Defense Department employees, including uniformed personnel, are more likely to use social networking applications than workers in civilian agencies, emphasizing its use for internal collaboration rather than communicating with the public, according to a survey conducted by an information technology company and released on Thursday.
About 87 percent of Defense workers and uniformed personnel said they used social networking tools in their jobs, compared with 70 percent of employees in civilian agencies, according to a survey conducted by the Human Capital Institute and Saba, a personnel management software company. The groups surveyed 607 public sector employees, 7 percent of whom worked at Defense and 41 percent at federal civilian agencies. The remainder worked for state and local governments.
The survey also found that Defense, more than any other agency, relied on social networking to build internal communities. About 52 percent of the respondents from Defense said the collaborative tools were critical to communicate within the department. Only 36 percent of those surveyed in civilian agencies said they used social networking applications to collaborate internally.
In addition, 36 percent of Defense employees compared with 24 percent in civilian agencies said social networking was critical for fostering the formation of professional networks. Defense agencies also were more likely to use instant messaging, according to the report.
The findings indicate that Defense employees are more like private sector workers in their use of social networking tools, and the department could serve as a model for other agencies on how to use social networking to improve collaboration, the report concluded.
"When we look at agencies' adoption of this technology, it's driven by the mission," said Jim Gill, vice president of public sector business at Saba. "The necessity to get information [from our armed forces] back to a command, to speed the process of [communicating] raw intelligence from the battlefield, is enhanced by collaboration and enterprise social networking."
Mike DeMarco, research director at the Human Capital Institute, said, "Any time you look at wide geographic distribution -- especially global -- the ability of these tools to overcome communication barriers becomes so valuable. It makes sense that Defense would leverage these technologies at a faster rate for that reason."
Civilian agencies, in contrast, use social networking tools more often for employee engagement, knowledge transfer and training. "Agencies realize that as more workers from Generation X and the millennial generation [are recruited], they expect certain technology in the workforce to do their job," Gill said. "[Social networking tools] allow for continuity of knowledge from the older generation of managers to this new workforce. That handoff is going to be critical to sustain operations at these agencies."
Defense agencies are less likely to use social networking to engage the public. Only 20 percent of respondents from Defense said those tools were somewhat or very effective for improving service to the public, compared with 53 percent of civilian agency employees who said so. Twenty-eight percent of respondents from Defense and 40 percent from civilian agencies said social networking tools were somewhat or very effective for creating more efficient feedback from the public.
Reluctance by Defense agencies to engage the public is due primarily to fear that sensitive information could be disclosed, according to the survey. "[Defense agencies] need to make sure measures are in place [to prevent] the sharing of key sensitive information," Gill said. "A large number of civilian agencies have less concern, given their mission is often more focused on the public and serving the American people."