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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