1 Social Media Champ (plus a dozen or so other contenders)

Given that most agencies didn’t start using social media until a couple of years ago, 2010 could be seen as the first full year of government engagement on the entire spectrum of the Twitter/YouTube/Facebook phenomena.

So far, the White House has made a clean sweep of it, ranking as the No. 1 agency by followers (Twitter), views (YouTube) and Facebook (friends). It’s easy to dismiss the results, given that the White House naturally has a larger following than any specific agency. But give it credit for taking advantage of that bully pulpit.

Overall, the field seems a bit spotty as agencies continue to struggle to understand what social media is all about. But that’s just our opinion. Here’s a quick look at what we see as the top agencies in each category. Please note that the rankings are based on data collected in mid-November, which is to say they are well past their expiration date. So rather than a definitive list, it’s a snapshot in time.

Let us know what you think.

Top Agencies on Twitter
(by number of followers)

White House
This Twitter feed is an imperative for political junkies and anyone who wants to keep up with the daily doings of the executive branch. It has a constant stream of announcements and information on what’s happening at Casa Obama and some of the major happenings at other agencies. There’s no interaction or direct messaging, but as a near-real-time window into what’s happening at the White House and its environs, it’s an essential resource.

CDC Emergency
When any kind of emergency is likely to affect the United States, you’ll probably find something about it at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention feed. It includes information about current events, such as Haiti’s cholera outbreak, and updates on events that have moved off the front pages, such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The site provides timely links to sources of information outside CDC and access to extensive databases and tools such as event-specific widgets that agencies and others can use on their sites.

NASA has one of the fastest-growing Twitter feeds in the federal government. It is a frequently updated list of information and events big and small at the nation’s space agency. You won’t have the opportunity to interact with folks at NASA, but all the tweets link to something else that’s useful and informative on NASA’s other excellent Web and social media sites, making it a cornucopia of rich information and a veritable geek fest.

Justice Department
This is a popular feed about the goings-on at the Justice Department and in law enforcement, but it could use more variety and imagination.

This geeky and informative feed frequently retweets interesting information from other sites, and it replies to other people’s tweets and messages.

Library of Congress
This fast-growing feed boasts about 10 times the number of followers from a year ago and is deservedly popular. It features regularly updated links to events, lectures, and the Library of Congress’ vast collection of significant and intriguingly esoteric items.

Office on Women’s Health
This constantly updated feed features information on women’s health issues that is often hard to find.

This feed is a detailed listing of all the Food and Drug Administration’s recall notices, with links to detailed information.

This feed offers a timely list of information on research activities at the National Institutes of Health and links to news events, podcasts and radio shows. However, it is a little short on details in some areas.

National Science Foundation
This is the feed for frequent updates on National Science Foundation news and meetings, with links to information on NSF grants and research solicitations.

Winners and Losers
All agencies experienced growth in the number of Twitter followers, which is not surprising given the overall growth of the tool in the past year. But agencies that provided information and extensive links to science or health information seemed to fare the best, while more inward-looking sites, such as the Army and Marine Corps, lost some ground. Subject matter is important, and some agencies, such as the Labor and Transportation departments, will likely always struggle to capture followers.

Top Agencies on YouTube
(by number of views)

White House
This is the runaway winner in the government YouTube stakes, with close to 40 million views of its videos already. That popularity is not surprising, given that President Barack Obama is the star in many of the videos. But this YouTube channel also contains links to videos on important news, such as the activities of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and more mundane items, such as daily press briefings. Videos that involve First Lady Michelle Obama are also popular.

If you have even the faintest interest in space science, this is the channel for you. It offers gorgeous images of planets, stars and other faraway objects; educational videos about astronomical phenomena; interviews with NASA scientists and program leaders; and documentaries about NASA and its work. The channel also has videos by specific centers and programs, such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

U.S. Coast Guard
At first glance, you might be puzzled to see the Coast Guard so high up the YouTube ladder at 9 million views and counting. Many of its videos are straight-up interviews with Coast Guard personnel or documentaries about how the service works. But this often-overlooked arm of the military also does exciting work. For example, it helped rescue survivors of US Airways Flight 1549 when it ditched in New York’s Hudson River in January 2009. The video of the plane’s descent has gotten 1.2 million views. And it’s one of the most effective agencies at using YouTube for recruiting.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CDC offers videos on a variety health-related issues, such as the flu, what causes it, what precautions to take and the importance of vaccinations.

