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5 Social Media Missteps to Avoid

Tips include backing up records and setting guidelines.

What’s the mark with the ‘a’ and the ring around it?”

“It came in really handy in the quake. That’s how a lot of people were communicating to tell friends and loved ones that they were OK.”

Sounds like people trying to describe Twitter in 2010, right? But it’s actually Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel from a 1994 video talking about the Internet, trying to determine what the @ sign meant.

Talking about social media’s use in government sounds similar to conversations we had years ago about how the Internet could play a role in government. Implementing e-government and social media within a government agency share many similarities. And it’s important to not repeat the same mistakes. In the end, just remember — it’s really just the same song, different tune.

Giving it to the intern. When websites first became popular, they were often relegated to the one techie or intern who liked the Internet, and were often considered a side duty. In time, agencies began investing in the Web — hiring full-time webmasters, sending employees to training and conferences, purchasing necessary technology and using consultants.
Be proactive. Invest in people now. Ensure they get training. Learn from other agencies. Bring in outside experts if needed. Invest in proper social media tools — and definitely don’t relegate to the intern.

Failure to retain records.
At first, agencies worried about how to back up and maintain e-mail for record retention issues. Today there are many archiving solutions.
Do your homework.
The same record retention issues are a major concern with social media. But this shouldn’t prevent moving forward. Again, there are many products to solve this problem.

Blocking use. As the Internet gained popularity, agencies were very concerned about employee misconduct and security risks. In one famous example, the State Department didn’t have access to the Internet at work until the 2000s. Agencies began allowing Internet use as it improved productivity. Personal use policies were created to guide appropriate use.
Set guidelines. Provide access to social media sites and set personal use policies, as well as provide social media updates in your annual ethics and security trainings. Just last month, Goldman Sachs invested $500 million in Facebook stock while its own analysts were blocked from the site and couldn’t do research on the company. Don’t be that guy.

Lack of integration. At first, cities and states treated their websites as stand-alone items. Then, agencies began to integrate and promote their websites in print materials, during hold times on phone banks and during key political speeches. That’s where the real traction began.
Promote yourself. Integration is key — promote social media channels when interacting with citizens on traditional channels.

Forgetting the mission. Agencies launched websites to show they were hip and mostly used them to republished press releases in a new format. Eventually the Net became the No. 1 way for citizens to get critical information and do business with government.  
Expand your mission. Tie social media to your agency mission. Social media is a great way to get feedback on a core mission like a budget proposal. Think of it in terms of economic development — a forward-thinking digital government is attractive to growing employers and the creative-class workers they’re trying to recruit.  

Steve Ressler is president of GovLoop, a social networking site for government officials.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.