy would allow them to engage with social media tools, without a policy they would not engage at all. The report is meant to help them think through some of the issues.