Growing use of social media has government agencies scrambling to develop rules for their employees who blog, Twitter, Facebook or contribute to any number of other Web 2.0 networks. Utah state government is confronting that issue with a newly developed set of rules for appropriate social media use by public employees and state officials.

Utah's social media guidelines, released Sept. 29, offer thoughtful advice to state employees who participate in social networks. The guidelines offer tips for creating interesting and valuable content. They also warn employees to be honest and respectful in their postings, urge them to think before replying to comments, and remind them to follow state privacy laws.

"We want to make sure that when our agencies use social media, they do it responsibly and that they recognize the difference between social media as a private individual and social media as a public or government representative - that's not clear to some people," said Utah Chief Technology Officer Dave Fletcher. "We want to make sure that individual employees understand what is expected of them when they're posting as a government representative."

Growing Use

Fletcher, who is a prolific blogger and microblogger, said the guidelines take on growing importance as Utah government agencies embrace the use of collaborative, Web 2.0 networks. The Utah state portal includes more than 30 blogs from public entities, including 15 from state government organizations. And more than 200 Twitter feeds come from state and local agencies within the state.

"More and more our agencies are using social media, and there are increasing expectations from citizens that agencies will interact with them when they have issues and questions," Fletcher said. "So the agencies are being proactive in that, and it's also a way that agencies can tell their stories and share their services."

Real-World Advice

Fletcher said the Utah social media guidelines are the result of research and real-world experience.

"We looked at what other businesses have done, and we looked at the few government entities that had something," he said. "We also thought it through from our own perspective. We've used social media for quite a few years here. I started blogging in 2002, so I've observed the evolution of social media, and I've watched as people have gotten fired from their jobs for using social media incorrectly."

He recommends a similar approach to other public agencies that are developing acceptable use policies. "There's no need to recreate everything from scratch," said Fletcher. "Look at some of the early adopters, see what they've done and see if it makes sense for your organization. And then think about what you need to do to customize it."

One helpful example comes from the federal government, he added, pointing to the "Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies" released last month.

Setting Standards

Besides creating social media guidelines, Utah has chosen a standard set of Internet-based collaboration tools. For instance, Blogger is the preferred blogging tool, and Twitter is the standard Microblogging platform. The state prefers YouTube for video sharing and Flickr for photo sharing.

Fletcher said both the social media guidelines and collaboration platform standards were developed through Utah's statewide Product Management Council. The council, made up of state agency representatives, meets monthly to coordinate state Web portal activities.

"We don't have people using 10 different microblogging platforms, and 10 different blogging platforms - that tends to get confusing to citizens," Fletcher said. "We used to have agencies deploy multimedia in a dozen different formats. Now they just post it to YouTube, and we pick it up and display it through our aggregated multimedia site."