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LinkedIn: The Preferred Social Network of Government?

Notwithstanding last week’s news that millions of passwords were leaked, a recent GovTech survey indicates LinkedIn is the most widely used network in the government workplace.

Since its official launch in 2003, LinkedIn has been a go-to platform for professionals who want to connect with business contacts or look for jobs. But as the website has evolved, it has become a nexus for collaboration, a discussion area and much more.

LinkedIn also has become a destination of choice for government professionals. According to survey data from GovTech Exchange survey, Government Technology’s online community of senior-level state and local IT professionals, almost 60 percent of respondents said their agency allows the use of LinkedIn during work hours — leading YouTube (45 percent) and Facebook (42 percent).

Why does LinkedIn reign supreme in the government space? Perhaps it’s all about reputation.

“The perception and really the reality of LinkedIn is it’s more of a professional, ‘strictly business’ environment for people, as opposed to Facebook, which [like] all kinds of social networking out there is in the consumer world and tends to be a lot about personal lives and personal connections,” said Thom Rubel, vice president of research at IDC Government Insights.

Rubel said LinkedIn’s “Groups” feature — which allows for private or public discussion and posting on topics such as health, IT and public safety — could be attractive to government employees who are interested in learning about best practices in their respective field. LinkedIn groups also can extend beyond members in government, so the mix of ideas from both the private and public sectors could be a good resource for finding individuals for collaboration.

[Related: Dan Lohrmann, the chief security officer of Michigan, summarizes the wide-ranging impact of last week’s LinkedIn password breach.]

Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County, N.C.’s emergency management coordinator, said employees in local government are using LinkedIn to connect with people who are subject-matter experts in a particular area. Yaussy uses LinkedIn to connect with the mass care coordinator for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, so if she is working on disaster plans or procedures that deal with that topic, Florida’s mass care coordinator would be her go-to person for ideas and help.

“So a lot of times it’s asking a subject-matter expert that you know, ‘Where would you get a piece of information?’” Yaussy said.

Those connections can exist among the different levels of government. In Arkansas, Claire Bailey, state CTO and director of the Department of Information Systems, said she personally uses LinkedIn to connect with national government associations such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and National Association of State Technology Directors. The Department of Information Systems also utilizes the site — its profile was developed last November — for recruiting new employees.

Little more than a month ago, Bailey’s department purchased a $1,250 service package from LinkedIn that allows the department to post up to 10 available jobs. Each job posting remains on the site for 30 days and links to the Arkansas state jobs website. Between April and June, the department posted five open job positions. Bailey said the department has found the fee service to be cost-effective.

Approximately 30 percent of employees under Bailey use LinkedIn (Yaussy claimed the same percentage of usage within her department) and is encouraging a 100 percent adoption rate, despite LinkedIn’s recent and highly publicized security breach. Last week more than 6.5 million LinkedIn user account passwords were leaked. (LastPass, a password management firm, released a tool for LinkedIn users to see if their password was stolen.)

“Security breaches can happen to anyone in this industry, and it’s something that we all have to be aware of and conscious of — how quickly a group responds to it, openly addresses it and then places corrective measures in guides that success model,” Bailey said. “No entity is security-proof.”

An Eye on LinkedIn?

Some government departments enforce usage policies for Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, as the aforementioned GovTech Exchange data suggests, access to YouTube and Facebook is blocked or restricted for a majority of public-sector workers. The Arkansas Information Systems Department mirrors this finding: Facebook isn’t accessible through the state network, but the department’s employees have full access to LinkedIn.

Bailey said the department’s employees don’t need to be monitored when using LinkedIn at work because they must follow an Internet use policy. As long as employees are cognizant about the content they post on LinkedIn and follow the policy, there’s no need for additional monitoring, she said.

But IDC’s Rubel suggested that government employees who have license to access LinkedIn at work should not be permitted to use it as a tool solely for finding new jobs. When employees use LinkedIn with the idea of, “I’m looking to move on,” Rubel said it might look opportunistic to other LinkedIn users.

“If [government employees] are doing it on their own time on their own account, it’s fine,” Rubel said. “But I think they shouldn’t use it as a career opportunity network to do the job hop.”