Feds' Social Media Use Increases

Federal employees are increasingly turning to social media websites for work and personal use, particularly as more agencies lift restrictions on access, according to a new survey.

The new Social Media in the Public Sector study, released Tuesday by Market Connections, found that just 19 percent of agencies ban access to some or all social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. This is down sharply from 2010, when 55 percent of agencies banned access.

The survey, which was conducted in September and drew nearly 900 public sector participants, including 352 federal employees and 272 government contractors, found that 74 percent of all respondents access social media websites at work, while 92 percent access them at home and 70 percent access them on mobile devices. The most widely used mobile devices by feds were the iPhone (53 percent), Blackberry (42 percent), Android (39 percent) and iPad (27 percent).

LinkedIn and Twitter showed the biggest gains among social media websites used by federal respondents. Use of LinkedIn by feds, for example, grew from 32 percent in 2010 to 70 percent this year, while Twitter use increased from 30 percent last year to 55 percent this year. Eighty-six percent of federal respondents said they use Facebook, up from 72 percent last year, while 80 percent said they use YouTube, up from 61 percent in 2010, the survey found.

Government-specific social networking websites also saw a boost in federal participation. According to the survey, 35 percent of federal workers and 55 percent of contractors said they use GovLoop, while GovTwit is being used by 30 percent of both government and contractor employees.

Meanwhile, 37 percent of federal respondents said they are permitted to use social media as representatives of their agency, versus just 9 percent last year. Federal respondents said social media was most useful in helping inform decision making (100 percent), communicating externally with citizens and other agencies (81 percent), communicating with colleagues (78 percent), research (64 percent) and promotion/marketing (61 percent), the survey found.

Still, federal employees cited a few challenges for social media at their agencies, including internal governance and legal issues (41 percent), aligning a social media strategy with agency mission (40 percent) and measuring return on investment (31 percent), the survey found.