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Social media, like nearly every other aspect of the Internet, has rapidly grown from being a source of entertainment to becoming a vital conduit for communications in the 21st century. So much so that it ranked as the top choice for company/consumer engagement in a recent reputable study.

Governments at all levels are increasingly turning to social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to discuss everything from emergency situations to attempts at making working with airport security easier. This has not been as successful as people would like, thanks to long delays in responses and a very small engagement rate that would spell trouble in the private sector. The question government agencies often ask is how to reach social media parity with the private sector? This guide should be of assistance in this noble endeavor.

Why Government Should Use Social Media

There are three main reasons why government agencies at both the local and federal level should utilize social media: citizen engagement, efficient information dispersal, and ease of communication.

Citizen Engagement

The fact that government agencies are not well liked is beyond doubt, though that is mainly due to how difficult it is to interact with them. Social media presents you with the opportunity to reach out directly to citizens, inviting them to respond directly to responsible individuals for immediate feedback.

Efficient Information Dispersal

There is nothing like a surprising rule change to spark debate. Get ahead of the rumor mill and traditional media by using the same tools that 62% of the American public uses to obtain news – social media. Since you are the one posting the new content it is easier to ensure that only accurate information is shared.

Ease Of Communication

Traditional reporting required the cooperation of local media or for interested individuals to go to specific agency sites for updates. Social media can be pushed to readers automatically, eliminating the lag between release and increased public awareness. For instance, some states use social media to relay emergency information in real time.

How To Succeed With Social Media

Being successful in your social media relations boils down to a few simple things:

Be Informative

No one wants to read something that doesn’t help them, especially if the poster is a government agency. Stay on your agency’s topic of note and always provide fresh and accurate information that can be implemented in the daily lives of citizens throughout the country.

Engage In Dialogue

Take a note from the private sector and make communicating with the public in real time a priority. This means having staff available to field questions as they are made. This will improve how the public views your agency and increase trust in your staff and mission.

Listen To What People Say And Craft Content To Match

Keep track of what is most commonly shared to discover what is important in the lives of the general public. This will clue you in with any subjects you can address and possibly start the process of fixing problems before they get out of hand and become public relations headaches.

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Promote Upcoming Events

Government policies have a nasty way of sitting quietly in the background of daily life and only rising up when they change. Make your next agency policy change, election, or special event well known in advance by repeatedly reminding the public about them on social media.

Monitor Your Progress

Social media is not static. This means what works one week may not be effective the next. Always monitor the performance your social media campaign and make alterations to maintain the optimal result. Just make certain to experiment on a regular basis to see if a new, or old, tactic will drive greater engagement with your target audience.

Government Social Media Success Stories

By seeing who is currently successful you will be able to obtain a rough idea of what needs to be done to obtain the same level of community interaction. Here are some agencies that have blazed the trail you should follow online:

CDC On Facebook

Facebook is particularly effective when sharing educational materials, which also happens to be the CDC’s specialty. The agency strives to make difficult medical concepts easy to understand and commissions custom graphics to drive the point home.

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TSA On Instagram

Showing what not to bring to the airport can lead to a great deal of positive attention, especially when some of the items are quite humorous. The TSA showcases those curious about unusual items while inviting questions from travelers.

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NASA

NASA leads the country in science and social media. It knows that people love images of the true final frontier and uses its amazing collection of scientific instruments to draw people in, alongside informative articles that show how they are investing in the future of the world.

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The Boston PD On Twitter

By connecting officers with citizens on Twitter, it is possible to break down the communication barriers the uniform creates. The platform goes beyond text, enabling the department to showcase images, videos, and live streams that showcase the positive impact they have on the general community.

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Stay Engaged Without Breaking The Law

There are numerous federal laws that dictate how agencies are to interact with the general public. These pieces of legislation are designed to standardize record keeping and privacy protection with the goal of eliminating issues resulting from accidental exposure of private information. Some of these laws include:

The Privacy Act Of 1974

This legislation prohibits the retention of personally identifiable information for citizens. Thus anything that can tie a piece of communication to citizens must not be kept. See this document for more information.

The Children’s Online Privacy Act Of 1998

Created when the Internet was starting to take off, this legislation prohibits the collection of any information on children younger than 13. While written with the best of intentions, it is hard to enforce due to the ability for children to lie about their ages when creating social media accounts.

The Federal Records Act Of 1950

This legislation mandates that all “records” received by government agencies be kept for future reference. In 2014, this act was amended to include electronic documents, which includes social media in all its forms. Regardless of how the communication occurs, you have to collect it and all associated context and metadata.

What Social Media Platforms Do And Do Not Keep

Social media companies are under no obligation to maintain comprehensive records of everything that happens on their platforms for all time. Financial reasons, user decisions, and entropy all play a part in destroying data. You can only count on the company maintaining records when required to by legal court order or law, and nothing else. Use a third party tool to automatically record everything needed to stay within compliance with the law.

Never forget that social media is like any other form of communication. Treat it right and people will begin to trust what you have to say on it. With time and experience, your agency will be able to confidently use it to get the word out to the public without any hesitation whatsoever.