Fan favorite: State Department Facebook page attracts 145,000

Mix of news, links to other Web sites and commentary from the public proves to be recipe for success

The State Department’s eJournal USA Facebook page has attracted 145,504 fans in 15 months of existence, and George Clack credits its success to the interactive, evolving nature of social media.

“It is all about the dialogue, not about the message,” Clack, former director of State’s Bureau of Information Programs’ publications office and currently a new media consultant, said during the Virtual FOSE conference today.

The eJournal USA Facebook page debuted in April 2009 and was initially intended to provide links to access the longstanding print and Web versions of the eJournal, which provides news and updates on departmental diplomatic activity.

Clack originally assigned two staff members to the fan page. However, in a short time the staffers realized that each time the president or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled on a diplomatic mission, the number of eJournal USA Facebook fans jumped. In two months, immediately after a presidential trip to Cairo, fans numbered more than 25,000.

Clack said the Facebook page quickly evolved into an aggregation of news, links to numerous news sites, and commentary from the public.

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“There was a shift in the paradigm,” Clack said. Traditionally, State Department officials had worked carefully on developing talking points, which were crafted and publicized to maintain a consistent message on U.S. policies. With the Facebook page, the emphasis turned to news and conversation, he said.

“Social media is different,” Clack said. Publishing user-generated content, building a sense of community, and allowing for “genuine conversation” is what keeps the fans coming back, he added.

To maintain decorum, comments are moderated to remove offensive posts, threats and hate language. The staff members who support the Facebook page try to avoid stating any official policy positions, but will provide links to other Web pages and statements with policy statements, he added.

The staff members who operate the site also are encouraged to speak in plain language. “You cannot talk like a government person in social media,” Clack said. ‘There is a whole different lingo and way of speaking.”

To get the entire staff on board with the Facebook project, Clack said he convened a staff panel for three months to troubleshoot and set goals before going live. He recommended establishing a target audience and market plan upfront.

Once the fan page went live, he said, he allowed the creative team free rein so that they could learn and revise the program to suit the audience’s needs best. It is not about expounding on policy but rather building a community, he added.

“You need to pull the people in, and create a relationship,” Clack said.

The Virtual FOSE conference was sponsored by 1105 Media, parent company of Federal Computer Week.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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