What’s the best way to balance the immediacy users expect in social media communication and government’s interest in clearing most external communication?
It helps to develop a strong bond with the legal and public affairs departments, the ones most interested in managing what goes out under an agency’s digital letterhead, Tammi Marcoulier, head of the General Services Administration’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government Engagement and Outreach, said Wednesday.
It’s also important to extensively train people who will be using social media so they know what the ground rules are and when to give a tweet or Facebook post a second look, Marcoulier said during a panel discussion following the release of the Partnership for Public Service’s #ConnectedGov report on government’s digital outreach to citizens.
“You’ve got to trust at some point that people are going to do the right thing,” she said. “Mistakes are going to happen, but I can’t say that in the last 15 years I’ve seen any life threatening mistakes in any of the events I’ve worked on in social media.”
The #ConnectedGov report is focused on combating the “myths” that social media and other digital outreach projects are too expensive for agencies to invest in during lean budget times, that they’ll quickly become a full time job and that agencies will only reach younger citizens who are only interested in offering criticism.
The report describes government digital innovation projects and lessons learned along the way:
- A State Department English learning application that Tunisians can access through a mobile phone.
- PowerPedia, a crowdsourced Energy Department wiki to share information about energy savings and other topics internally and externally.
- FEMA’s use of Facebook to communicate with the public following the April 2011 tornadoes that killed more than 200 people in the Midwest and Northeast.
- The Air Force Medical Service’s social media outreach to patients between visits.
- The National Archives and Records Administration’s outreach to Wikipedians and other volunteers to scan, tag and write articles about its not-yet-digitized holdings.
The Air Force Medical Service dampened the power of those myths by allowing its social media posters to just broadcast information rather than interact with the public when it first began its outreach campaign, said retired Col. Doug Anderson, who led the project.
After the team was comfortable broadcasting information, Anderson asked them to start responding to questions as well, he said.
“The power of social media, mobile apps, interactive websites and texting,” Partnership for Public Service President Max Stier said, “is they all enable government to do its job better and for less money.”