How to: Build an Awesome Government Facebook Page with Tons of Fans and Engagement

Literally in every GovLoop live chat, online training, or speech I give, I always get two questions “What are tips to having a large and successful Facebook page?” and “What is a good example of a government Facebook page?”

*****This is draft 3 with comments incorporated (thanks everyone) – leave comments for me and I’ll incorporate and hopefully we’ll have an awesome starting article for everyone in gov’t starting a government facebook page.****

Here’s my basics on getting set-up

1) Technical set-up:

Profile Pic and Name

It’s suggested to not use the official agency seal but a compelling picture. See City of Reno’s picture to the left.

It’s also been suggested to do the same with names. People identify more with Coventry City than Coventry City Council

In your Managing permissions for your Facebook page, it looks like this

-Make default landing on your wall not information tab. People want to see the content right away

Make sure default view on wall is to show posts just from the Page not everyone. If you include everyone you’ll get a lot of garbage. See facebook.com/usagov picture on left (**Note – for less popular pages, it may be okay to show posts from everyone to be more engaging-depends on quality and quantity of comments**)

Add a tab with your comment policy – It can be super easy like CDC. To add a tab just look for the image to the right when editing your page and hit the + sign

As Kristy at Reno suggested,
the “Info” tab on FB now has a General Information box, where you can also post comment policy

2) Content

The biggest key to a successful Facebook page is to have regular and compelling content

The White House has a great Facebook page and uses all types of content from pure text (the top update) to photo to videos (at bottom)

People often wonder how often you should post a day/week – People from NASA to CDC to White House seem to post approximately 1 to 4X/day.

Here’s an example from CDC posting 3X in one day

3) Promote/promote

People often miss this super key piece. Just cause you have a FB page doesn’t mean anyone will subscribe. You have to promote it a lot.

You have to make it prominent on your home page. See CDC.gov below

You have to push it in other channels. For example, in the bottom of every email, you should have a “friend us on Facebook” like below

Another way you can get more people to join your Fan page is if you simply put posters or a big sign in your lobby encouraging people to join your Fan page and giving them the URL and list the benefits of why they should join. An example of a sticker is to the left

4) Measure –

Facebook Insights has great information on your Facebook page.

It automatically sets up and you can see it in your manage permissions. But also should send you a monthly update.

They look like the picture on left

5) Archiving

For many federal agencies and state/local government, they need to archive Facebook posts and comments for record retention laws. Some people use companies like Backupify.com or GovVault to achieve this. Bellingham, WA created a script to achieve this that people can download – http://www.cob.org/data/facebook/index.aspx.

Extra Credit

If you really want to take it to the next level and increase followers, you can use Facebook’s awesome advertising tool

You can target in a lot of different ways.

You can target by an interest – such as environment for EPA.

You can target by location if you are a city looking for fans.

You can target users who are friends with members of your page already (more likely to join).

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AJ Dronkers

Great post Steve! I think this are some great best practices. I think something important for any agency to consider before doing any of this is who is their target audience? Is Facebook even the right tool to begin with? When considering how often to post think more about your audience. For example NASA does post a lot and maybe their audience really enjoys that but maybe the VA should only post once a day.

Andrew Ian Derksen

These are great basic tips for advertising any Facebook page, but they forcibly return me to the root problem: who has the authority to manage and release such information in my organization? I most definitely do not, and quite frankly, the folks who do have that authority come from an era with a different understanding of public relations and a very different measure of success. You can post all you want, but if the information you provide is not relevant or properly targeted to the places where your customer base will hear it, you run the danger of becoming either more noise to ignore or shouting into the wind.

Tom Le Veque

Some excellent Facebook basics Steve! Andrew makes some good points in his comments as well. It is very important to have a strategy and for agencies to find the right people to speak on their behalf and then trust them with that authority! Giving your content value is also key to building your user base and more importantly, getting them to come back. The last thing we want to do is to be “shouting into the wind.” We listen & learn everyday…not only from our community, but also seeing what is working for other agencies and/or what is not.

Kristy Dalton

Thanks for posting the tips. We’ve got over 10k fans on our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/cityofreno). The only suggestion I feel differently about is restricting the default view to just agency posts. If you have a comment policy, you can avoid the off-topic post issue and get some really great feedback from citizens that would otherwise be tucked away. Take for instance one of the wall posts we received this weekend:

“I subscribe to the City of Reno’s Youtube videos. I LOVE THEM! They are well made and informative. THANKS RENO! Also a big thanks goes out for all the improvements to the downtown area. What a transformation!”

