Survey tells two tales about feds' social media use

Sixty percent of respondents have embraced social media; the rest either don't use it or know about it

Social media applications for government are becoming more popular, but significant numbers of federal employees and agencies are not making use of those tools, according to a new Market Connections Inc. research survey of government social media use.

In a recent survey of 321 federal employees, 60 percent said they use social media at home or work, while 35 percent said they were not using social media; 5 percent said they do not know about social media, John Kagia, research director at Market Connections, said at a conference in McLean, Va.

Statistics on social media utilization are just starting to be released. On July 22, the Government Accountability Office reported that 22 out of 24 major federal agencies are using social media applications, including Facebook, Twitter, GovLoop, LinkedIn, wikis, blogs, videos and podcasts.

However, Market Connections’ survey found a smaller percentage of utilization. Twenty-nine percent of the employees surveyed said their agencies were using social media, 48 percent said their agencies were not using social media, and 23 percent did not know whether their agencies used social media.

Kagia said those results suggest that agencies are taking advantage of social media primarily for promotion and communications with the public, rather than applying those tools internally with their staffs. Consequently, many employees may not be aware of what their agencies are doing in this sphere. He encouraged agencies to publicize their social media efforts within the organization to raise awareness and participation.


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For those federal agencies that are using social media, the most popular applications are nongovernmental ones, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and GovLoop. Twenty-six percent utilized nongovernment social media; 23 percent utilized wikis; 22 utilized content aggregators; 21 percent utilized video; and 16 percent utilized blogs.

During the next 12 to 18 months, 21 percent of respondents said their agencies’ expansions in social media are likely to involve podcasts; 20 percent cited wikis; and 18 percent reported blogs.

The greatest concerns involving social media are security, cited by 73 percent of respondents, followed by governance and legal issues, cited by 62 percent, and privacy, cited by 61 percent, according to Kagia.

Other challenges include developing a social media strategy, calculating return on investment, regulatory concerns, lack of resources, identifying the appropriate social media channels, inability to control messages on social media and cultural issues.

Bev Godwin, director of new media and citizen engagement at the General Services Administration and a panelist at the conference, said the study results demonstrate that people are not always aware of what the federal agencies are doing.

Godwin described social media use as a continuum and said nearly all federal agencies are on the first level, using social media for promotion and marketing, and many agencies are on the second level, using it for public participation and discussion. She added that only a few agencies are operating at the third level, which involves using social media tools for co-creation and collaboration.

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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