For government organizations, social media can seem like a risky proposition. What if an employee posts something inappropriate that ends up embarrassing the agency? And what about those crude and inappropriate comments that public-sector Facebook pages and Twitter account are almost sure to attract?
There are certainly challenges that come with the active use of social media, but if properly managed, it can be an incredibly useful tool. Here are nine reasons every government organization should be on social media.
1. Improve Engagement
These days, even if your agency literally has the word ‘Secret’ in its name, it still needs to encourage transparency, engagement, and open dialogue with the public. Social media offers a fun and easy way to make your agency more approachable. Hashtags for things like obscure holidays and good causes are a great way to get involved in the online conversation. Here’s an example of how the U.S. Secret Service used National Sunglasses Day to have some fun with its public image.
... are there more sunglasses over there? #HappyNationalSunglassesDay pic.twitter.com/B3GyFNVfCP— U.S. Secret Service (@SecretService) June 27, 2019
2. Share Public Warnings
Not every warning needs to be dour and frightening. Unless you’re dealing with a very serious threat, it’s okay to cloak a warning in a joke or clever image—and social media is the perfect place to do this. Instead of sharing a boring public service announcement on poisonous plants, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service shared this clever image on Twitter.
Look, but don’t touch! Hogweed, hemlock, parsnip and others have a similar appearance and contact may cause unpleasant, potentially deadly, reactions. Stay safe by learning how to identify them: https://t.co/KqXNKyE4PM pic.twitter.com/lNx4Z2d4NG— USFWS Midwest Region (@USFWSMidwest) June 26, 2019
3. Humanize Your Department
If you’re trying to move beyond the tired old perception of the government organization as faceless bureaucracy, social media offers the ideal forum for showcasing the human side of your agency. Highlighting the individuals who are working hard behind the scenes is an excellent way to put some faces to your organization’s name.
30 years ago today, one of our long time forecasters Rod Swerman began his NWS career. Today also marks his last official forecast shift before he retires at the end of the week. Rod's expertise in the area will be missed. Thanks Rod for all you've done! #retirement pic.twitter.com/0EPyvdMYum— NWS La Crosse (@NWSLaCrosse) June 26, 2019
4. Crisis Management
The value of social media in crisis management is well-documented. Any government department or organization involved in public safety should be leveraging social media to keep citizens aware of new developments. Not only can it be valuable in alerting the public of a potential threat, but it can also be used effectively in coordinating rescue efforts.
As severe weather with possible tornadoes impact Northwest Florida this evening and overnight, make sure your phone is on and you can receive emergency alerts. If at any time your area is under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately - it could save your life. pic.twitter.com/wFks9V43Aq— FL Division of Emergency Management (@FLSERT) April 19, 2019
5. Increase Openness and Transparency
Every government organization should be aiming to be more open and transparent in its daily operations, and social media can be an incredibly useful tool in this regard. It’s a great place to listen and learn about citizens’ needs, and to provide relevant answers. Like other forms of official communication, public-sector social media use is governed by regulations like the Freedom of Information Act, Open Records Laws, and the new Government OPEN Data Act. With this in mind, it’s important to put a solution in place that archives social media data in real-time.
Fmr City of Chicago Alderman Sentenced to a Year in Prison for Using Charitable Funds to Pay Personal Expenses. @FBIChicago https://t.co/FxKmxowCNk— U.S. Attorney NDIL (@NDILnews) June 24, 2019
6. Educate the Public
Sure, tweets and Facebook posts tend to be short, but if you’re willing to get creative, you can use these platforms to educate the public on important issues. No one would describe CAR T-cell therapy as a basic and breezy topic, yet the National Cancer Institute managed to convey some important information in a very simple illustration.
What is CAR T-cell therapy? It involves changing a patient’s immune cells in the lab so they'll attack cancer cells. https://t.co/V8BAGQ6pyv #AACR18 pic.twitter.com/4ByVqkxZ0q— National Cancer Institute (@theNCI) April 15, 2018
7. Celebrate Your Wins
You can’t necessarily send out a press release every time your organization achieves a goal or an employee does something great, but you can celebrate these wins on social media. By posting about these accomplishments online, you provide citizens with a greater understanding of what your agency does, and you show employees that their hard work is noticed and valued; a sincere Facebook post can be a great morale booster.
#FDNY members from #Ladder120 rescue two individuals from a fire in #Brooklyn. Read more: https://t.co/sKsJE0Fc5J pic.twitter.com/wKUBcYhVYW— FDNY (@FDNY) June 28, 2019
8. Promote Your Initiatives
Marketing and public outreach is expensive, and although social media cannot entirely replace traditional public relations, it can be a very cost-effective way to promote your organization and its key initiatives. A cleverly-crafted post that sees plenty of comments, likes, and shares can provide your message with the sort of reach that would be phenomenally expensive through traditional channels.
Thanks to @BrokenYolkCafe and @WestfieldPB for a great fundraiser benefiting @radychildrens specifically SD Law Enforcement Regional Teddy Bear Drive. Thanks to @KUSINews & @alliewagnertv for going live with us! pic.twitter.com/RS6GGu0v2q— NATIONAL CITY POLICE (@NATIONALCITYPD) June 26, 2019
9. Inform the Public
Whenever people are looking for information on why the neighborhood’s power is out or why a particular road is closed, they turn to social media (particularly Twitter) for answers. Because of this, government organizations should be using these platforms to provide answers and information. A simple Facebook post or tweet can greatly cut down on the number of irate calls a department needs to deal with.
#RoadClosure— Fort Worth Police (@fortworthpd) July 1, 2019
I35 SB is CLOSED at Heritage Trace due to a major accident. Seek an alternate route.#TrafficAlert
Looking for more great government-related social media content, check out the PageFreezer Blog. Read our article, What Social Media Can Tell Us About a City, or 5 Ways to Use Social Media to Increase Government Openness.