Defense Department
DOD offers a large selection of videos about the military on topics both mundane and newsworthy, such as recent hearings and military-produced stories on DOD’s don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

The Army offers a series of videos and newscasts targeted to soldiers.

State Department
This channel features videos on the daily workings of the State Department and its embassies, with special presentations on important foreign policy issues.

Library of Congress
If you have eclectic interests, this is definitely the channel for you. For example, it offers videos of interviews with and documentaries about jazz greats and old movie reels you will only find at the Library of Congress.

National Guard
This well-produced and slickly designed channel of news and informational videos seems to have recruiting as its primary aim.

Veterans Affairs Department
This channel features videos about the work the Veterans Affairs Department does to help the country’s veterans.

Winners and Losers
Great production and intriguing subjects attract viewers to videos. If you have both, as the White House and NASA do, then YouTube success is a given. Have one and a bit of the other, as the Coast Guard does, and you’ll still get an audience. What does this mean for agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency? They cover interesting, if not dynamic, areas, but poorly produced videos of talking heads or, in the case of EPA, videos that harken back to 1950s Movietone reels won’t cut it in the modern, interactive age.

Top Agencies on Facebook
(by people who like)

White House
In many ways, this is the most straightforward of the presidential social media sites, with postings, pictures and videos of President Barack Obama, his family and the activities behind the scenes at the White House. There are also the obligatory pieces about the executive work of the White House and what agencies are doing, but it’s definitely the most personal of the sites. Posts are frequent, with at least a handful every day, and comments are plentiful. It’s an active site that seems to fully engage its friends.

Marine Corps
Judging by the activity on this site, Marines love to communicate via Facebook. Wall posts are frequent, and each seems to gain an immediate and voluble audience. Content stretches from stories about Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan to frequently asked questions on how to become a Recon Marine. Flickr posts are also hugely popular. An active discussions section lets people post comments on whatever subject they are interested in. All-in-all, this Facebook site has the feel of a real community.

National Guard
This site is obviously aimed at recruiting and retention. It even has a “Join Now” button that sends users directly to a National Guard recruiter, along with a section that allows users to talk to and get answers from active Guard members, post to forums, or join a chat room.

This well-traveled page is mostly a forum for the Army to post news items and press releases, but it also has an active discussions section.

Air Force
This page features news and videos about the Air Force and its members, plus photos and blog posts sent in by Air Force personnel from around the world.

This interesting site has an eclectic — and sometimes confusing — wall. Formal Navy announcements are typically posted in the Notes section.

This relatively staid page has an intriguing Notes section that carries journal-like entries from people such as astronauts who have just returned from space.

Veterans Affairs Department
This page features information from VA’s new-media team that’s of direct relevance to veterans, with extensive links to the Facebook pages of VA Medical Centers around the country.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
This page is mostly used for postings of relevant news items, health alerts and events.

Defense Department
This is a somewhat confusing collection of posts, with DOD taking pains to let people know it is not the department’s official site.

Winners and Losers
If Facebook is about creating community, then the Marine Corps’ page is the clear winner. It has engaged its members, and there’s a lively sense of connection. Most other government organizations don’t meet this benchmark. The Justice Department’s page, for example, might as well just point to its press release website. Other agencies, such as the Education Department, use agency leaders to drum up interest, but it doesn’t work.


  • FCW Perspectives
    remote workers (elenabsl/Shutterstock.com)

    Post-pandemic IT leadership

    The rush to maximum telework did more than showcase the importance of IT -- it also forced them to rethink their own operations.

  • Management
    shutterstock image By enzozo; photo ID: 319763930

    Where does the TMF Board go from here?

    With a $1 billion cash infusion, relaxed repayment guidelines and a surge in proposals from federal agencies, questions have been raised about whether the board overseeing the Technology Modernization Fund has been scaled to cope with its newfound popularity.

Stay Connected