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Should Your Agency Do Social Media Training?

Why governments aren't doing it — and why they should.

There’s a lot that can go wrong with government social media, which is why social media keeps risk managers up at night. But the alternative of avoiding social media altogether can be far worse.

Solid social media training can help government agencies. While training those employees directly responsible for maintaining your agency’s social media profiles is crucial, often another group gets overlooked — everyone else in your agency.

Government workers are accustomed to taking annual training, and mandatory training is typical at all levels of government, in areas like ethics, harassment and IT security. This is important for familiarizing employees and managers with policy, ensuring they clearly understand which actions are acceptable and which aren’t, and minimizing potential risk to the agency. That last one carries tremendous value, because it boils down to avoiding costly lawsuits.

The same goes for social media.

The truth is that much can go wrong. But it is manageable with training, and there’s even more that can happen if your agency isn’t on social media.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Government agencies have been sued for their actions or policies related to social media, and we’re starting to see case law regarding government social media practices.

There have been lawsuits initiated by government workers fired for social media conduct on their personal time. In some cases, this conduct may have been avoided had there been a solid policy and clear employee social media training in place.

You must answer several questions in your social media policy and subsequent employee training. Can employees post pictures of themselves wearing an official uniform on their profile? What if they’re in law enforcement? Are employees allowed to speak negatively of their co-workers on social media? What if they’re referring to working conditions? Can your agency’s computers and Internet be used for employees to check their social media profiles on work time?

Besides the reality that employees may violate your government social media policy on their own pages, agencies themselves have come under fire for deleting comments or banning profiles.

Why Don’t Agencies Have Mandatory Training?

If the point of government employee training is to educate staff and minimize risk to the agency, then why aren’t more agencies pushing for social media training? The answer is likely a couple of reasons. First, government employee social media training hasn’t been mandated by federal, state or local law. Second, the agency may not have an official social media policy in place. It’s impossible to train staff on social media expectations when they haven’t been established.

Avoiding Social Media Altogether? Why, That’s Just Silly

“Why don’t we just let social media pass us by? Our citizens won’t notice, and we don’t have to risk them posting critical comments on our social media profiles. The public is notoriously critical of our agency anyway.”

Don’t fall into this mindset. The truth is that your citizens are still going to talk about your agency and post critical comments. They’ll just do it on their own profiles or profiles of local news sites — places where you can’t share your side, correct misinformation and show that you care. Avoiding social media — and social media training — doesn’t solve the problem.

Social media training should be mandatory for all government employees. Period.

Kristy Dalton is known as "GovGirl" in the government technology industry. She has been called on as an industry influencer and has a passion for social media, technology and digital strategy. Kristy is the founder & CEO of Government Social Media.
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