Five Easy Steps Facebook Could Take to Improve Pages for Government

Facebook recently unveiled its new format for Pages. Now, each organization or business presence must take the form of a Page, which is designed to look and operate much like a personal Facebook account, and which — a crucial point — must be linked to a personal profile. Facebook is adamant that all Pages must be tied to personal profiles, which in turn are tied to actual people. This means no “dummy” accounts using other email addresses. Facebook has apparently begun enforcing this rule, reportedly blocking access to some Pages that appear to be tied to dummy profiles.

The old format for Pages was problematic for government agencies on several levels. This new Page format leaves some of these problems unresolved, compounds others, and creates a few new ones. Fortunately, it would be simple for Facebook to address these concerns with a few technical quick fixes, while still preserving the general structure of linking pages to personal profiles.

  1. ALLOW USERS TO PASSWORD-PROTECT PAGES. One argument Facebook makes in defense of its rule requiring government agencies link their Page to a personal profile is that it is a poor security practice to use one username and password and share that among Page administrators. Respectfully, compared to the Facebook-approved alternative, this is nonsense. People log in to their personal Facebook pages at home, at work, on their phones — just about everywhere. Linking their Pages to their profile means that if their account is compromised, their Page is compromised, which is a major fear for agencies. Creating a dummy account using a separate username and password and only logging into that account at the office greatly reduces this risk of compromise, but this is verboten. A simple option allowing users to require a password be entered when switching from a profile to a Page would be an easy lift and would go a long way toward addressing this issue.
  2. CREATE A TIERED PAGE ADMIN STRUCTURE. Currently, anyone listed as an admin on a Page has equal power to post, to delete other admins, and even to delete the Page. This greatly increases the risk that a single security breach of the sort outlined above can have devastating results for an agency Page. Allowing one admin to be designated as primary, and the only one with the power to add and remove other admins and delete the Page, would be a good step.
  3. DON’T USE THE NEWS FEED ALGORITHM ON GOV PAGE WALLS. The Facebook News Feed algorithm that intrinsically ranks content and moves the most “important” posts to the top is a brilliant, creative invention that has no place on government agency Page walls. In most cases, the order in which content is posted to these Pages is important, and administrators and users want the most recent post to appear at the top. I’m confident that turning this feature off on government Pages would be very well received by agencies and citizens alike. Currently I believe that setting the Wall tab default display to “Only Posts by Page” turns off the algorithm, but then you’re effectively hiding your community of users’ posts from new visitors to your Page.
  4. ALLOW GOV PAGES TO ADD A DIFFERENT EMAIL ADDRESS FOR NOTIFICATIONS. Another unfortunate outcome of the requirement that Pages be linked to personal profiles is that administrators are faced with having to choose between receiving notifications from their Page in their personal email inbox, or not receiving them at all. How hard would it be to add an option that allows admins to identify another, official government email address to receive Page notifications? I’m guessing not very.
  5. ALLOW “DOWNLOAD YOUR DATA” OPTION FOR PAGES. Records management with regard to social media is a bit of a gray area, to say the least. Federal agencies must preserve any original content they post to their Facebook page, but what about comments? Should comments that go unaddressed be treated differently than comments that receive a reply? What about comments that must be removed, or that include PII (personally identifiable information)? And in what format must this content be preserved? Agencies need to grapple with these questions, but allowing administrators to download all the data from their Pages the same way they can for their profiles could dramatically streamline this process, saving a lot of time and frustration.

It is clear that Facebook is interested in innovation, authenticity, and constant improvement in order to provide a better user experience. If they are truly committed to these values in the government space, they ought to consider implementing these relatively easy fixes to the new Page format.

Please feel free to leave any additional thoughts on changes that could be useful for government agencies in the comments.

[This post first appeared on my blog.]

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Great post – what are you doing know to download your data? I hear this issue a lot when talking to people running gov’t Facebook pages.

Jeremy Cluchey

Thanks Steve. We have not yet gone live with our page, but we have a procedure in development to address this. It involves copying content we have identified as necessary to retain (not all public comments, but those in a thread to which we respond) and exporting them into a PDF, taking care to delete any PII. We will also keep a record of any instances in which we see fit to remove a comment and our reason for deletion. All records will be saved in our document management system with the appropriate protections for the appropriate timeframes.

It’s a bit labor-intensive, but we have an initial greenlight from our records management folks that it is in compliance with the existing guidance and law in this area. Of course some minimal effort from Facebook could go a long way to making this process easier on agencies (and, one could argue, by extension on taxpayers), but in the meantime our approach will be something along these lines.

Scott Horvath

Great post and glad you wrote this up Jeremy.

On #1, I agree that a separate account or dummy account would be better. We initially started with separate profile accounts for our folks to use our USGS Facebook Page. However, that goes against the TOS of Facebook. So, we’re not in the middle of moving from profiles to Pages for each person that is part of Facebook Ambassador program. But, as you mentioned, you have to use your personal Facebook account. And if your personal account does not have a strong password, it could cause problems if that person is an admin on a Page. I’m not a fan of the secondary password to switch Page accounts because it’s a bit cumbersome already to switch to different Page accounts.

On #2, Absolutely agree with the tiered admin roles. While you might trust your admins to do the right thing, sometimes accidents can happen. Being able to limit those accidents is important.

