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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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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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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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Top 10 Things People Do When They Find out Your Job Involves Social Media

Top 10 Things People Do

I had some time on the general session stage at #GSMCON2016, so I wanted to do something fun. My original idea was to do a spinoff of reading “Mean Tweets”, which would be “Mean Conference Feedback”, but Mai Linh Johnson, our director of events, told me it wasn’t a good idea… So instead, I presented the “Top 10 Things People Do When they Find out Your Job Involves Social Media”.

#10. They ask if you can fix their Facebook.

#10 They ask if you can fix their Facebook

Because you have nothing better to do. And not their “Facebook page” or “Facebook Profile”, just “Facebook”.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

#9. They cut out newspaper articles that mention using social media & save them for you.

Am I the only one? Relatives and their friends do this to me all the time. It will literally be a random article that happens to mention that a business has a social media strategy or something.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

#8. They nod politely and secretly have no idea what you do.

Happens. All. The. Time.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

#7. They ask if their taxpayer dollars are paying for this.

There are always some people who don’t see the value in social media for the public sector.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

#6. They ask you to make sure something goes viral.

Because it’s that easy. Don’t you think if we could make everything go viral, we’d do it for every single post we made?

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

#5. #They #assume #you #love #hashtags #on #everything

Please, #StopOverHashtagging

#4. They say, “Does that mean you’re going to tweet what we’re saying right now?”

#4. They say, "Does that mean you're going to tweet what we're saying right now?"

Well, I wasn’t going to. But if it makes you uncomfortable…

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

#3. They try to test you by referencing the most obscure social tool or platform they know of.

Because if you’re unfamiliar with a random social platform that only 5 people are on, well you must be a fraud.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

#2. They ask if you have a real job.

They are probably wondering if this is really what you do for a living, because it couldn’t possibly be your bread & butter. But ouch.

#1. They ask if you’re hiring.

#1. They ask if you're hiring.

Because you obviously just play on the computer all day!

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3 Ways to Take Advantage of Your Social Media Downtime

Woman typing on laptop & coffee

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

Your public agency’s social media program is in a good place. You have already developed a social media policy, implemented strategy, trained staff and are posting regularly using a social media management platform. What to do now that you’re done? The truth is that social media is never actually “done,” but here are three things you can work on when the rest of the process seems to be running smoothly.

1. Work on a process for resolving issues

What is your customer service process for responding to inquiries that are sent to your agency via social media? Do you have a 100 percent response rate displayed on your Facebook business page? Practicing and testing your citizen response process is something you can always work on.

Ensure that your process for answering citizen questions on social media has been made clear. Your profile pages should explain the timeframe in which accounts will be monitored, how quickly to expect a response, and include alternative methods of contact if necessary. Internally, staff members should understand the workflow for responding to inquiries and be ready to do their part.

2. Craft crisis messages

Something big might happen in your community on your watch. It could be a major weather event, large-scale accident or something more nefarious such as a major shooting. When a crisis happens, the onset is usually swift and you’ll have little time to sort out what to say on social media.

While most communications your agency makes on social media will be very specific to the crisis, there are some messages that you can write in advance. These pre-written crisis communication templates are better handled in your social media downtime, not during the disaster.

Consider the first thing your entity should say to your citizens on social media when a crisis happens. Your first response should include a statement that your agency is aware of the situation. You also want to let them know that you’re in the process of looking at it. Finally, your last two elements of that first message should be to express that you care and state that they will hear back from you. While the particulars of these four points will change based on the crisis, the basic template can be prepared ahead of time.

3. Make a list of influencers

Social media influencers are important because their networks tend to be large, so they might be able to help grow your reach by sharing or drawing attention to your posts. Cultivating a decent list of influencers is a good use of your downtime.

How can you find key influencers? Jot down who any influencers might be as it relates to your agency, department or program. These might be people of recognizable status in the community, leaders of boards and commissions, or active participants at public meetings. Search Twitter and Facebook to see if the size of their social media followers reflects their offline status. If so, make an online connection with them.

Perhaps the key online influencers in your community are entirely different than the major players offline. You can use free online tools such as Social Mention or Topsy to discover the handles of online influencers. Simply search for hot topics in your community and take note of the active users. Many times, these individuals are happy to help share or retweet posts by your agency if they align with the type of messages they typically send. You won’t know until you reach out.

Your work is never “done.”

Hopefully these ideas will kick-start your approach to social media downtime and get you thinking about other ways to strategically use these quieter intervals. Remember, you are actually in a lucky position that many social media managers never get to experience.

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Should every department have its own Facebook page?

Typing on computer

One of the questions I hear all the time – perhaps even most frequently – is whether or not every department should have its own Facebook page.

The question typically comes from staff responsible for coordinating the agency’s social media presence (commonly they reside in the executive office, public communications office, or web/IT). They keep getting requests from various departments that want to start their own Facebook pages. It seems like a good thing and a bad thing all at once.

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Taking the shiny out of social

Screenshot of AT&T's TV Commercial - It's Not Complicated "More"

We’ve all seen the AT&T commercial where the little girl explains in the simplest terms why more is better than less; “We want more, we want more. Like you really like it, you want more”. Too often social media falls into this category, and there is certainly no shortage of platforms clamoring for our attention. But before you run to your leadership demanding presences on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram ~ I dare you to ask yourself “why?”

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Celebrate Social Media Success with Management & Elected Officials

Kristy Fifelski reporting to City of Reno Council in 2010

We’re all pretty good about sharing tweets and Facebook posts that commend our agency for doing something well. After all, we want other citizens to see that we’re really helping.

Facebook post from citizen
Post from citizen on City of Reno, NV Facebook page. (click to enlarge)

But don’t forget to share those successes inside your agency as well. It doesn’t have to be an incredibly formal report (like the presentation I gave in the photo to Reno City Council), but even something like a quick email helps. Perhaps you can reserve an area on your employee intranet or internal news blast.