Is it better for an agency or an agency head to be on Facebook?

In gov’t web management circles, a common assumption is that there isn’t much interest in agency heads. Rather, people come to us for information or to do things like get their driver’s licenses. I discuss this idea with my friend Candi Harrison on a regular basis, and she’s blogged about how much she dislikes making a big deal out of agency heads.

I agree with the point that our Web sites should be about primarily about serving citizens. But I’m starting to wonder whether, in the world of social media, we’re missing an opportunity.

At EPA, we’re trying out a few different approaches on Facebook. Comparing Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s page to the main EPA Facebook page, we’re getting some good data that suggests the personal approach works really well in this venue.

EPA has 2660 fans. Administrator Jackson has 1391 fans, but is growing faster.

On Facebook, fans can click a button saying they like something and they can also comment. Let’s look at what happened with a recent post on each page about an op-ed by Administrator Jackson on selling environmentalism.

On the main EPA page, 4 people clicked they liked it and 4 commented. On the Administrator’s page, 33 clicked they liked it and 20 commented.

This result is typical when we post things to both pages.

My takeaway is that for items focused specifically on Administrator Jackson, her page’s fans react much more.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as we make efforts to have the main page be more interactive and personal, and as we focus on a few specific topics.

And while we’re looking at personal vs. organizational, here’s a related question: is it possible to have a Facebook fan base heavily engage with a page that covers a broad variety of topics, or is it better to focus it much more narrowly? I’m guessing the latter is better in terms of measuring engagement.

Stay tuned.

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Amanda Blount

Disclaimer – While reading my post, please keep in mind, from this computer I can’t see facebook.

Looking at your post, I was wondering if the response to the Admin page was because the page actually had a person as the contact. Is there a logo, or a person on the main EPA page? I very rarely join groups on facebook with just logos. I will, but I already must know what the group is about. I don’t like leaving a message with a main fan page with a logo. Very rarely is it checked by a person in the organization. But, a personal fan page gives the impression you are talking directly to that person. A page that has a logo gives the feeling like leaving a message in a “general voicemail”. When I get a chance, I will look at each page and see the difference.

I am wondering if the test results came back not because she is the head of the agency, but because she is a real person. Since your main thought is to compare just an agency page to the Head of the Agency page. I think a correct test would be to add one more fan page. It needs to be a normal female in the organization. She needs to look similar to the head of the agency. It need to be someone who could represent the organization and answer simple questions. Plus, periodically contribute to the conversation. This person would stand in as the face of the organization. This way you can see if it is the logo which is turning people away, or is it the “Head of the agency” which is drawing people in.

Of course, for it to be a true test, the titles need to be the same. BUT, the labels are part of your test. So, The Head of the Agency gets to keep her title, and the new face gets a nice title also. Something cool like, EPA Information Representative.

This should get you started on a good test. I personally like dealing with a human, not a logo, even on facebook, no matter what the title.

OR as you stated, you are going to make your main page more personal. When you do, add a photo of a person who looks like your admin head. This would be a fair test.

Also, have some fun later. Change the photo to a older male, younger male, female, different races, etc. Social networking (facebook) is a great place to have social test on a wide group of participates. I know a few people who have worked on their Master’s thesis using data they got from tests similiar to this one.

Jeffrey Levy

Alex, I’m not getting what you’re saying. Who’s “them” in “social media scares them”?

Amanda, your thoughts are right on target. I think with Lisa Jackson, it’s both that she’s personable by herself and she’s the Administrator.

Martha Garvey

This is an intriguing discussion. What do you all think of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s use of social media? He is on Twitter (and will request that people DM him), accepts Newark-related questions on Facebook, answers them on YouTube. In a position like his, he has the power both to answer and to act. To use a Craig Newmark term, he has the power to provide good customer service. That is–he is a good connector AND he can get things done.

One of the challenges that social media extends and expands for government is this issue of good customer service. It didn’t create it…it’s always been human nature to want your questions answered, and human nature to want your problems solved. I guess my answer would be–don’t put a person OR an institution out there in the social media mix without bracing for human nature.


I actually really like Lisa Jackson’s page on FB. It is more human and tells a story. Brings me closer to the agency. I think it is a great example and really well done…

Andrew Krzmarzick

Hey Jeffrey. Great question! I think THE best use of Facebook in government right now is the UK Training and Development Agency. Why? Because they’ve harnessed the potential of using Facebook for real-time dialogue by connecting current and prospective teachers.

In many ways, their answer to your questions is “Both” and “Neither.” “Both” insofar as the page should be staged by an agency AND include a real person or persons and “Neither” because it’s not really a government website anymore nor is it an agency head. It’s real citizens engaging other citizens. And, as Tim O’Reilly is advocating, government has become merely the platform that enabled this direct engagement of, by and for citizens.

Andrew Krzmarzick

P.S. It does look like you have some good interaction on the EPA Facebook page and a bunch of fans – congrats! One other quick idea/challenge: how can EPA take that page to the next level to foster dialogue between citizens about issues that are important to them? Can you partner with a non-profit environmental group to be the platform for a dialogue? You may be doing some of this already…and I appreciate all that you’re doing over at EPA, Jeffrey, and consider EPA among the Top 5 agencies out in front on this stuff. Thanks!

Jeffrey Levy

Interesting ideas, all. Thanks! Andy: we’re taking some steps already to be that platform. We have one wiki live now and a community blog on the way, where we’ve created the mechanism for a community of practice to share information and work together. I call it “indirect” mission accomplishment to help others do their thing when by so doing, they accomplish environmental protection. Stay tuned. 🙂

Craig Kessler

I believe it would be better to have the page because people can identify better with an agency oppose to the head of the agency. You will garner more interaction and comments on a fan page for the agency, but like Andrew points out, how to take that to the next level?

David Wissman

What do we do when the Agency or Department head vacates the office? With a Department page you have continuity, with a Personal page, you lose that when the person leaves.