On #3, this has been driving me nuts lately. I understand how it’s beneficial to your personal profile, but having that same algorithm on the Pages is very confusing and irritating. We expect things to be posted in a certain order, and we expect our fans to see things posted in the order in which they were added. It’s not only confusing from a fan perspective, but it’s confusing from an admin’s perspective. Facebook should allow the option for Page admins to have the default setting changed from the “relevant posts” to the “chronological posts.”

On #4, Another big thing I agree with that we’ve noticed. Filling up my personal inbox kind of drives me batty. I have filters setup as well, but that’s not entirely helpful to me b/c I typically read my personal email from my phone…not online where I can see bolded folders when new messages are available. I would prefer a separate address for notifications for Pages. Plus, many organizations frown on the use of using personal e

Scott Horvath

Well for some reason the comment form cut off my comment with no warning. Did I reach a character limit? Ugh.

I’ll try to write the rest here…lost my ideas too!


From #4…..Plus, many organizations frown on the use of using personal email use during work, and so do employees. Your personal use is subject to monitoring on gov’t systems. Having an additional email to specify for notifications would be helpful.

#5: Downloading of data without PII would be nice to have as a feature. Also, downloading of data in an XML format. This would allow for developers to create applications which parse the XML to make it easier for reports or records management categorization.

Other ideas:

  1. Some type of # indicator for new items posted in the Events section for fans that haven’t see them yet. Not sure if that happens now, but I haven’t seen it.
  2. Easier way to switch between any Page account if you have more than one. Right now it’s only back to your profile account. But if the Account menu allowed switching to any Page account from anywhere within Facebook…that would be great.
  3. Allow switching of accounts within the page itself. If I want to comment as “me” or as “USGS” or as another Page account, I should have the option right within the comment or status box. Just like you can choose your privacy level on status updates, you should be able to do the same with which account you want to post as.
Jeremy Cluchey

Thanks Steve for the records mgmt software suggestions. I’ve heard good things about these options, but in this constrained budget environment we are trying our best to use internal solutions, at least for the time being.

Terry Weaver

Lots of good information and suggestions throughout this thread. I’d just like to add a reminder about ensuring that all of your readers are included in the conversations your agency is generating. Facebook is not fully accessible / Section 508 compliant, which means persons with disabilities aren’t able to take part in a lot of the conversations. To the extent possible, you should at least try to include descriptive text in any post that is primarily visual – videos, pictures, graphics, etc.; and include text for any audio-only information.

Many agencies are still struggling with the desire/need? to use Facebook versus the need to comply with the Section 508 law. I’m not going to go there with this post – it can really get people’s passions up. I am merely offering my own humble suggestions to help agencies consider the needs of all of their constituents

Julie Goebel

Hi! We are just getting started with Facebook in our organization, so posts/discussions like these are very helpful! If I could get Facebook to do anything it would be to allow a separate email for page notifications and a different email for each page!

Regarding some of the comments posted…if you are logged into Facebook, try putting http://www.facebook.com/pages/manage/ into your browser, and see if you get a list of all pages you manage. I have the URL saved on my Favorites toolbar and it makes jumping from page to page very easy. I have found that I can also easily switch to comment as me, or as a page admin fairly easy with the new layout…there is an option on the admin control panel on the page as well as an option under the Account menu drop down. It would be nice if it was right on the status post box, but I can live with it as it is now, especially since that wasn’t even an option previously.

I have not noticed the problem with the chronological order of my posts on the page, but perhaps because on I always have my page view set to Most Recent and not Top Posts. It would be nice if I could set that as a default view for my page so visitors get that automatically.

I do wish Facebook would make archiving a functionality right on the page. Not sure if this will work for other organizations, but for archiving my pages I currently use Nutshell Mail (free). We set up an email account for Facebook archiving (and hope to someday use it for Facebook notifications if they ever get around to allowing pages to have email addresses!). I created a Nutshell account with the e-mail address and hooked it up to our Facebook account. Nutshell grabs the posts/comments from the page(s) and emails me when updates (status or comments) are made to the page(s). I also have a set schedule for emails from Nutshell so every hour I get an email saying “no posts” (which I eventually delete so the email box isn’t filling up the server)…so hopefully if my page is compromised somehow, I’ll get one of my scheduled emails that will alert me if there was an unauthorized update within an hour and can take appropriate action.

Looking forward to hearing tips/tricks/ideas from other organizations as we move forward!

Jeremy Cluchey

Thanks Terry, you raise a very important point. I can tell you that at our agency, we are very conscious of accessibility issues and provide transcripts/descriptive text for all multimedia posted on our website. Our Facebook content will be repurposed content that is also available on our website and will link back there, so our 508 compliance materials will always be readily available. Obviously there are challenges around maintaining compliance as government moves into new mediums, and I look forward to staying up on best practices in this regard through forums like GovLoop.

Kevin Lanahan


From what I hear from some friends with visual disabilities, the problem with facebook isn’t that they can’t read the content, it’s that the content has no hierarchical markup so it’s impossible to navigate the page. Everything is a div, with no headings, so you may have to do a lot of tabbing to get to the content you want. The code doesn’t pass basic W3C html validation, so that is a double-whammy.

As Jeremy suggested, try to link back to your site as often as possible, where you know the content is accessible.

At http://facebook.com/mdconline, we use FB as an extension of our ombudsman program. People have always called, written and visited us with their questions and comments, and we’ve always responded to them. That was one-on-one only. With FB, you do the same thing, only more people get to see the answers. And the answers nearly always are found online somewhere, even if we don’t always reference the link (where do you thing WE get the answers?)