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Report encourages agencies to make greater use of social media

Jan. 9, 2013 - 12:43PM   |  

Federal managers should be experimenting with Facebook, Twitter and other social media as a cost-effective means to communicate internally and with the public, a new study says.

While most large agencies are using social media, use is not standard across government, according to the study by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton released Wednesday. “In fact, some federal employees are still prohibited from even accessing social media sites,” the report says.

Agencies that have successfully embraced social media are experiencing greater dialogue with their citizen customers and can more readily gather information and feedback from the public and internally, the report says. And under current budget constraints, social media may offer a more cost-effective means for agencies to reach their customers.

Some examples:

• Since launching an internal wiki site called Powerpedia in 2009, the Energy Department has improved employee collaboration and enabled its disparate workforce to exchange project ideas. The site also enables Energy to capture and retain valuable knowledge so it isn’t lost when employees leave the agency or switch assignments. The site has received more than 1 million page views, and senior leaders have used it to share information with employees about project decisions and schedules to increase transparency and compliance.

• In 2011, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used Facebook to target relief efforts and clarify misinformation following a string of deadly tornadoes that killed more than 200 people in Alabama. FEMA, working with the state’s emergency management agency, stood up a Facebook page that garnered 4,000 followers within the first week of its launch.

• Eighty-six percent of Air Force Medical Service’s medical facilities today are using Facebook to communicate with Air Force personnel and their families on issues such as diabetes, suicide and asthma.

But before launching that new Twitter or Facebook account, managers must first consider how social media enhances their missions and have plans to measure those outcomes. “For a social media effort to be effective, it has to be tied directly to program missions and goals,” the report says.

When using social media, experts suggest managers:

• Know their audience and how they can most effectively reach it.

• Develop performance measures to gauge the effectiveness of social media.

• Examine the potential risks, benefits and costs of social media use, including staff time.

• Be open to unforeseen outcomes and interesting opportunities, and learn from them.

• Consider testing social media initiatives in a pilot phase first.

Although many agencies have benefited from social media, it “will not miraculously fix an organization’s communication, budget, performance or management issues,” the report said.

Agencies must also remember that everything they put on social media is public, and although these services are free, the media company owns the data that’s posted, Tammi Marcoullier, of the General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Strategies, said Wednesday following the study’s release.

GSA has worked on behalf of federal agencies to negotiate federal terms of service for 62 social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and most recently Pinterest. For example, Pinterest agreed to use commercial business practices for information security and to consider implementing additional security measures under the Federal Information Security Management Act, which governs the security of all federal information technology systems and contractor systems that support agency operations.

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