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Social Media: Putting a Human Face on Government

At a couple of recent presentations on social media for local government, I asked the audiences of IT professionals which tools they were already using. At least 90 percent indicated they were using Twitter or Facebook, usually both. The battle for social media adoption has been won.

However, adoption is just the first step, and it was clear that many of these accomplished webmasters were far from sure how to implement robust social media strategies and programs in their agencies. In consideration of this, I’ve been blogging more on the basics of social media implementation for local governments, resurrecting and re-editing many of my older posts in the process (see the new page tabs at adrielhampton.com). One question that many governmental units struggle with is control over social media. IT or public affairs staffs may struggle with putting the social media genie back in the lamp after learning of unofficial “official” accounts, or insist on a centralized processes and approval hierarchies for any new accounts.
Tight control of agency social media may work from a traditional PR perspective, but it’s a recipe for public outreach failure in the cultures created by Facebook and Twitter. The best social media is human, peer-to-peer, and casual. And there is very little preventinggovernment agencies and officials from flourishing in this environment, once they make the choice to let go of traditional bureaucratic processes. The best social media is informal, passionate and personal. It’s the hopeful mayor, the committed public works official, thetweeting library exhibit.
The best government social media efforts are also diverse. City of San Francisco has more than three dozen active Twitter accounts for programs, agencies and City officials and many more Facebook accounts. The U.S. State Department has hundreds of Facebook and Twitter accounts, for Embassies, programs, and individual officials. The best control is a proactive strategy that emphasizes training, best practices and strategic goals, wrapping the “don’ts” into existing employee conduct policies.
A tweeting City seal is fine, but a tweeting City Manager is even better (and make sure she or he has a great avatar picture). A tweeting City seal AND a tweeting City Manager is even better. Add a tweeting Rec and Parks staff member and a tweeting council member and you’re even better off. Share, repeat and accentuate messaging across account and platforms. Be professional, but be human. Be real, and be helpful. Your most personable accounts are invariably going to have the most influence and recognition on social media channels. And if you’re not doing social media to make a difference, it’s probably not worth doing.
A couple practical tips: if an elected official is tweeting and wants to do it in official capacity, consider one account for the office and one account for the individual that can also be used for campaign purposes without creating a dilemma for staff; increase transparency and accountability by identifying responsible staff for any “City seal” accounts by including their names or Twitter IDs in the bio, then use initials if needed in individual messages.

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