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How New Politicians Can Prevent Common Social Media Mistakes

hand holding mobile device showing social media icons

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

If you’re lucky enough to be a social media user elected to a government office, congratulations! You’ve entered the often-confusing world of being both a politician and an elected official in the age of social media.

You’ve likely grown a following of people supporting your campaign, and now you’ll enter an office where you represent constituents from both sides of the aisle. You’re probably bringing several social media profiles with you, and perhaps some staffers too, as you transition into your new role.

Let’s talk about two social media pitfalls to avoid right off the bat in order to help you and your constituents experience all the best of what social has to offer.

MISTAKE #1: MIXING THE PERSONAL WITH THE PROFESSIONAL RELATED

Help keep yourself out of trouble by keeping your personal and elected official profiles as separate as possible. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and it may be very difficult to claim that your personal accounts are indeed private if your communications are about government business, or if you tie them to your elected role in the descriptive language on your profile.

As you may recall, last year President Trump faced a lawsuit from several citizens represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute for blocking them from his Twitter account. The president’s defense argued that @realDonaldTrump is the president’s personal account, which he maintained well before his presidency.

In May 2018, federal district judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that because the account was registered to “the 45th President of the United States of America,” combined with the fact that it had been used to conduct official business and a handful of other reasons, those tweets were indeed considered public record. The court ruled that blocking the Twitter users from this account did violate their First Amendment rights.

With this in mind, if you do maintain both personal and professional accounts on social platforms, make sure there is a clear line between the two. Note that it’s a violation of Facebook’s terms of service for an individual to have two profiles, so a good rule of thumb on that platform is to have a personal “profile” and a professional “page.”

MISTAKE #2: INVOLVING STAFF IN CAMPAIGNS

New politicians making a difference for their jurisdictions will inevitably want to run for re-election. You may even have wonderful communications staff who maintain your professional profiles and want to help your campaign by sharing endorsements, advertisements and statements supporting you for re-election.

As I’ve noted in this column before, public employees can’t use, or be directed to use, official government profiles to campaign for candidates or ballot measures. Staff may be able to work around this in your state by volunteering their time to support your campaign only during non-work hours. If they want to go that route, first confirm that this practice is acceptable with your state and local campaign laws, that they’re not using work equipment, and that any social media posts aren’t coming from your official government profiles.

When in doubt, set up a chat with your agency’s legal counsel for advice. Engage on social media with your constituents by all means, but understand these two potential missteps so you can avoid them and focus on the important business of good government.

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Recognizing the Consequences of Hiding Social Comments

laptop with comment bubbles

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

It’s a fairly common practice for government agencies to “hide” social media comments for violating their social media policy, rather than delete them. There is a sense that hiding comments isn’t as bad as permanently removing them. But hiding is actually far worse and can have unintended implications for government.

Citizens have a right to disagree with what your agency does and even to be downright angry, thanks to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Freedom of speech gives citizens the right to express opinions without fear of persecution or censorship by government. First Amendment protections also extend to certain statements made on social media. Therefore, your social media policy should be crystal clear about any circumstances that would give your agency the right to remove comments, such as the use of profanity, discriminating remarks or threats. It’s common for governments to have a comment moderation policy such as this.

WHY IS HIDING COMMENTS DIFFERENT FROM DELETING THEM?

When government social media administrators use Facebook’s tool to hide a comment, no notification or other indication is sent to the person who posted the comment. The citizen likely has no idea that their comment was hidden. Some social media administrators believe hiding is appealing because it feels less obtrusive for the commenter than entirely deleting their comment. Others believe that if the citizen has no idea, then they can’t voice additional anger or post disgruntled rebuttals. It defuses the situation.

But here’s the problem: The real trouble in hiding comments on Facebook is that the commenter, and his or her Facebook friends, can still view the comment. Not only this, but they can continue the conversation by replying to the comment, without knowing that the comment is no longer public on your page.

WHY IS THAT BAD?

The problem with hiding comments is that it’s a purposeful move by an agency’s representatives to be secretive about displaying something a citizen wrote on their department’s Facebook page. If your agency ever had to argue a position in court, you would likely need to fully disclose your intention in hiding the comment. Even if a comment egregiously violates your comment policy, and you hide it, what if someone in that person’s friend list posts a reply to it? Maybe the friend’s comment doesn’t violate your policy and contributes to useful public discourse. Unknown to them, their reply is hidden from anyone outside their friends viewing it.

