Hint: Both come with a cost.
It was interesting to hear from federal officials who are actually using social media to communicate with the public at the Management of Change conference in Cambridge, Md., today.
Amanda Eamich, director of web communications at the Agriculture Department, reminded audience members that while it seems like contemporary communications tools come with no cost, "social media is free like a puppy is free. Even if it's free, your people have to sit and watch ... and respond."
"Whether you like it or not, people are going to talk about you," Eamich added. "They might as well do it on your platform where you can respond."
NASA has experimented with a wide variety of tools to manage its social outreach efforts, said Jason Townsend, deputy manager of the agency's social media team. The agency has to deal with a large volume of, shall we say, wide-ranging requests from members of the public. "The questions that come in sometimes are frankly off the wall," Townsend said.
But as the social realm enters a more mature phase, Townsend warned against too much formalization and bureaucratization in managing outreach. "Some structure is good," he said, but agencies should be careful to avoid "overly boxing it in" at this stage.