The agency and Facebook

There are around two dozen state Departments of Transportation on Facebook.

Facebook’s newsfeed-style user homepage is apparently still somewhat contentious among the site’s users (I wasn’t around before the switch), but it’s the standard presentation template for most online communities, and it’s ideally suited to the kind of public outreach required of most DOTs. An agency Facebook page permits the posting of news, tweets, press releases, photos and videos, and also permits interaction with the public. This is the Facebook page of the Missouri Department of Transportation. Here’s Michigan. Illinois. Texas.

I want to create a Facebook page for KDOT, if only because that’s where the audience is, but there are some obstacles to be overcome. Facebook, MySpace and other general social networks are firewalled at KDOT, and I doubt that we’ll be able to lift that ban soon. Agency management considers Facebook a time-killer, and of course one can make a strong case that it is a time-killer.

There’s a counter-argument to be made, but at the moment I don’t feel like making it. KDOT has been extremely supportive of our social media efforts, and belaboring the Secretary and the State Transportation Engineer to allow everyone in the agency to burn the workday noodling around on Facebook seems a poor way to repay the support we’ve received.

There are ways to utilize Facebook that don’t challenge the ban. We successfully petitioned for the installation in the Public Affairs office of a single dedicated computer outside the agency firewall which permits us to log on to social networks. I’s the only machine in the building that can get to Facebook, and it’s a bit of a pain to get on and off, but it’s sufficient for our purposes.

Once the page is up, I estimate it will require about 30 minutes a day to manage–which leaves the business of actually launching the page. Crafting a useful Facebook page will require input from multiple people around the agency, not least the Secretary, State Transportation Engineer and Chief Counsel. They’re busy. My boss is busy. I’m busy. There’s no realistic chance we’ll get to it this month.

But I’m sure we’ll get to it eventually, maybe before the end of summer (knock on head). For all the criticism leveled at Facebook as an unproductive time-vortex in the workplace, it remains the largest social network in the world. Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is. Government agencies must consider Facebook because that’s where the people are.

Rachel Happe (The Social Organization), is working with Jim Storer on a new project: The Community Roundtable. The Roundtable is “a neutral, trusted, easy-to-access and 24/7 resource for community practitioners in order to help them with their day-to-day needs.” They’re interested in adding government’s role in the new mediaverse to the Roundtable discussion. Swing by and give ’em a look-see.

It’s 1,000 degrees here. The humidity is approximately 526 percent. This helps.

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Rachel Happe

Thanks for the shout out Patrick – I’m fascinated by some of the government initiatives here in Massachusetts (where fortunately is is *not* 1,000 degrees!). Government has a lot to teach businesses about community development so we are definitely interested in reaching out across the isle, so to speak.

Keith McDonald

We’re facing the same issues around access for staff but I also want to comment on what happens when you actually use it to engage audiences which some of our staff are doing. We are having a real fear on missing an offensive post on a wall for example.

Hypotheticaly someone could post something that stays up for a while that we simply miss because we didn’t check it out fast enough or our one FB resource is away that day. (That’s assuming we just don’t shut down all the possible interactions on FB. And, if you did shut them down, what’s the point in using the tool?)

But, clearly the FB tool itself isn’t as moderator friendly as your own hosted blogs. So, the lack of clear property control makes it somewhat more risky to tread there. As well, our CAP folks are having lots of fun trying to reconcile gov law around privacy and FOI access etc around all of the SM. Wow, I just realised that last sentence used way too much jargon!

Suffice to say, we’re concerned about being able to archive and produce (on demand) materials hosted on outside sites. I also want to add the average FB user may not even care about “privacy” but we have the huge obligation to make sure we don’t abuse their rights even if they don’t care. Our legal obligations really don’t mix well with social media at all. And we often have to put up all kinds of fine print stuff that really negates a lot of our “cool” factor. The FB site suddenly starts to look a lot like our internal site what with all of the “we are collecting this information subject to law # blah blah blah” or “we are not responsible for the this tool nor any advertising appearing on this site” or whatever!

Ari Herzog

Patrick, government firewall blockage is nothing new. Perhaps one tack to try is this: You think you should create a Facebook presence because your audience is there. But does your audience want you to create a FB presence? If so, reach out to them via other means, e.g. an email blast or via municipal public works departments; and ask them to contact the Governor that KDOT should be on FB. Something like that, perhaps? Don’t merely build the site and hope people will come; ask the people if they’d like you to build it, and have them focus the ask to someone who can do something, e.g. the Gov.

And Rachel– there is no aisle where I operate, as I straddle both business and government. You know how to reach me, should you be interested in chatting.


I’ve heard the same situation at many gov’t agencies. Since some social media sites are blocked, they have one dedicated computer with access or use a wireless card for access. Glad you are moving along – keep up the good fight.