EPA & Social Media: What We’re Using, What We’re Thinking About

EPA leapt into the social media world in July 2007 with our first blog post. Ever since, we’ve been working to expand our options. That’s been greatly helped by the terms of service that GSA has negotiated on behalf of all federal agencies (most agreements contain clauses we can’t accept as federal agencies for various legal reasons). See howto.gov for the overarching process and the list of sites for which they’ve negotiated federal-friendly terms. Even when GSA finishes, each agency still needs to review the agreements with its own attorneys, but our internal review usually goes pretty quickly.

I find it helpful to know what others are doing, so in that spirit, here’s what we’re up to. You can find most of our accounts linked from our social media page. The links below go to the home pages of the various sites so you can check them out.

First, we’ve recently finalized agreements with several new services:

Meanwhile, here’s what we’re currently using. How much we’re using each varies, from a lot (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and Flickr), to very little (Dipity, Cooliris).

And here are the sites with whom we’ve signed terms of service agreements, but aren’t yet using. Reasons why not vary, from not yet finding a good project (remember, identifying the mission need is always the first step) to there being other legal or logistics issues we haven’t yet resolved (or even tried to resolve).

What other social media tools/channels/sites are you using or thinking about?

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David B. Grinberg

Wow, Jeff, that’s sure a long list I’m not sure many agencies can compete with, albeit with the exceptions of State, DoD and DHS. I would just note, as you probably know already, that you can now use video on Instagram up to 15 seconds, whereas Vine only offers 6 seconds. I wonder what criteria they use to decide how much video time to offer? I suppose less is more in this instance.

Gadi Ben-Yehuda

That is quite a list! Are all of these tools available to all agencies (i.e. has GSA given their seal of approval to each one) or did you have your own counsel ensure that the Terms of Service are compatible with federal agencies?

Carol Kruse

Wow, it’s rather overwhelming to read the lists — I know I’m a baby-boomer/dinosaur, but I’ve never even heard of half of those, and only use LinkedIn, personally. Our agency, at the local level, just started using Twitter with the public…our Public Affairs folks do the tweeting.

I wonder if there isn’t a lot of overlap among those different media? And how does EPA use each one effectively — do you have staff specifically dedicated to working on social media? If not, how do you train all employees to utilize the different media effectively, and does anyone monitor what’s shared with the public in these formats?

Daniel Bevarly

Jeff – That is an impressive list. EPA has been a leader in using So-Me to engage the public. “Back in the day”, I had inquired about EPA allowing online anonymous public comments to qualify as part of the official record on EPA projects, yet at public hearings on those same projects, citizens had to provide validation or attribution. Is that still the case or have that discrepancy been merged into an overall public comment policy? Thanks and keep up the great work.

Dannielle Blumenthal

This is impressive. I guess my question is, does EPA have a policy around decentralization? Or how does the system work in terms of the official voice of the agency using certain tools while others are simply authorized? I am now working through some of these issues.

Jeffrey Levy

@David: thanks for the tip. These sites keep adding new features, which makes using them easier, but also means they’re much less different and so we’re more likely to use fewer of them!

@Gadi: GSA negotiated all of the initial agreements (and many more) but each agency needs to sign the agreements themselves. In our case, that means running the GSA-negotiated agreements past our own attorneys. I’m not sure how other agencies handle it. What’s nice is that some sites now include the federal-friendly terms in the normal account setup, so you don’t need to download, print, and send back a signed agreement.

I realized my link in the opening paragraph wasn’t clear, so I now have two links: one explaining the process and one listing everything GSA has negotiated.

@Carol: Don’t be overwhelmed. We’ve been at this since 2007. Start small, learn as you go, and try out various tools to see what’ll work best for your needs. Not every tool is useful, and their usefulness can change over time, either because your needs change or because the platform changes (or some other site expands its features and you no longer need something else).

I have 3 people on my team who run the main EPA accounts, and then there are people we’ve approved to run accounts on behalf of various parts of EPA. We give them training, spot check what they’re up to, and meet monthly as a social media community of practice. We also communicate quite frequently to coordinate major messages that’ll go out across multiple accounts (for example, every EPA account tweeted when our new Administrator was sworn in). We also have several social media policies everyone has to abide by.

@Daniel: Unfortunately, we still haven’t figured out how to legally accept formal public comment via social media. I think the question of anonymity is interesting; I don’t think you have to name yourself to comment in writing on a proposed regulation, for example. I’m not an expert on that, though. But there are also other issues we haven’t worked out, like recordkeeping, what constitutes an actual comment in a formal sense, etc.

@Dannielle: All proposals for new social media projects are reviewed by Jessica Orquina on my team, EPA’s social media lead. Furthermore, all social media takes place under the auspices of our various policies and guidance, some of which is general and some of which is specific to particular platforms, like Twitter. We also have site-specific approaches as to whether we have a single EPA account (e.g., Flickr) or multiple accounts beyond the main EPA account (e.g., Twitter) – those evolved over time based on the tools and our understanding of how best to use them. But the upshot is a tailored approach to each effort. Also see my response to Carol, above.