An engaged citizenry is key to any democracy, and social media is built on engagement. A government entity using social media can directly interact with citizens in a more personalized and accessible way than press conferences, television appearances, or ads. It’s important for individuals in government organizations to understand how social media, done well, can provide many benefits. Yet even the best intentions can go awry, so professionals in charge of government accounts also need to prepare for the challenges of direct interaction with the public on social media.
To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Ohio University’s Master of Public Administration program.
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<p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/social-media-in-government/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank"><img src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/utep-uploads/wp-content/uploads/sparkle-box/2020/10/22105420/government-social-media.png" alt="How social media can connect government agencies with the public." style="max-width:100%;" /></a></p><p style="clear:both;margin-bottom:20px;"><a href="https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/masters-public-administration/" rel="noreferrer" target="_blank">Ohio University </a></p>
Engaging the Public Through Social Media
Social media represents a unique opportunity for government entities to create an engaged citizenry. Many agencies consider it mission-critical.
For instance, the Department of Justice believes its use of social media through platforms like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram improves government transparency, increases the availability of services and information, and allows it to share news more easily. The State Department uses the same social media platforms plus Flickr to spread the influence of the United States’ foreign policy. These five platforms are also used by the Department of Energy to keep their Energy.gov brand in the public eye with the intention of increasing government transparency, facilitating public participation, and furthering the discussion of energy issues.
Unfortunately, many state IT departments have open positions because the government can’t pay as much as corporate sector employers, and IT pros don’t see the government as a cutting-edge workplace in their field. But some states, such as Maine, Colorado, and Vermont, are using social media to emphasize the government’s service-oriented nature, which appeals to millennials.
Examples of How Cities Use Social Media
Austin, Texas, shares information about resources, activities, and city initiatives via social media. For example, the Austin energy utility’s YouTube channel teaches customers how to save on utility bills, while the Austin Public Library’s Flickr account highlights the results of library craft nights.
Seattle Washington uses social media to encourage citizen engagement and interaction on its account. For example, the city’s Office of Economic Development uses Twitter to share COVID-19-related school and business closure information, while their Department of Construction and Inspections uses Facebook to showcase community involvement and share industry-related city news.
Nine Key Benefits of Social Media Use for All Levels of Government
One of the biggest benefits of social media is that it allows governments to share critical information in a crisis. It can also enable governments to control the narrative on key issues. Thirdly, social media allows governments to use experts to share health, science, and expert information. Additionally, it can allow governments to create an open channel for citizen interaction and engagement.
Another key benefit is that it allows agencies to find out quickly which messaging resonates best with the target audience. It also can reduce public relations and advertising costs. Additionally, it can increase trust in the government. It can also allow agencies to reach people and communities on platforms they already use. Finally, social media humanizes governments.
Challenges of Using Social Media in Government
Social media can benefit government agencies, but it’s also the realm of conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns. While social media can foster better citizen engagement and connection, it can also divide and confuse.
About 70% of U.S. adults rely on social media for government information at least once a week, but only 11% of them actually trust the information on social media, according to a survey conducted by the Associated Press. This creates some unique challenges. For instance, an Arizona woman sued her congressman after he blocked her on his personal Facebook account, where he was posting campaign information. Social media platforms used for public meetings like town halls have also run into problems when comments are reposted elsewhere in violation of the platform’s rules.
Pitfalls to Avoid When Managing a Government Account
There are numerous stumbling blocks to be aware of to effectively manage a government account. One potential pitfall is to think of social media as a bullhorn. Another challenge is using personal accounts to post official information. A third pitfall to avoid concerns posting classified or sensitive information. It’s also important to be mindful of posting political content or taking sides. Another issue to skirt involves posting official policy without authorization. Finally, it’s important to avoid violating local quorum laws by engaging in private social media channels or commenting on a post.
Influencing the Public Perception of Government
Many Americans turn to social media for government information and news, and agencies can use social media to show people and communities their government in action.
Tips for Government Social Media Managers
There are several key strategies behind building an effective, trusted government social media channel. These include making the channel visual through video, using tasteful humor, and understanding privacy laws.
Advice in Action
It can be crucial to understand your audience and deliver what it needs. It can also be essential to connect with citizens when they need clarity. Additionally, being an engaging presence can help tremendously. Finally, it’s wise to use vast resources at your disposal.
The Power of Being Social
While social media can present problems for government entities, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for civic engagement and targeted messaging. Clear, thoughtful social media guidelines and a plan for emergency situations can go a long way toward helping those who post to public platforms avoid the pitfalls.
Associated Press, “AP-NORC/USAFActs Poll: Social Media a Political News Paradox”
Energy.gov, Social Media
Facebook, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
Flickr, Austin Public Library
Governing, Social Media’s Pitfalls for Government
GovLoop, How You Can Better Use Social Media in Government
GovLoop, States Ramp Up Social Media Recruiting
Hootsuite, “Social Media in Government: Benefits, Challenges, and How It’s Used”
Hootsuite, “The State of Social Media in Government in 2019”
|Instagram, Austin PAL
Instagram, Seattle Dept of Transportation
Twitter, Department of State
Twitter, OIT Colorado
Twitter, Seattle OED
Twitter, U.S. Department of Energy
Twitter, VT Digital Services
The United States Department of Justice, Social Media
U.S. Department of State, Office of Global Social Media
YouTube, Austin Energy