What Can Government Learn from a Cell Phone?

More and more government agencies are jumping on the social media bandwagon, but not all are starting with a social media policy. Some simply go forth and facebook, not realizing the ramifications of generating official information on a third party website. Are social media policies really needed?

Yes. I’d like to use an analogy to illustrate the importance.

According to Wikipedia, the first handheld mobile phone call was placed in 1973, but cell phones did not gain widespread adoption until 25 years later. What took so long?

One significant reason was the need for other technical and functional requirements to make the phone usable in a practical way.

Requirements like:

  • Size
  • Weight
  • Cost
  • Network
  • Battery

If the phone was too big and heavy, it wouldn’t work. If the cost was too high, it wouldn’t work. If the network was unreliable, couldn’t work. If the battery life… you get the point.

The mobile phone industry had to wait for these other technologies to mature; only then could the cell phone gain traction in the mainstream marketplace. It’s not just about developing a wireless phone… it’s also about making all these other elements work together to make the phone truly mobile.

In the same way, when we talk about social media for government, there are functional and technical requirements that need to be developed in order for social media to be successful. As government entities, we have legislative requirements regarding official state information being posted on a website. As government employees, we are held to a higher standard of conduct, even on our personal time. As government agencies, there is a higher expectation of transparency and accessibility of information. And on and on.

Requirements like accessibility, record retention, security, privacy, acceptable use, etc. definitely apply to content being generated on social networking sites, and if you don’t have a policy to take care of these items, I’m not sure how your social media initiative can be successful and sustainable.

The good news is over the years, agencies have figured out how to address the requirements to be compliant, which vary across states and levels of government. There are many examples of successful and innovative social media initiatives in government emerging across the world.

If you need examples, check out

Policies aren’t just for appeasing your legal counsel. They describe how the critical technical and functional requirements will be met as a government entity. If you have a presence on social networking sites and don’t have a policy yet, please consider forming one quickly.

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