Lessons from Internal Social Media at Department of State

Tiffany Smith from the Department of State recently spoke with Professor Ines Mergel’s Government 2.0 course at Maxwell about Diplopedia and other internal social media tools within the agency. Below, I summarize 5 key lessons from the lecture that may be applicable to internal social media use at other government agencies.

1. Internal social media can help a department react to crises. The Department of State uses internal wikis as news hubs for coordination and crisis management. As the crisis in Haiti unfolded, for example, the department was able to quickly assemble forms for overtime, information about medical vaccinations, and other information necessary for staff traveling to the country. Each staff member could contribute information as it became available, resulting in a more coherent picture than several emails would have offered. It was also faster than assembling a traditional website.

2. Internal wikis facilitate report development. Internal wikis enable the department to draft multi-author reports both efficiently and accurately. Authors stationed in different countries can contribute to a draft report on Diplopedia before it becomes final, ensuring the incorporation of culturally sensitive knowledge from stations in many countries. Avoiding hundreds of emails for one report, Diplopedia streamlines work flow and allows authors to track different versions over time.

3. There is room for fun on internal social media sites. The Department of State has some stubs on their internal wiki that are more focused on fun than efficiency. For example, one page features legends of the State Department (i.e. which embassies have ghosts). Another stub contains information about diplomats in history, whose legacy may not be remembered anywhere else but on memorial plaques. Because they are fun, such pages can help increase traffic to Diplopedia, and perhaps contributions on other pages.

4. Simple quizzes can increase employee visits to wikis and incentivize participation. On the homepage of Diplopedia, the Department of State features ‘Diploquiz’, a quick multiple choice question focused on information in Diplopedia. Certificates are then sent to employees that answer a certain number of questions correctly over a certain period of time. This helps increase both traffic and contributions to internal wikis.

5. Don’t be scared of a limited budget. Though limited budgets are typically detrimental in government, sometimes it can be beneficial to have a small social media budget. A limited budget allows an agency to be agile and move quickly with respect to social media. If a certain service does not work well, the agency is able to switch services easily because they have not spent millions of dollars to pursue a specific strategy.

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Big Picture Inc

Thank you for summarizing Tiffany Smith’s discussion with Professor Ines Mergel. I didn’t know about Diplopedia before 🙂

Sandy Heierbacher

Great blog post, Jessica! I really enjoyed this. I wonder… would you be okay with me re-posting this on the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) blog at http://www.ncdd.org/news ? I think some of our members would be very interested. We have some public administrators involved in NCDD, but many more folks who work with government from the outside.


Please feel free to share the posting on the NCDD blog. I think that the Department of State has some very interesting best practices that could be useful for many organizations.