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Distributing the Power of Social Media Without Losing Control

Government social media managers can employ a few key tactics to ensure oversight, and to make sure that social media distribution can be managed.

by / August 17, 2015

One of social media's greatest benefits is that it empowers staff members throughout your organization and can help distribute the responsibility of communicating with citizens. Of course, distribution of responsibility can also create new challenges. Talk to any public affairs or communications manager faced with a distributed social media presence, and they'll tell you that they worry about maintaining a consistent, accurate message. They will also often say they're not exactly sure how many social media profiles are out in the wild, so to speak, for their agency.

Fortunately there are a few key tactics that government social media managers can employ to ensure oversight, and to make sure that the distribution can be managed.

Require approval, not ownership

When there is no process in place for registering new social media accounts, it’s all too easy for them to proliferate like mushrooms after a heavy rain. After all, anyone can log on to Facebook, Twitter or numerous other networks, set up a free profile and start posting in minutes. When this happens in a government agency, it can lead to chaos. A few of the problems that might result include:

  • the release of conflicting information coming from different accounts owned by the same agency;
  • a confused and fractured audience that doesn’t know which source to trust or contact; and
  • difficulty producing enough meaningful content to keep all the accounts active and engaged.

Many communications teams recognize these risks, and attempt to re-centralize ownership of all social media postings. Unfortunately this is not always the most feasible or effective strategy for maintaining a highly relevant and responsive social media presence. Rather than controlling each and every posting, it’s worth considering a policy for vetting and registering new social media profiles. A registration process allows a  single manager or department to ensure that each page or profile fits in with the overall strategy, and doesn’t duplicate or conflict with an existing account. It allows the communications team  to enforce consistent naming conventions and branding. It also creates an opportunity for training and a better understanding of how different departments approach digital engagement.

The following excerpt from the Fairfax County, Va., Social Media Policy & Guidelines for Official Accounts offers a great example of how this protocol can fit into a social media policy:

Create each profile with a purpose

It's important to avoid the trap of letting a registration process become a shortcut to automatic approval. The registration should be used to create a dialog. Even if a department vows to keep branding and messaging consistent, creating and maintaining pages without a strong purpose in mind can end up costing you in terms of employee time and agency reputation. Before any new account is opened, the following questions should be considered:

  • What business purpose does the account serve?
  • What types of content will be shared?
  • Is this content/purpose already being shared/fulfilled by an existing account?
  • Who will administer the account?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What are the goals for the account and how will success be measured?

Asking these questions up front will often help a department fine tune exactly what it is trying to accomplish on social media, and help it avoid wasted time and effort.

Direct traffic

Government social media can’t live up to its potential if no one knows it’s there, so make it easy for users to find the accounts you’ve put so much thought into creating. It benefits citizens, staff and managers alike to see all of an agency’s social media accounts listed in one place. Create an index on your website, and reference and link to your other accounts from within each profile to make it easy for citizens to find you online. This is easy to do and can help drive traffic to quieter corners of your online presence. It can also keep you and your organization aware of the presences you’ve created, prevent others from duplicating efforts, and encourage other departments to follow registration procedures when launching a new profile.

The index can be organized by network, department or some combination. Here is an example from the city of Roanoke, Va., that gets the job done with minimal fuss:


Keeping it all in perspective

The final component of ensuring oversight of your social media strategy is to employ tools that allow you to monitor and review communications while still giving individual account owners the freedom to communicate as they see fit. Ideally your social media management tools should include day-to-day risk management capabilities and provide a high level of insight into what’s working and what isn’t over longer time periods.

It's a good idea to perform quarterly or annual reviews of your social media portfolio to understand what exists, what the activity looks like, and what needs to change. Distributing control does not mean having to lose it completely. In fact, by employing the tactics above, you can harness your internal “social network” to serve your citizens in a way that was never possible before.

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Anil Chawla
Anil Chawla is the founder and CEO of ArchiveSocial, a civic tech company that specializes in risk mitigation and open records management of government social media. The parent company of Government Technology is an investor in ArchiveSocial through e.Republic Ventures.

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