Though Facebook has been testing and gathering input on the product from more than 450 companies around the world, Arizona represents the first government to test drive it for public-sector input.
Unlike many employers, the state of Arizona is now encouraging its workforce to use social media on the job. While it may sound unconventional, the approach is part of a pilot project between Menlo Park-based Facebook and the state’s Department of Administration (ADOA) through the company’s new Facebook at Work platform.
Facebook has been testing and gathering input from more than 450 companies around the world on the product, but has yet to activate the service publicly. Arizona represents the first government to test drive the product for public-sector input.
Through the Facebook offshoot, users can connect with coworkers, post content to public walls and schedule meetings.
State CIO Morgan Reed said ADOA has been actively using Facebook at Work for several months with great success.
“We’ve been piloting it for a little while now and it’s been fantastic, our employees like it,” he said. “Really, Arizona is trying to be the model for other states and lead the way to embrace technology that the private sector would use, not just what other governments are using, to help us attract that next generation of employee.”
An added benefit of the tool is that most employees are already familiar with the application's operations from their personal use. Unlike some of the internal communications platforms being used in the state at the moment, Facebook at Work allows staff to engage with their coworkers from anywhere, through the mobile application on a smartphone.
“The mobility is key. The fact is that we have some services online in the government, but very few ways that you can interact through mobile,” he said. “But again, if I don’t know somebody’s email or phone number, being able to interact with those folks when they are outside these walls becomes challenging.”
But the shiny new work tool is not to be confused with the likes of its origins — the original Facebook. This platform is not meant to share cat videos, or post photos from a wild night on the town; Facebook at Work is bound by all of the same records-keeping requirement of other internal government communications and still falls under the purview of human resources.
What it is meant for is communicating about work to coworkers more efficiently. Additionally, Reed said the platform has the potential to close the gaps between the federated state’s 30 email systems and allows for more direct connections.
“This is work Facebook, so we tell our employees not to confuse it with personal, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want HR or your boss or legal to see, because they are on the platform and they are watching,” Reed told Government Technology. “But, it’s been really great for driving employee engagement, tearing down the silos between agencies and divisions, and really creating that two-way conversation.”
Instead of using the top-down email approach — where this is what the directors or the governor want to tell you — the Facebook at Work platform offers one-to-one connections, Reed said, where you can message somebody or like somebody’s comment, respond to it, ask questions. "It’s really allowed us to be more efficient," he added, "which is one of the governor’s goals for more efficient government.”
According to Reed, there was some initial reluctance to rush into the service because of how government is required to manage internal communications. Would the state maintain ownership of the data? And how would it adhere to the rules around public records?
The long and the short of it, Reed said, is that the state maintains all ownership and access rights. It just took time, as it would with any new platform, to work out these details.
“Out of the box because of all the built-in security that Facebook has, it met most of our needs right away,” he said. “We just needed clarification to understand how they lined up.”
Additionally, the scalability of the service was attractive for the government that employs roughly 40,000 people statewide. Because the platform has not officially launched on the marketplace, Reed said the cost — or lack thereof — was a definite draw. During the trial period, ADOA is not paying for the service.
“We’re using it as long as it makes sense for the state to use it," he said. "As with any product that we use, if prices change, they have to go through procurement law and things like that, but as long as it’s free and relevant and usable, we don’t have a plan to stop using it."