Let’s be honest – technology is changing fast. I think tying your agency to a particular social media technology or platform, whether it be Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or another technology is a mistake. The technology platforms that are here today may significantly change or not be here at all tomorrow. Instead, agencies should focus on the principles of social media that are technology agnostic.
- It’s Not About The Technology, But Engagement. Too much of the conversation about social media and government still revolves around the technology. I am constantly getting questions such as “Should my agency be on twitter?”, or “Should we set up a facebook page?”, or ” What content should we put on our blog?” These are all good questions, but they are the wrong questions. The social media in government conversation needs to revolve around engagement between constituents and government. The current technology platforms maybe around for 20 years or they may be gone in a few weeks. If you focus your efforts around engagement, then if the technology changes you simply look for the technology that improves engagement and go there.
- Efforts have to support the mission. No matter the social media efforts you undertake, those efforts have to support the mission. For example, the US Army Recruiting command does a great job with their online social media efforts. Yes, I am biased since I am an Army vet, but their efforts include video’s, games, widgets, and interactive chat that are all targeted towards potential recruits, concerned parents, and school counselors. These social media efforts all clearly support the mission of the Army Recruiting Command. So don’t fall for the argument that your agency has to have a twitter handle or facebook page just because every other agency does. Make sure it clearly fits your mission.
- Think about your constituents first, then the channel. As I mentioned above, not all channels are appropriate for you constituents. For example, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for the Social Security Administration to use Twitter to notify recipients about upcoming changes. Instead, these constituents would most likely best be reached through the snail mail channel. So start by examining what channels your constituents are comfortable with. Then look at who influences your constituents and what channels they are comfortable with. Influencers may be more comfortable with social media channels, so a secondary effort may target them to influence your base constituents. If you don’t have personas for your primary constituents, consider starting there first.
- Make it accessible. Simply put – usability matters. This is more than Section 508 compliance, though I do think that is important. This is about making the social media to government interface simple and easy for the largest percentage of your constituents to use. San Francisco 311 is a great example of an agency that is making its efforts accessible to the broadest constituent population possible. Not only are the traditional channels, such as the phone, still available, SF311 is also a twitter handle that you can use to register complaints with the city. For example, if the street light in front of your house is out, simply send a tweet to @SF311 and they will respond with a case number and a resolution when the problem is fixed!
- Know the value. Whether you like it or not, metrics matter. Right now, social media in government is still on its honeymoon. There are not a lot of demands coming from budgets and managers who want a demonstrated value for the money and resources being poured into social media – yet. But those demands will come and you need to be prepared with appropriate metrics to justify your efforts. These need to be both qualitative (constituent interviews, focus groups, etc) and quantitative (page views, cases closed, number of contacts, etc.)
The Bottom Line: The one thing for certain with social media is that the technology and the platforms will continue to evolve. To stay ahead of this, government agencies need to focus on implementing around the principles of social media, not the technologies.
Note: This post is a high-level summary of presentation/road show that I am currently doing for Adobe. If you are interested in seeing the complete presentation live, drop me a note at email@example.com and I will see about getting you an invite.