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Maximizing Social Media: #3 New Year’s Resolution for Uncle Sam

Where’s all the love between social media and gov?

If this relationship were a romance Uncle Sam would still be stuck on the first date.

While many government agencies made much needed progress in leveraging social media more effectively in 2013, there’s still a lot of work ahead – especially for small and mid-sized agencies.

That’s why my #3 recommended New Year’s resolution for gov is:

  • Maximize the use of social media on multiple and diverse platforms at every agency. This is necessary for social media use to flourish gov-wide in 2014, which will benefit gov and citizens alike.

5 Great Strides

By proactively communicating on a diverse range of social media platforms, our government will make great strides in enhancing:

1) Customer service

2) Citizen engagement

3) Transparency

4) Public trust

5) External communications overall

Good News, Bad News

The good news, as Nextgov reports, is that:

  • “Government presence on social media has grown significantly since 2009, with several agencies moving into newer sites such as LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest.”

The bad news is that too many agencies are lagging when it comes to proactively beefing up their social media presence across multiple platforms, including non-traditional ones.

NextGov warns Uncle Sam in a banner headline: “Agencies,Take Note: Social Media Just Doesn’t Mean Facebook Anymore“:

  • “Federal agencies have moved more slowly into social media sites other than Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, partly because of their specialized audiences.”

But, as Nextgov reports, Cabinet-level agencies are branching out:

  • “The Justice Department is planning to spend up to $550,000 to recruit top legal talent via LinkedIn, for example, and the Interior Department has a popular Instagram account populated with pictures of national parks and monuments.”

Still Playing Catch Up

It’s no secret that gov generally is infamous for playing catch up to the private sector. But this appears true to a disproportionate extent in the field of information technology, where social media has become instrumental in connecting citizens and government.

To wit: as NextGov also reports, despite progress made at larger agencies, some small and mid-sized agencies are still behind the times:

  • “Every major federal agency should be using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube by mid-2014 if all goes according to plan…”

Bravo to that!

Still, what’s taking so long?

Social Media Job Series Needed

A quick search on USAJobs.gov reveals fewer than 20 federal job openings gov-wide with the term “social media” in the position description. Moreover, the search showed no positions with “social media” or “digital engagement” in the job title.

Some of the positions listed in which “social media” is one of multiple duties include: Park Ranger, IT Specialist, Web Coordinator, Brand Management and Visual Design Specialist — as well as the more traditional positions of Public Affairs Specialist, Writer-Editor and Outreach Coordinator (not to mention unpaid student internships).

Thus perhaps it’s time for OPM to consider a new series and range of job classifications specifically designed for social media and/or digital engagement only. If not now, then when?

If gov can’t get ahead of the social media curve then the least it can do is keep pace rather than falling further behind.

Social media has a vital role to play in promoting civic engagement and communication in today’s fast evolving digital/mobile world.

All gov agencies must be where citizens and customers are if they want to make greater strides among the five factors cited above (5 Great Strides).

3 Obstacles

Several obstacles are blocking Uncle Sam from maximizing social media. They include, but are not limited to the following:

1) Fiscal Austerity: lack of funding and paucity of staff due to the ongoing period of fiscal austerity.

2) Fear Factor. Some agency leaders are “old school” and indifferent, not to mention change resistant, to building a strong social media presence. This institutional intransigence is leaving smaller agencies in the social media Stone Age.

3) Legalese. Too many legal abstractions and nit-picking by agency attorneys, many of whom understand the letter of the law but not necessarily how it applies in the fast-evolving digital/mobile world. The broader legal landscape is still unsettled regarding issues of social media, free speech and other factors (See Social Media & Free Speech: Appeals Court Gives Facebook Thumbs Up) .

The bottom line here is that Uncle Sam can no longer afford to fall prey to antiquated attitudes and belief systems about how feds should best communicate with citizens on social media in today’s Information Age.

Thus let Uncle Sam resolve to “ride herd” on agencies to fully embrace and leverage social media on a diverse range of platforms in 2014.

Government as an institution, along with the public we serve, will be better off because of it.


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* As always, all views and opinions are those of the author only.

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Terrence (Terry) Hill

Most agencies are pretty good at using social networks to communicate externally with citizens. There is much room for growth in use of social networks to communicate/collaborate with employees (and potential employees).

Steven Ollek

To comment on my agency, DCMA, we are lagging in the realm of social media. We do have a sponsored facebook account and twitter account both for our agency and director, but they are seldom used and/or updated. I’d like to see us utilize both more, and also to include updates to LinkedIn where I believe we are missing a huge opportunity with branding and marketing our agency not only to public but also to private sector talent. That being said, since we fall underneath the Department of Defense, that has to play into why we do not utilize social media to the extent we probably would like – security, information assurance and other legalities might be in place to inhibit why our agency doesn’t use social media to which I am ignorant.

David B. Grinberg

Terry and Steven: your valuable insights are very much appreciated.

Terry: I believe it depends on how one defines “pretty good” regarding agencies maximizing social media externally. If all the major federal agencies are still not yet on traditional social sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — as Nextgov reports — is that really good enough after all this time?

Moreover, please note that many small and mid-sized agencies have much worse records in leveraging social media externally. I think using social media internally is an issue that may need to be addressed more by agencies at some point. I’m not sure that many are in a rush to do it. But first thing’s first (external).

Steven: I’m not sure what the answer is either, but I do know DOD runs a robust and exemplary social media program with targeted global reach.

As I wrote, I think OPM needs to put forth a new job classification/category/series for “social media manger/director” and/or “manager/director of digital engagement” — or something similar. Frankly, I think it’s just a matter of time.

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

Are employers prepared to embrace social media to find top talents and to enhance global interactions in building and improving their businesses and performance? The telework workforce will be in full implementation before anyone can predict. Workers of the future will be looking for companies that embrace social media, virtual, telework workforce, and conduct business and measure performance, using social media strategies and tools. Is HR ready to help their leaders and senior managers with this social media transformation? Embrace telework operating strategy to reduce expenses and to attract and retain the best and the brightest diverse talents and employees, utilize information resources and technology to deliver work outcomes and to measure performance goals, and build a social media business mindset to devise change or transformation in a timely manner to meet organization mission should be a priority. Let’s make these goals strategic management agenda for 2014!

David B. Grinberg

Thank you, Phuong, for your sharing your awesome insights!

I especially like your points:

  • “Workers of the future will be looking for companies that embrace social media, virtual, telework workforce, and conduct business and measure performance, using social media strategies and tools.”

  • “…build a social media business mindset to devise change or transformation in a timely manner to meet organization mission should be a priority.”

Again, many thanks for the exemplary feedback, Phuong. Your comments are an excellent contribution to this discussion.