State Officials Cautiously Engage Social Media
Social media is becoming an increasingly popular channel of communication, and state leaders are joining the conversation. They perceive a variety of advantages, as well as disadvantages, with using new media and are developing best practices to deploy these new technologies responsibly.
Social media is becoming an established channel of communication.
- Private sector investment and use of social media,
- Political campaign use of social media,
- Federal and local government engagement in social media, and
- Heightened expectations of citizens from all demographics to communicate online.2
- All 50 governors are on Facebook.
- More than one-third of state legislators across the country are on Facebook.
- Every state has at least one legislator using the social networking site.
- Forty-eight governors use Twitter.
- More than 10 percent of state legislators use the service.
- More than 80 state legislative caucuses have a Twitter presence.6
- Greater competitiveness in employee recruiting—Having a presence in social media would allow states to build awareness with the next generation, which would in turn help with employee recruitment.
- Enhanced access for the disabled—Disseminating services through social media would make access to certain government services more convenient.
- Creation of virtual communities—Social media services would empower interested members of the public to organize around specific issues. Officials believed such communities could provide a valuable collaborative resource, which could reduce the burden of common inquiries on limited government staff.
- Instantaneous information sharing—Government professionals perceived the immediacy of social media to be one of these emerging platforms’ key attributes. State officials have the ability to distribute information quickly during emergencies, without necessarily syncing their communications with the traditional news cycle.
- Enhanced collaboration—The group identified the power of internal wikis to allow anyone regardless of location or time to collaborate.
- Enhanced public safety—Participants emphasized that social media could allow for the rapid and viral spread of information, often via status updates. This could help quickly get the word out on important safety information. Social media also enables officials to search for and target information to an at-risk audience.
- Information dissemination and exchange—Participants considered social media’s ability to reach a wider audience, including younger generations who are often inexperienced with regard to government services, to be an important benefit. Furthermore, social media lets the public provide feedback to published information and can enhance internal agency communication.
- “Coolness” factor—Participants believed social media demonstrated a government’s flexibility to changing media and put a human face on bureaucracies.
- Improved training capabilities—Participants believed social media’s ability to disseminate and exchange information allowed for a more organized exchange of educational materials.
- Documentation—Social media provides a common and consistent platform for storing information. Because answers could appear in a common online space, this would also assist with making answers to public inquiries more consistent.
- Cost saving—Participants noted social media enables virtual collaboration, which could reduce travel costs. Communities also can be harnessed to provide answers to the public, which reduces strain on, and expenses for, government workers.
- Resources—Officials worried about the technical challenges of social media, such as use of bandwidth and the potential for malware to penetrate existing systems. Social media could open up officials to an unmanageable number of inquiries from the public. Language barriers also could be an issue. Information technology personnel would also need to train and monitor personnel for appropriate and legal use of the tools.
- Legal and regulatory ramifications—Participants identified four areas of concern: appropriate use of tools; accuracy of posted content; compliance with state and federal laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act; and potential consequences of legal agreements with social media providers that might have terms unacceptable to the state.
- Governance—The group expressed concern about how to control who is allowed to post and what content can be posted or associated with an official page. Certain advertisements might also cause confusion.
- Making a business case—As conducting a cost-benefit analysis would be difficult for social media initiatives because the landscape is dynamic, officials were concerned with how to best allocate the investment of precious time.
- Security—The group was concerned that malware could penetrate the agency and/or affect the public, and that sensitive information could be exposed or leaked.
- Accessibility—Participants were concerned that citizens who did not have high-speed access might be further left behind.
- Perception—Officials fear social media could be seen as a recreational activity that is inappropriate for government officials.
- Information overload—They also expressed concern that the sheer volume of information transmitted across social media could overwhelm and disorient citizens.
- Employee access—Governments that have social media policies often control who can access social media and/or what social media sites can be accessed.
- Account management—Policies typically cover the lifespan of accounts—the creation, maintenance and destruction of these accounts—and which officials oversee this process.
- Acceptable use—Such guidelines delineate how employees may use social media on behalf of the agency, with specifics about personal use and the consequences of violating policies.
- Employee conduct—While this topic is often covered by other state regulations, social media policies should suggest employees conduct themselves with transparency and in a professional manner.
- Content—Some governments specify who should manage social media content and how many, if any, individuals oversee this process.
- Security—This important feature of social media policies focuses on the technical side, such as requiring complex passwords, and also not posting sensitive information.
- Legal issues—Many of the legal issues revolve around the maintenance of public records as well as disclaimers to distinguish personal comments from official agency positions.
- Citizen conduct—Several policies delineate the types of comments acceptable in social media.