If you’re dealing with a company or business in the private sector, hiding comments might not be a big deal. But when you’re a government agency, it’s a whole different story. If a social media comment is worthy of deletion because it violates your official social media comment policy, then delete the comment while following your records retention protocols. Be cautious of looking to hiding as a less severe alternative.

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Getting Boss Buy-In on Social

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Is your boss completely sold on the fact that your agency is using social media? While many cities across the country have had a presence on social media for years, I still hear from staff at agencies who are having a hard time convincing their managers to let them fully engage on social media.

Even agencies that are active on social media need trust from leadership to fully embrace the platforms and to get the resources they need to operate a well-run program. Why is leadership sometimes so hesitant to authorize more than using the platforms for one-way information blasts?

While government leaders may be great at what they do to improve their communities, some of them just don’t realize the importance of social media in providing a valuable customer service resource for the people they serve. And more often than not, they’ve seen some very public social media fails and they’re afraid of what could happen.

The good news is that many agencies have been down this road before. Here are some tips for gaining boss buy-in.

WALK THROUGH #SOCIALMEDIAFAILS

Inevitably, another government agency will be highlighted in the news for a social media fail. This type of thing makes managers very nervous. Use this time as an opportunity to explain why the post failed in specific terms (e.g., not simply that the agency “was trying to be funny,” but that its attempted use of humor failed to consider its audience and the context of the situation). Show your boss that the reason for the fail isn’t a mystery, and illustrate that you can be articulate about what went wrong for the other agency. Finally, remind them that social media training is important — both for social media managers and agencywide staff.

BREAK DOWN YOUR ASKS

Asking your boss to trust you on social media is very broad. It may be difficult for them to wrap their head around exactly what you want them to do. The reason behind their “no” may be that they actually appreciate your efforts, but they’re concerned that giving you the green light means you’ll be doing some major avant-garde social media experimentation.

Instead, break it down to more specific requests by articulating what their support would look like. For example, if you want to break away from simply spitting out press releases and move toward promoting two-way communication, you might ask for their support in a series of posts designed for engagement related to a particular topic. Maybe you want them to help you internally route questions and feedback from the public to the appropriate department, or maybe you want their assistance with getting your summary report to specific agencies.

Always make sure to show your boss the success of their buy-in, including the impact and engagement with your constituents.

Finally, it’s always easier to get your boss to listen to your advice if you can show that you have solid social media management experience as a practitioner in the field. Hone your skills with membership in relevant organizations, participate in educational conferences, learn from webinars and get any other training you can find.

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Value of including leadership in your social media efforts

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Government social media coordinators are sometimes so focused on doing their work well that they forget the tremendous value of bringing in agency leaders. There’s an art to doing this strategically, and it ensures a consistent reminder to leadership of the good work you’re doing for your organization.

Don’t get into the mindset that as long as you remain under the radar, your social media program can continue to function unbothered. While this may be the case for some agencies, more often than not, communicating your successes to leadership will help reinforce buy-in and ensure continued growth of your program. Social media should be constantly evolving, adapting and meeting your citizens’ needs. The best way to keep that happening is to loop in leadership on your social media successes and strategies to earn their ongoing support.

AVOID INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Virtually all the social media platforms you use offer some type of data analytics. This ranges from information on reach and impressions to demographic characteristics to full-blown charts and graphs. Before you start pulling together 20-page social media reports with all the supporting data you can find, take some time to consider who you’re preparing the reports for, and appropriately tailor the style and information you present.

Department heads are usually interested in social media results that pertain directly to their programs, while the highest-level reports are most likely to resonate with executive leadership and elected officials. I always recommend using visuals with charts or graphics that highlight the pertinent information and make it easy to digest with only a glance (which is usually all the time leadership can afford to spend). Keep in mind that leadership has many demands on their time, and a short executive summary of the key highlights is usually preferred.

SHOW, DON’T TELL

Another approach for looping in leadership with your social media strategies is to directly involve them in some aspect of it. For instance, ask them to participate in a particular tweet-along, live video or live tweet. This tactic can be fitting for department heads, commissioners, mayors, chiefs — virtually any leadership position.

Make sure that you’re extremely organized, the activity is well-planned and they’re well-coached. Include an outline, talking points and anything else that will enhance an agency head’s experience. The point is that they’ll see your behind-the-scenes process, which is likely much more sophisticated than they expected.

When using the show-don’t-tell approach, don’t forget to come full circle when the social media activity is complete and provide them a mini-report showing them the direct results of their involvement. Seeing the impressions, reach, comments and so on can show them how their participation resulted in tangible interactions. Sometimes, drawing the direct connection between effort and real-world results can make all the difference.