We do receive the occasional negative wall post from citizens, but consider it good feedback to gauge how the public feels about what its government is doing.


Kristy – I think you run one of the best Facebook pages.

How did you grow such a big presence? Promote people to be fans? How long did it take to grow to that size?

Kristy Dalton

Thanks, Steve. We try to post frequently and put up at least one video a week. We respond to every comment that asks a question, and follow up when necessary. Most importantly, we write in a casual tone and don’t start all posts with press-releasey language. It’s less about “Council voted for this or that” and more about what employees are doing in the community. Our team wins a big game, we congratulate them on Facebook. Fire department rescues a dog, we post pics on Facebook. It’s along the lines of social media best practices for private business – the bullhorn doesn’t work. You need to provide conversation, and the fans will come to you.

Lori Gama

Steve, your post is very helpful to people who are new to Facebook. Since you kindly asked for suggestions and more tips, here’s my two cents worth:

First, your post assumes that people already know that they have to download the FBML application to their Fan page in order to program custom tabs/pages. Perhaps some explanation of this process would help.

Second, as AJ Dronkers pointed out: is Facebook the right tool to begin with? I agree. Find out if your community is hanging out in Facebook by searching in the search box with keywords pertaining to your community of citizens (if you’re a City) or clients (if you’re a business owner). You’ll uncover some valuable information by searching. You’ll find pages and groups; and you’ll find posts by friends and “everyone” who have mentioned those keywords.

1) Technical set-up: consider making the default landing page a customized “Welcome” page in which you have graphic (created ahead of time) that has benefits and reasons why people should become a fan. That way they’ll be more inclined to come back again. You can also program this Welcome page to include an opt-in form to sign up for a newsletter so you can keep your list of fans informed with new information you send out in email. This welcome page graphic should also have a call-to-action to “Like” your page, which will then send the new fan to your wall. You can also add an embedded video on this Welcome page so you can personally greet your new fan and tell her/him the benefits of becoming an active fan.

Comment Policy: I totally agree with you, Steve. This is critical because everyone should know the “rules” to play by. Also, for internal use, for your employees: it’s imperative that you have a Social Media Policy in place, that’s been read and signed off on by all people who are the social media managers within your organization. Otherwise, you’re flying a trapeze without a safety net. If you don’t have a Social Media Policy, how can your employees know what types of content to post; what to do when confronted by angry people (take the conversation off the Fan page immediately or block comments that violate your Comment Policy); and how to deal with many other “What If” scenarios, as well as things that you would think are common sense procedures but you must spell out so there are no assumptions or confusion. If your budget allows, hiring a social media consultant who specializes in teaching cities how to engage with citizens is highly recommended so you set up your people to succeed from the beginning.

2) Content: You’re so right, Steve: knowing what content to post will increase engagement–which is what you want! Conversations can lead to solutions, too. Be sure to include what’s been labeled the “mundane” kind of comments – they’re not mundane at all… people LOVE the every day kind of subject matter, such as:

  1. Post a picture of what you’re having for lunch today and ask others to chime in with what they’re having (or perhaps some will post their own photos, too).
  2. Ask your fans if they were born and raised in this city or moved there and ask them what was the biggest reason for moving there. If they were born and raised there, ask them to share a wonderful memory.
  3. Ask them to share what they love about their city and if you really want to know and are prepared to handle hearing possible negative things: ask them what can be improved. This is the “scary” side of social media marketing but it can pay off with the biggest payload because you’ll get honest feedback and discover things that need fixing. And when you fix those problems and report back to everyone about the solutions you’ve put in place, your citizens will feel like they’ve been listened to and not ignored.
  4. Don’t forget video: video testimonials from citizens talking about what they love about their city will help convince other people to move there – if that’s one of your goals. You’ll think of other creative ways to use video. The emotional impact of video and photos is HUGE. Remember to include it in your strategy.

3) Promote/promote: another way you can get more people to join your Fan page is if you simply put posters or a big sign in your lobby encouraging people to join your Fan page and giving them the URL and list the benefits of why they should join.

4) Measure: definitely review your Fan page Insights. It has great information for you so you can improve your activity; see the demographics of your fans (women/men/ages); countries they’re from; languages they speak; referring sites; number of impressions and feedback on most recent posts and much more. Use this data to improve your activity. By performing a Mini-Analysis after reviewing your Insights, you will be able to clearly see the “big picture” of your Fan page marketing efforts. You might have a gut feeling about what you’re doing and how you’re doing but by measuring with a tool like Insights, you’ll avoid working in the dark and be able to work smarter and achieve your goal.

