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USGS’s New Approach to Facebook

Update (11/29/2010): Here’s a link to the new USGS Facebook Page.

Yesterday, I posted a QR code which, when scanned with a smartphone (or just decoded by clicking the link in the post), would open up a new event for your calendar. The description of the event was “If you like science, you’ll Like this.” The emphasis I’m putting here is on the word “Like” (capitalized).

You might have heard of this social networking site, “Facebook.” Government (at all levels) has been embracing Facebook, with many successful results, in an effort to move toward Government 2.0, E-Government … whatever you would like to call it.

The basic idea is to improve communication between a government and its citizens (Government 2.0), which can then lead to better engagement of those citizens with the decisions that their government makes on their behalf (Open Government). By adopting new technologies and tools, both government and citizens can provide ways to enable that communication. There are many excellent examplesof this already being done.

At the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), we hope to add to that list.

Starting Monday afternoon, we’ll be launching our new Facebook Page. Rather than using the new Page as a way to simply repost existing information from our own .gov sites (though we’ll certainly do some of that), we’ll also be aggregating what our own employees are sharing & discussing from their official USGS profiles on our main Wall.

Our new Page will also introduce a new pilot program we’re launching within the USGS called USGS Ambassadors. The idea behind this effort is to have a group of employees (who will be listed on our Facebook Page when it launches) who will help, educate, and share with the public on information related to these Ambassadors’ respective area of expertise. These aren’t just Public Affairs people — they’re a mix of scientists, outreach folks, developers, customer service staff, and more. They cover many areas of USGS science and activities, though not all areas of our work will have a direct Ambassador (remember, it’s a pilot).

We hope this approach to using Facebook is one that will prove successful for us and useful for citizens. Gone are the days when phone calls or emails were the only way to get help or learn more. Technologies and services like SMS, social media, social networking, smartphones, etc., are quickly becoming (if they haven’t already become) the standard for communication. If government wishes to become open and engaged, then government needs to look for ways to enable communication.

This is a pilot.
Will it fly or will it flop?
Either way, we learn.

(a little haiku for your day)

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Andrew Krzmarzick

LOVE this!! Exactly what agencies should be doing.

Public Affairs shops: take note! Trust your people. Use minimal scrubbing. Leverage the knowledge and expertise of your agency (or state or city) employees.

Can’t wait to see cities leveraging citizens in this way!

Dennis McDonald

The Ambassadors program sounds fantastic. Are their job descriptions and compensation plans being modified to reflect these new/different outreach responsibilities?

Dennis McDonald
Alexandria Virginia

Andrew Krzmarzick

Alex Howard just asked on Twitter why this is “major” news. My take:

1 – As I said in my previous comment, I think it’s unique that actual agency employees are being invited to share their unvarnished views with citizens directly.
2 – This is a great PR and recruitment tool all in one – people get a sense of the intelligence and insight of regular employees…not the PA “spin” (not what I think, but how is typically perceived by public)
3 – Empowers many more employees beyond a handful whose primary jobs are public information
4 – Places the experts in a position to provide best responses…more accurate responses?
5 – Likely shortens time to response…what was the process before? PA gets question and tries to (a) answer themselves or (b) pitch to expert…then transforms for public consumption. How long does that take? Days or weeks. This could make response real-time…increasing velocity and value.

I could come up with more, but I’ll let the convo flow…

Scott Horvath

@Andrew: Glad to hear the interest.

@Dennis: We’ve gotten acceptance, from our our leadership and by the supervisors of each employee that participates, to do it during their work duty as part of their regular responsibilities. They see this as a positive step forward. Again…it is pilot. I go back to that each time. We don’t yet know how it will turn out. We don’t yet know how much time each person will contribute (one of the reasons why we have many to start off with). We’re going to try and be nimble enough where we can adjust our efforts accordingly. This is one big experiment.


Very interesting Scott!

What kind of training (if any) have these ambassadors gone through? How were they selected? What will happen if someone accidentally discloses non-public information? What is your system for keeping the official records created by using Facebook like this?

Will definitely watch as all this unfolds and hope it is successful for USGS!

Scott Horvath

@Cheryl: Everyone that was suggested to us has experience with Facebook already. In addition, some people are already active sharers within their own areas of expertise in other mediums so Facebook is a natural progression, and fit, for them. We make it a point to keep in constant contact with each other through a variety of ways as well. This way we’re always on the same page.

With nonpublic information, we already have a pretty thorough review process in place for other information and have done so for many, many years. So, it’s pretty well known throughout the organization that you don’t share nonpublic information. However, if it does happen, then the appropriate offices will handle that issue in the same fashion that they would handle it if it occurred elsewhere.

As I mentioned below, we gained acceptance by our leadership and their supervisors. We actually put an open call out to all employees (ground up) and to our leadership (top down) and provided the information, the expectations of an Ambassador, etc and then left it up to them to figure out names to put forward. We trust in their judgment as they know their people better than I, or others, might and they’re well aware of who would be good people to put forward in terms of helping get a pilot project like this moving. If this little pilot works well, then we’ll hopefully expand. If it doesn’t work out…well, then we learn something and we continue moving forward with another tactic.

Thanks for the interest!

Dave Hebert

As someone responsible for internal communications (and as one of Scott’s minor co-conspirators on this project), I’m also hopeful that this can help us connect employees in the USGS who a.) might not have been aware of one another or what one another is up to, and b.) are trying to find someone with certain expertise to collaborate with.

The USGS is structured around and focused on six major science issues that require collaboration across the agency to be properly addressed. The USGS is made up, however, of almost 9,000 people from a variety of specialized backgrounds who are located all over the country (and the world) and don’t have very good means of connecting and collaborating provided to them (a problem we are addressing).

What our people need is a way to know who is good at what. This can help develop that knowledge and develop leadership across the broad variety of experts the USGS employs. The connections made inside the agency then reap benefits for citizens in the form of more well-rounded, holistic, and relevant research and problem solving.

And that dynamic is applicable to most of government. An agency’s mission can often be more effectively applied when the lines between internal and external are blurred a little bit.

Steve Lunceford

Scott, we’ve been working a similar Ambassador program within Deloitte’s public sector practice, but having them post directly to FB.com/DeloitteGov isn’t something we’ve considered, but I like the idea. Tactical question: are these ambassador’s posting as Admins (e.g. “USGS” or whatever the pagename is) or will they be posting on the wall from their personal FB IDs, with news, etc being posted by the page ID?

Scott Horvath

@Steve: No, they are posting as themselves from their profiles. Each time that they post a status update though (link, photo, video, text, etc) they’ll be including the “@” and then the USGS Page in their update. Using the @ in Twitter allows you to send your comment to your Friend’s wall or a Page’s wall that you’ve Liked (as long that Page wall allows comments). Other people will certainly do the same thing themselves if they want to, but we’ve instructed our Ambassadors to always do that with each update they make.

This is very similar to FB’s own “community pages” that many people have discussed in the past. The difference here is that community pages aggregate based on keywords/phrases whereas we’re purposely pushing updates to our Page. It might not be rocket science, or some fancy backend development job, but it’s just a little something to help aggregate what we’re doing in one place. Then, if you’re interested in a particular person you can simply jump off from the Page.

Scott Horvath

– Plan, plan, plan!
– Make sure that you’ve gotten all the people involved that need to be involved (i.e. – communications, leadership, ethics, privacy, records, etc).
– Passionate employees will help this move forward. Even if they’re passionate about a niche area…it’s their passion in that area that matters most.

I’m sure there’s more, but I’m sure we’ll have a lot more later on after our pilot launches.