It continues to be an exciting and important time for social media in the public sector in 2018, and support from leadership can be critical to your agency’s efforts.

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Best practices for elected officials engaged in social media

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

In an ideal world, we want elected officials to feel comfortable about embracing social media yet balance that energy with the knowledge of how to properly administer their profiles.

As Twitter gains momentum as a platform for public-sector leaders, it’s more important than ever to take the opportunity to review best practices for use of social media by elected officials.

DOES YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY EVEN ADDRESS ELECTED OFFICIALS?

Many government agencies have an official social media policy in place, which is a good thing. But most of those policies don’t address what elected officials can do on social media. Elected officials have a role at your agency that is inherently different from regular staff. Your social media policy — or a separate one unique to electeds — should be very clear in social media guidance for elected officials. You want to be specific about what they can and can’t do, but still encourage their use of social media.

IS THERE ANYTHING ELECTED OFFICIALS CAN’T DO ON SOCIAL?

While there are many things elected officials shouldn’t do on social media, there are also a few that they can’t do. At least, if they don’t want to violate any laws.

Federal and state open meetings laws ensure that the actions of public bodies are conducted openly and citizens are given proper notice. If a quorum of any public body (usually three or more elected officials) merely comment on the same social media post, they could be in violation of open meeting laws. Make sure your electeds know this.

Does your agency have administrative or communications staff who maintain social media profiles for elected officials? While this is a common practice, it’s important to make sure everyone (staff and electeds) is aware of what needs to happen during campaign season.

Public employees can’t use, or be directed to use, official government profiles to campaign for candidates or for ballot measures. This is because government funds, including staff time, can’t be allocated toward pushing a particular candidate or referendum. There is a fine line between educating the public about various sides of a ballot issue and violating campaign laws, so always include your agency’s legal counsel when you’re crafting your policy language and training program.

DELETING COMMENTS AND BLOCKING USERS

Keep in mind that elected officials can be sued for blocking Twitter users. Our First Amendment protects freedom of speech from government interference, and governments need to be cautious about censoring an individual’s right to free speech. If a commissioner or council member blocks a social media user, it could be argued that they are blocking future speech made by that person. If your sheriff, for instance, deletes a negative comment, that could be construed as blocking free speech. Your electeds should be educated about how these laws are interpreted with their social media profiles. Again, involve your legal counsel in these decisions.

ENCOURAGING ENGAGEMENT

How do you get elected officials engaged with your agency’s social media efforts? Here’s a pro tip: Always show them the results of engagement that they produced. For example, if they participated in a live video, share with them a brief report showing them the impressions, the reach, the comments. When they see how their participation resulted in tangible interactions, they are more likely to remain connected to your social media program.

Help your elected officials to be comfortable about embracing social media, tempered with the knowledge of what they can and can’t do on social platforms.

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Why blogging is still relevant for social government

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

People aren’t talking about blogging like they used to — is it still relevant for social government? While it may have lost some traction as a big buzzword, blogging may be an underutilized resource for government agencies looking for a way to tell their narrative without some of the limitations of other social outlets.

When done well, a blog can be a useful collection of stories and multimedia posts. The key here, however, is “done well.” Remnants of the late-’90s-style blog design are still active on the Web and can make an agency look dated and out of touch. Yet the core function of blogs can be useful.

COMPONENTS OF A BLOG

We’ve seen agencies use native website functionality to create a blog, or they integrate it via tools like WordPress, Medium or Tumblr. But what distinguishes a blog from a simple news feature on your site? In both, entries are posted in reverse chronological order, so the newest items are at the top. But a blog is usually further distinguished by having an RSS feature so visitors can subscribe to posts using a feed aggregator.

Another major tenet of a blog involves having a personal voice. Posts should be written by a named person or people who work for your agency. If having an “About the Author” area on every post would be weird, then what you have is probably not a blog.

Blogs are also written in the first person — not in the usual press release third-person style that works for content on your news page. This takes effort because it involves staff training and likely an editorial review by a communications designee. It’s also the best part of a blog, because it speaks to people on a conversational level and tells the story of your agency.

OWNING YOUR NARRATIVE

The purpose of a blog in the private sector is to make money. Companies use content to build a sales funnel or they establish the blogger as a thought leader in their industry, both of which drive sales.

But government agencies aren’t driven by revenue collection in that way, so what’s the primary purpose of a government blog? I can’t stress enough the value of owning your narrative and how telling your story humanizes government.