Hopefully, these suggestions will be helpful. Thanks for Tweeting me to chime in, Steve!

Michael McCarthy, APR


We’ve been doing research on improving social media, and somehow, the City of Reno keeps coming up. Great job! How long has Reno had its Facebook page and what types of ways did you promote it?

Kristy Dalton

@Michael, thanks for your comment. In the past, we posted a couple of Facebook ads which resulted in a couple hundred followers, but these days I believe our network is growing organically due to folks seeing comments and ‘likes’ in their friends’ news stream. We’ve had our FB page for a couple of years now, but we just recently started promoting it on our government website.

I also think it helps that our profile pic is of the City of Reno’s arch landmark and not our official city seal. People don’t have a connection with our seal, but seeing our arch reminds them of Reno’s downtown. People like the ‘ole arch, which is why this is the most popular page on our Reno.gov website 😉 http://www.reno.gov/Index.aspx?page=1591

Jon King

We’re chasing the curve in our council here in the UK but we are now embracing social media. The difficulty is that every department is going to suddenly want a Facebook site, for instance. My understanding is that a site works best if there’s a potential for emotional attachment. An example would be that when Coventry City Council set up a Facebook site, it was simply called ‘Coventry City’ as residents feel an emotional connection with the city but not necessarily with the council. It engenders a sense of community without hierachy.

Darren Sherrard

Always changing , always growing. It is also about the right growth. Being Heathcare Recruitment focused, the right audience is important. We have managed to keep the page free of off-topic conversations. The next step is getting more interactive to bring on greater interest with employees, past current and future. We take first time vistors to a “VA Careers tab, returning members see the wall first. We do have rules to play by, so our profile pic is a logo, but it works. http://www.facebook.com/vacareers

Julie Oliveri

Great piece. Thank you. I agree with all of the points made, with the exception of organization posts only. I have to agree with Kristy on this point. My team administers the Armed Services Blood Program fb page, (ASBP) and for our purposes, having all posts visible benefits the program in a variety of ways. First, the fan posts tend to act as credible message multipliers, and we’ve seen fan spikes based on a fan-initiated conversation. Second, we are able to quickly intervene and correct misconceptions or errors. And finally, program components are dispersed throughout the world, so donor centers, and blood banking personnel, or even civilian coordinators can post local drive information on our fb site. We simply make sure to monitor and remove content we find objectionable, in adherence with our comment policy. In addition, I believe a para on engagement with fans should be noted, because all too often, government fb pages simply speak at their audience. In my view, this is one of the surest ways to doom a new presence. Our policy, for example, stipulates that we answer all fb questions within 2-6 hours. In reality we answer in about 20 sec-5 min. Some questions take longer. Just as important, in my experience, is to answer in a normal (authentic) manner of speaking. The person who leaves a question knows when you’re answering in org speak. However you choose to respond, the person who feels a direct connection to your organization as a result of that engagement may be the person who has a ton of friends that want to check out the convo.

Carol A. Spencer

Morris County NJ has two Facebook pages: MorrisCountyNJ and MCUrgent. MCUrgent is our new social media emergency notification system that employs Twitter, FB, and SMS notices put out by our towns and County OEM through one shared channel. MorrisCountyNJ carries all other county government info.

When teaching government use of social media, I stress that jurisdictions should use the same vanity URL for all their outreach. We are MorrisCountyNJ on Twitter, FB, Scribd, YouTube, Flickr and our domain is MorrisCountyNJ.gov. The consistency helps the public know they’re on the official sites.

We named our FB page Morris County Government, not just Morris County. We couldn’t use the name of our governing body because our governing body members are called Freeholders. No one outside NJ would know they’re on a government site.

We primarily post government information. We do re-post some information from non-government affiliated organizations like the Tourism Board and TransOptions (transportation info). The Public Information Office trusts that we know what’s appropriate to repost and what isn’t, so my office handles that aspect of our social media.

We cross-post during any emergency. If we anticipate an event (such as a major storm), we post reminders about MCUrgent as well as general preparedness information on MorrisCountyNJ. And when MCUrgent posts are issued, we repost them on MorrisCountyNJ.

The demographics are different for Twitter and FB so we publish the same information to both. We have semi-automated the publishing process to reach the most outlets with the least effort.

