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Facebook Questions are Great for Gov, but be Careful…

On March 24, Facebook rolled out the Questions feature to all its users. It’s a new way to ask and get answers from your friends or fans on Facebook. For government, this could be a great opportunity to get direct feedback for

Product development

  • How can we improve our current website?
  • How difficult was it to fill out the form?

Customer service

  • What was the most difficult part of the application process?
  • How long did you have to wait in line at the downtown office?

Policy development

  • What are your ideas to balance the budget?
  • Our agency is looking to add these service offerings. Which ones would be most helpful to you?

However, government must be aware of the implications of creating these types of content on a third party website. Hopefully, your agency already has a social media policy that covers general areas such as Security, Privacy, Retention, Accessibility, Acceptable Use, Advertisement, etc.

Introducing Facebook Questions might change the nature of your Facebook Page. Many agencies say their Facebook Page generates duplicative or transitory content. It’s duplicative because the original source of the link or post resides in a different location, such as their agency website, so the content on Facebook is not unique.

It’s also seen as transitory because it’s not essential, mission critical information, but more like conversations in passing. If you ask “How are you today?” and a fan responds “Great, thanks,” this information, although unique, is not treated the same as official agency information.

These two reasons, duplication and transitory, have allowed government to adopt less stringent policies for the management of its Facebook content.

However, if you’re now using Facebook Questions to develop policy or poll constituents , the nature of your Facebook content changes. There are at least three policy areas that might be affected:

1) Record management: the results from your Questions are unique content. What kind of retention schedule will it have? Does it fit into an existing category or will you need to create a new one? Since this is critical information, you must have a way to capture and retain this data.

2) Accessibility: Facebook is not completely accessible to persons with certain disabilities. There are workarounds, but you should still consider the accessibility of your Facebook content. In addition, how can you make it available for people who don’t have Facebook accounts? How will you make it available for people who don’t have computers or internet connections, especially if they want to participate?

3) Take down policy: whenever you allow the public to generate content on your page, you should have a take-down policy, and it better be enforced quickly and consistently. As valuable as survey data can be, all it takes is one person with an offensive or inappropriate response to turn your brilliant poll into a PR nightmare. Moderation is always a delicate matter; if too extreme, people will be offended. But if you have a clear, fair, and visible policy (probably in your Info page or Discussion page), people will generally be okay if you remove comments that is consistent with your policy.

Overall, I think Facebook Questions will be a great tool for government to gain direct feedback from their customers. It’s free, easy-to-use, and can be an invaluable method of collecting data. As long as agencies figure out how to properly manage the policy implications, I believe many agencies will benefit from this feature.

What are some creative ways your agency could use Facebook Questions? Are there other policy areas that will be affected?

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Jon Lee

Thanks Melinda. I’m not an accessibility expert but I sit next to one. How does your agency handle Facebook and accessibility?