And keep in mind that comments are extremely important for the conversational intent of blogs. Ensure that your content elicits feedback and ideas from citizens, and that comments are enabled and simple to use. Even though you’re telling your own story, you don’t want your message to be a one-sided piece — you want it to be a conversation with the public, which means you should also reply and encourage back-and-forth interaction.

WHAT WOULD A MODERN GOVERNMENT BLOG LOOK LIKE?

A modern blogging strategy incorporates multimedia. A “vlog” is a video blog in which content is filmed instead of written, but there’s no reason a contemporary blog can’t combine multiple formats.

An inherent challenge with social media is that it’s fleeting by nature. Social posts are designed to live in the moment. However, a blog can be a collection of your best material, a compilation of personal voices from within your agency. It can be a place to combine social media posts from several outlets, embedding your top YouTube videos, a collection of Instagram images, and your most engaging tweets and Facebook posts.

With the ever-shifting algorithms on social media, businesses and governments are seeing far less reach for their efforts. Perhaps breathing new life into an agency blog is one way agencies can take back ownership of their social content.

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Is it time for a social media coordinator?

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

When government agencies began experimenting with social media profiles a decade ago, there was a chance that their citizens would view their efforts with discontent. Why waste time and resources on a public resources machine?

Times sure have changed. These days, the general public is more likely to notice when government agencies don’t have a decent social media presence.

So why do some agencies still not have a dedicated social media coordinator? There are a couple common arguments against it.

1. CAN’T OUR COMMUNICATIONS PERSON DO SOCIAL MEDIA?

Your communications coordinator likely has the aptitude and is qualified to handle social media for your agency. In fact, they’re probably already doing it now. But have you ever heard the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”?

To make it easier to tackle, many agencies bundle social media responsibilities into an existing position such as a communications specialist or public information officer. Heck, my own title was “E-PIO” in my first role that involved managing government social media.

No one wants to call it what it is.

Here’s why I hate “bundling”: Your comms person, and anyone else you might assign social media to, already does the job of a small team. They may be the media liaison, publisher of print communications, newsletter writer, spokesperson, speechwriter, public relations guru, website content writer, plus a host of other things. To do social media well takes work and no small amount of time.

The No. 1 complaint I hear from people who manage social media is not having enough time to do everything well. If you think managing social media just involves writing a few quick Tweets and Facebook posts every day — think again.

2. IS THERE REALLY ENOUGH SOCIAL MEDIA WORK TO TURN IT INTO A FULL-TIME POSITION?

You bet! Besides “simply” writing content, the social media coordinator needs to manage citizen comments and complaints, analyze data, evaluate ads, train employees on the right way to use social media, create reports, work with video and graphics, and more. This person should also be involved in writing social media policy, as well as strategic planning to facilitate agency goals via social platforms. He or she needs to understand social media archival, as well as First Amendment issues and sunshine laws as they apply to social media. This is not a simple undertaking.

Keep in mind that your agency won’t be a trailblazer for having a social media coordinator. It’s becoming more and more common to see this role in government. Agencies such as Mecklenburg County, N.C., and the Ohio Department of Public Safety are just a couple of entities that have staff in a dedicated social media role.

Government increasingly recognizes the value in social media. In many cases, the only interaction your citizens and constituents will ever have with their government is via social media. (How many people actually show up to your public meetings?) I encourage someone in your agency to spearhead the effort to hire a social media coordinator. Will you be that champion?

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What Do Smart Cities of the Future Look Like?

Kristy Dalton at #CES2017

I just returned from the Consumer Electronics Show (#CES2017)  in Las Vegas, and I can tell you that it is a very exciting time for cities and states to invest in smart technologies! The team at Panasonic invited me (aka GovGirl) to cover their exhibit, and I’m thrilled that government agencies were a central part of their “future infrastructure” concept.

Panasonic is known for unveiling consumer technologies at CES, including high end audio and photography equipment. This year, cities took center stage as the company showcased connected technologies designed to improve the quality of life for citizens.

Check out my recap video of what I saw at CES:   

Want to be a #smartcity? It really starts with smart infrastructure. Why have one technology that talks to just one system when you can have connected technologies that integrate with the overall infrastructure?

Panasonic has partnered with the City of Denver over the past year, and recently the Colorado Department of Transportation, to bring the concept of smart cities and smart highways to a reality. Check out footage from the #PanasonicCES press conference, where they invited Mayor Hancock of Denver and the director of the Colorado DOT onstage to unveil their projects.

