Facebook exec says agencies not fully leveraging social media

Public agencies diving in but not fully using tools available

Government agencies are diving into social media, but most are still aren't taking full advantage of the special features of new media, a Facebook executive said at a conference today.

About 66 percent of government agencies are using at least one social media tool, Adam Conner, associate manager for privacy and global public policy at Facebook, said at the Social Graph seminar at the George Washington University School of Business. The event was a collaboration with the L2 think tank.

However, many agencies view social media as just another set of channels for their announcements and don't leverage the exponential nature of social platforms, Conner said. On social platforms, users are connected to many other users, so that shared content can be spread exponentially through concentric networks, Conner said. That allows for a much more rapid and broad spread of information, especially if users share the agency information on their own Facebook pages, compared with individual users visiting a website.

“On Facebook, one click is not just one click,” Conner said.

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Also, many public agencies are using Facebook and other social media platforms as one-way channels rather than using opportunities for two-way conversations and feedback, Conner said.

Rather than focus on output — such as the number of press releases, videos and other content posted on an agency's Facebook site — the emphasis should be on the amount and quality of feedback from users, which ideally should be passed back to the top of the organization as valuable information, he said.

Also, most government agencies haven't used their social media fully to drive their communications and missions, Conner said. As the Web and corporations are reorganizing to become more people-centric, public agencies should do the same, he advised.

“The Web is reorganizing around people," he said. "You need to reorganize around people, too."

For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has established a practice of setting up a separate Facebook page for each disaster in addition to FEMA’s Facebook page, he said. That allows for a much more local conversation about the specific disaster, the response and all the immediate local effects.

For all public agencies, Conner recommended responding to comments on Facebook as a best practice, and also periodically recognizing fan creativity, such as by selecting a “featured fan” of the week.

He also recommended the Army’s social media policy as a best practice, especially in dealing with public comments. “It is a great example and very thorough,” he said.

He shared several more principles of operation for public agencies on Facebook: Make it social, keep it simple, pace yourself, use a consistent voice, interact, adjust and optimize, and be timely and relevant.

Conner suggested that some government agency executives may be inadvertently turning off innovators and stifling experimentation in social media by their attitudes in discussing red tape and tight budget limitations. Especially sensitive are the start-up software developers who may be offering very creative and useful new products but are told there is no money available to pay for them.

“There is this mistaken assumption in government that people will work for free," Conner said. "The government executive will say, ‘We don’t have any money.' "

“To hear the manager of a multibillion-dollar agency say there is no money…Well, you have far more resources than Joe Developer,” Conner said. "I do fear for the start-ups trying to work with government."

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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Reader comments

Tue, Jan 25, 2011 Jaime Gracia Washington, DC

I believe the use of social media capabilities can greatly advance agency missions through targeted campaigns to have collaboration and communications that are both two-way, and enhance citizen services. Of course that means openness and transparency, but the government is currently focused on technology vice capability, and on providing information vice receiving it. Gov 2.0 has enormous potential to transform government, but it needs to be refocused on enhancing the agency mission, and having specific guidance on usage, rules, privacy, and security. There is little cohesive, formalized guidance on social media usage, and it is playing out by agencies having little momentum and seeing it as just another fad instead of the transformative technology that is and can be for government.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Maria M

Is this an article? Facebook exec says govt not using us enough....wha,wha. The amount content for users should not be the focus? It should be the amount of user feedback? Really? I have fielded "feedback" from users in order to be more "people-centric" for over a year now. Very little has been relevant to our agency or truly "valuable". (Hate to admit this...but it's true.) Govt agencies should have staff that respond to Facebook comments all day long....and pick out a "fan of the week". This just in, Facebook says it can better run your government. Film at 11.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011

Why would the Government expand use of Facebook given Facebook's propensity to just "give away" private information. Facebook can not be trusted to keep Personally Identifiable Information safe. What makes me believe that Facebook will keep ANY information safe from prying eyes. There a large amount of foreign investment in Facebook. Official government business should NEVER traverse Facebook. PERIOD! If anything, the government should take measures to curtail/restrict the use of Facebook, not expand it.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011 Cautious Champion

The folks pushing social media capabilities in government must remember that expenditures of public funds on new capabilities must be justified against validated user needs. To blindly jump into using a new capability merely because it is there is irresponsible and unjustified. Without validated and justifiable user needs, the expenditure of public funds is prohibited. Some social media capabilities could potentially enhance the accomplishment of agency missions but their use must be balanced with user needs, security, and available funds. These same pundits would be the ones complaining about the use of public resources on unjustified programs if it weren’t their pet project.

Fri, Jan 21, 2011

IOW, FB honcho wants FedGov to shut down their real web sites, and replace them with mini-web-sites in his 'gated community', where he gets all the ad and other revenue, and can harvest and resell all the visitor data at some point. FaceBook- the biggest BBS in history.

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