Who’s in Charge of Social Media?

How social duties have evolved since government got on board.

by / March 6, 2015

Over the last several years, I have witnessed first-hand the evolving role of the local government social media manager. I used to be one myself. Soon after I began my job as the Web manager of Reno, Nev., in 2006, I helped the agency launch a presence on social media. I continued daily management of social profiles until I left for private industry consulting in 2012.

Social media management in the public sector was a lot different in the early years. There was a good deal of hesitation about even having an official social network profile as an agency, let alone actually spending taxpayer dollars to hire someone to manage those accounts.   

Today, we are observing an interesting shift in social media staffing in local government. Agencies recognize the value that communicating on social networks brings to their citizens, and a social presence is often an expectation by both leadership and the public. Now, agencies are getting serious about developing roles specifically for social media.

More than Other Duties as Assigned

Social media management began as an “other duties as assigned” function that could be handed down to existing staff. It was an Internet technology after all, so it made sense to give the responsibilities to the webmaster. Having served on the board of the National Association of Government Web Professionals, I saw this shift unfold in cities and counties across America.

At the same time, government communicators were also beginning to take on responsibilities such as social posting. They were already accustomed to being the voice of the agency in the scope of their roles in writing and communicating with the press and public, so it was a logical fit. Over time, once agencies started recognizing that the return on their presence on social media was proportional to the amount of effort put into managing it, the issue became how can we get more of this good thing?  

What’s in a Name?

A group of government and private industry advisers and I have been organizing the nation’s first social media conference for U.S. city, county and state government. The April 2015 Government Social Media Conference & Expo in Reno is a training event just for individuals who manage local and state government social media.   

Early conference registrations have given us a glimpse of the present-day titles of social media managers. Surprisingly only about 5 percent of attendees are government Web professionals, and only around 4 percent even have “social media” in their job title. In fact, the position that most participants hold is either public information officer (PIO) or some variation of communications coordinator or specialist.

Although many government social media managers do not actually have the words “social media” in their job title, we are seeing more and more agencies dedicate positions to social media-only roles. For instance, PIO Jennifer Davies’ primary job responsibility is managing social strategy for Las Vegas.

The PIO job title takes the lead in social media in other public-sector agencies as well, such as law enforcement. Social media survey data from the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 2014 shows that the PIO is typically responsible for the day-to-day management of the agency’s public-facing social media accounts. The distant second and third most popular roles for managing social media in law enforcement are command staff and the chief executive.   

Where Is this Role Heading?

The evolution of the government social media manager first involved duties absorbed by Web or communicator roles (and sometimes simply clerical staff). Today, we are seeing the dedication of roles such as PIO and communicator, which can have a large number of focus areas, to social media. As we move further into 2015 and beyond, you can bet that these dedicated social roles will be more commonplace, along with more aptly named job titles like “social media coordinator” or “social strategist.”

Kristy Dalton Contributing Writer

Kristy is known as “GovGirl” in the government technology industry. She is a former city government web manager who has a passion for social media, technology and the lighter side of government life. Kristy is the CEO of Government Social Media.