We really don’t encourage engagement on FB at this time. Until there is an automated backup methodology that captures comments, we are left with having to screen capture our FB page to save them. They’re public record and we have to have a copy for NJ OPRA or FOIA requests. If anyone is aware of a FB PAGE comment capturing solution, please share. I know several companies are working on one, but am not aware of any that have hit the market. We use Backupify.com for backing up Twitter and blog postings.

Our PIO periodically puts out press releases about some aspect of our social media use. We’ve developed posters that will go in all our municipal buildings about MCUrgent. These include our MorrisCountyNJ addresses. And, I speak to every possible group that I can. Social media is not a case of “If you build it, they will come”. Some will, but a solid marketing effort is important.

Kristy Dalton

@Carol “We really don’t encourage engagement on FB at this time.” Sorry to hear that!! If you did, I can guarantee you’d grow those 478 fans. The City of Bellingham, Washington, has been sharing their script for archiving FB posts AND comments for some time. You should try it out and give them feedback – http://www.cob.org/data/facebook/index.aspx. We’ve used it in Reno with no problems, but we also do the screenshot method too.

Carol A. Spencer

For anyone considering FBML applications, see this post: http://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/402

The salient statement is this: “We will begin supporting IFrames for Page tabs in the next few months. Developers building canvas applications should start using IFrames immediately. By the end of this year, we will no longer allow new FBML applications to be created, so all new canvas applications and Page tabs will have to be based on IFrames and our JavaScript SDK. We will, however, continue to support existing implementations of the older authentication mechanism as well as FBML on Page tabs and applications.”

Bill Kirst

My client’s organizational Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/AirForceCE – was delivered in August 2010 and has grown significantly over the past few months to increase community interaction across the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineering Community. The mission of the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer is to provide the bases, infrastructure and facilities to support the global engagement of air and space forces across the spectrum of conflict. The Air Force Civil Engineer’s Strategic Communication Team manages this Facebook page and has garnered much success using the social media platform to host discussions, support campaigns and increase interactions by Airmen, civilians and contractors around the world.

Lorne W. Neff

I’m probably missing something, but your second suggestion says: “Add a tab with your comment policy – It can be super easy like CDC. To add a tab just look for the image to the right when editing your page and hit the + sign.”

That isn’t how it works on my page at all. If you hit the plus sign, you can then choose an application you want to add in the tab section. In fact, I went to Facebook help and typed “add a tab” and this is what it says: “Click the “+” icon at the top-right of the tabs on your profile. You will then be able to select an application from the menu that appears and create a dedicated tab for that application. Keep in mind that only Facebook applications (e.g. Events, Photos) support this functionality.”

So how do I add another tab strictly for text?

Kristy Dalton

As I’m posting responses on Reno’s Facebook page this morning, I just want to reiterate the importance of responding to citizen questions and comments on your Facebook page – even if it’s not positive and not stuff you want to hear. Also, no matter how wrong the person posting may be, ALWAYS err on the side of letting them save face. And always thank them for taking the time to comment or to inform you of something. If the conversation gets too specific or heated on their end, encourage them to give your agency a call so you can follow up with them. And whatever you do, don’t ever get defensive in your posts. Thank, clarify, and offer a way to follow up.

We don’t always do it right, and we’re constantly learning, but these are some of the things we’ve picked up along the way.

@Lorne As an alternative to a new tab, the “Info” tab on FB now has a General Information box, where we post our comment policy. This was a recent change, as we used to post our policy under Parking b/c there wasn’t a better place. I was told by someone else that a new tab for Comments required working with FBML.


Awesome discussion – added comments into main text again.

@Kathryn – any tips on what has been successful for healthcare.gov?

Kathryn Hambleton

@Govloop I think HealthCare.gov FB page has been successful, in part, due to a strategy that integrates and cross promotes all of our channels (facebook+twitter+email+website). Taking the time to learn FBML, having quality graphics, and using multimedia and interactive features in our tabs has also made it a more engaging page. Of course, having a high profile issue as the topic of the page also helps. 😉


Thanks Kathryn…great topic, great content, great integration.

How hard was FBML to learn? Is it pretty easy or takes some time?

Kathryn Hambleton

It was a little daunting at first, but it was pretty easy to pick up with a little html knowledge. I even picked up some FBJS (facebook java script) along the way. I basically learned everything through google search for example code that other people had posted. I created a dummy account to paste, test, and modify code, and then I learned by taking it all apart and putting it back together.

Marco Morales


The guide you posted is very helpful. I have run across many people in my organization who have asked about these same issues related to Facebook.



Jeffrey Levy

Steve, this is a good post, but FB changed several things about how pages work (e.g., no more tabs), so it’s time to update it. 🙂