Have you seen the recent viral dash cam video of a smart car predicting a crash two cars ahead? Think of all the ways smart cars and infrastructure could impact our cities. One of the concepts behind smart transportation is that sensors in vehicles could communicate with other vehicles, pedestrians and the overall smart infrastructure in order to predict and avoid crashes. The number I’m hearing is that traffic accidents could potentially be reduced by 80 percent!

In the Panasonic booth, I got to see other smart city technology up close. Plans for a smart bus shelter are pretty impressive. Government agencies want citizens to use public transportation because it reduces traffic congestion, accidents and smog, among many other reasons. However, public transportation is typically underused. Citizens just don’t have a high expectation of the user experience. Enter the smart bus shelter. While waiting for your bus, you’ve got WiFi, charging outlets and a touch screen display where you can see where your bus is in real-time. If your bus is running late, you can schedule an Uber right from the touch interface. This concept shelter comes equipped with security cameras that are designed to feed into the central command center that gives the city one interface to monitor their connected devices.

Add in smart parking meters that allow citizens to find open spaces and feed the meter via an app, and also smart streetlights that dim to save energy when pedestrians and vehicles aren’t around – and you’ve got a truly connected community!

Here is a Facebook Live video that I shot while visiting the CES exhibit:

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3 Ways to Make Social Media in Government a Team Effort

Staff

This article originally appeared in the “GovGirl on Social” column in Government Technology Magazine.

Most of your agency’s employees are not directly involved in managing social media or even contributing content. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (managing 1,000-plus contributors is tricky), but you should consider the benefits of getting all staff members involved with your agency’s social media presence.

Why bother? It’s really hard to present a united front when most of your staff members are unaware of your agency’s social media strategy. Department representatives might not even know what profiles your agency maintains on various platforms. They might also be unaware that they can contribute content (can they?) and the process they can use to do so.

There are likely a large number of staff members who work for your agency, but don’t work with programs that traditionally have public-facing social media content because they are an internal-facing division, such as auditors or fleet maintenance. But there are still opportunities to get them involved with your agency’s social media presence. This leads me to my first recommendation, which speaks to how you develop the social media strategy in the first place.

1. GET DEPARTMENTS INVOLVED IN SOCIAL MEDIA GOAL-SETTING.

A good social media strategy starts off by identifying goals. Involving other departments at this stage ensures that the high-level goals of your organization as well as departments are considered and incorporated from the beginning.

Social media strategies should be unique to each organization — what works for one city or county does not necessarily work for another. A comprehensive social media strategy is guided by a number of variables, ranging from the high-level mission of the agency, to the strategic goals for key departments, to the city’s communication goals. Setting social media goals that complement the government’s guiding principles will help ensure a consistent and meaningful message.

Here’s a pro tip: Many department goals can be found in annual budget documents. While some of them will be very project specific, the higher-level goals may be a perfect fit to incorporate into your social media strategy. Better yet, talk to department representatives and ask them what the long- and short-term goals are. For example, if the public works division has a priority over the next couple of years to conduct major traffic flow infrastructure improvements, that can evolve perfectly into a new social media goal: educating the community about alternative mobility options. Be creative and get agency staff involved in social media goal-setting.

2. EMPOWER STAFF MEMBERS TO MONITOR SOCIAL MEDIA.

A best practice I like to teach is empowering agency staff to monitor social media for citizen activity related to the programs and projects that directly relate to their role. Several free online tools can easily allow staff to monitor keywords and hashtags while also keeping track of conversations and posts related to a specific subject matter. Free tools available today include setting up Google alerts or using Twitter advanced search and social mention services.

3. ENSURE THE AVAILABILITY OF ONGOING SOCIAL MEDIA TRAINING.

Offer regular social media training agencywide for all staff, leadership and elected officials — not just for social media content authors. Consistent training helps employees and electeds stay up-to-date about the policy, rules and legal aspects of posting on social media, as well as stay informed as to why certain social media platforms were selected for an agency presence.

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Nextdoor Social Network to Appear at GSMRT

Nextdoor

We’re excited to announce that Nextdoor, the private social network for neighborhoods, will participate in our regional social media training in Huntington Beach, California, on Sept. 14.

Nextdoor works with public agencies to reach residents in their communities. Their team will host a session focused on how governments can get the most out of the network. Attendees will also hear how some of the agencies in California have used the free service, such as the Huntington Beach Police Department.

Learn more about the Government Social Media Regional Training and register today! Can’t attend in person? Grab your virtual pass to watch session recordings online.