The Ultimate Social Media Policy for Government Agencies

This is going to be a really complex piece about all the various cultural, legal, policy, and other issues surrounding how government employees use social media on the job.

Ok, not really.

Actually, I think it boils down to two simple directives:

DO: use social media tools to serve your mission.

DON’T: Be stupid.

It seems to me everything else follows from those two rules, in the same way that I think overall strategy follows from the simple mantra “mission, tool, metrics, teach.”

Let’s look at a few examples:
– Don’t use a tool just to be cool: rule 1
– Use only the tools appropriate to the task at hand: rule 1
– Follow records management and information security requirements: rule 2
– Don’t use foul language: rule 2
– Check with your boss before doing anything online: rule 1 and rule 2

Anyone want to argue I’m missing something major?

Edit July 15: There will, naturally, be a little more detail in specific instructions. I just think when you start discussing policy, you should get everyone to agree there’s nothing more complicated at hand than these two rules.

Here are some example policies from the Social Media Subcouncil, in our wiki. Please help us grow this list!

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Al Dominick

Can’t argue with anything you wrote… simply wanted to add a link to a piece I read yesterday by a fellow GovLoop’er:”When Is a Pitch Not A Pitch” from the Bad Pitch Blog via Twitter and @susanejacobsen. http://bit.ly/9p34P While PR-focused, some great links to stories that share your Do’s and Don’ts.

Sara Cope

I think ‘Don’t be stupid’ is a great point. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize they’re being stupid. Can anyone add some examples of the stupidness you’ve seen?

Noel Dickover

Hi Jeffrey, I love your 4 step mantra, and definitely agree that all these need to be incorporated – and really is a TERRIFIC way to initiate the discussion. I do think there are a bunch of other things that need to be addressed in a social media policy. These include potential intersects with changes to a number of other existing policies (the changing nature of the public affairs role perhaps being the most obvious), how an agency deals with personal use merged with official agency use in a single identity (or requires these to be separate identities), positions on use of social media/social software on Federal agency websites vice the use of free commercial services, like facebook or YouTube, and various agency sensitivies that might be bundled in the “Don’t be stupid” comment. There are many flavours of security concerns, for instance, that might not at all seem obvious. On top of this, there are also identity assurance and athentication issues that might need to be addressed.

Bottom line, at least in my own experience working this within one agency, while I would love it if the policy could be boiled down as simply as you state, my guess is a few Agencies might be forced to go more towards the really complex cultural, legal and policy implication route…

jana gallatin

I like it. Only one more addition to rule one:
Do be curious, explore new capability (and ideas) and share.

Is being a jerk a subset of being stupid or does it deserve it’s own category?

Heaven knows we get enough Security/Opsec/IA/Boogie Man training, so I think we can at least ask ourselves “Self, is posting this in a ‘public’ forum gonna be bad?”

And if I have my way, we’ll have be aware enough of record keeping that we can say “Self, is this a record?”

Maxine Teller

I echo Noel’s comments… our lunch disussions today must have influenced me. 😉

Really, though, the biggest challenge for government agencies is that policies that seem restrictive for those of us who deeply believe that collaborative interactions with stakeholders (via social media) are the way things should go, they still ARE policies. It’s operationally easy to ignore or avoid them. It’s not so tough to be transparent about what you’re doing and how your’e doing it. The real challenge is successfully reconciling the rightfully restrictive policies–info assurance, privacy, network security, records management, operational security, etc.–with the promise for open gov towards which we’re all striving.

Michael McCarthy, APR

Some people didn’t see the need for e-mail when it came out either, and now it’s hard for a business or governmetn to live without it. I remember people saying websites were just a fad. For some conservative organizations, getting approval to use social media may be difficult because it is a new way to communicate, two-way and viewable by anyone, and there’s little policy to guide them in some states. I am hoping the government agencies using social medai now will pioneer the usefulness of this tool – and how it can fit within a government organization, so others can follow.

Jim Low

I love Jana’s question, “Is this a record?” In the initial phase of government workers using social media, some of us are going to violate Rule No. 2 because social media have a friendly, intimate feel. Frankly, it’s easy for me to imagine this happening to me. A few hearts will be broken as we discover that the digitosociosphere is just another corner of the big, dangerous world.