Those in charge of social media programs can be the ‘most lonely’

Report aims to dispel myths about the impact of collaborative technologies at agencies.

Social media is having a profound impact at several federal agencies, with social media being tools used to improve how agencies carry out their work, fulfill their mission and engage with stakeholders. But not every agency has bought onto this trend, and ironically, the employee in charge of social media activities can often be “the most lonely person” in an agency, according to a new report by the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.

“Use of digital platforms is by no means standard across government,” the report states. “In fact, some federal employees are still prohibited from even accessing social media sites.”

The report addresses some of the concerns feds have about social media -- the potential to paint an agency in a negative light, a lack of constructive comments generated from social media tools, a lack of interest by the public in agency activities, and the perception that only younger people are interested in social media platforms -- in making a case for increased social media activity at federal agencies.

So how do federal agencies harness the power of social media and make it useful for their workforce and constituents? After conducting interviews with 26 individuals from 12 agencies and offices, the Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton found many programs that used Facebook, Skype, mobile applications, wikis, crowdsourcing or other collaborative or social tools to achieve goals and missions.

The Energy Department, for example, uses a wiki called Powerpedia to enable its more than 15,000 geographically dispersed employees to work together. The Federal Emergency Management Agency uses Facebook to coordinate disaster response and communicate with citizens, while NASA employees use crowdsourcing to generate problem-solving ideas from the public.

These and other social media examples in government led to three key recommendations for implementing a social media strategy and making it successful at a federal agency:

  • Think strategically about how to use social media to support the agency’s mission and achieve program outcomes.
  • Get past the tactical hurdles that can stand in the way of meaningful implementation.
  • Continually learn and adapt to derive the most benefit from social media initiatives.

“Many people believe that social media is relevant only to the ‘technology geeks’ in the back room, not to them,” the report states. “Ironically, the person in charge of the social activities can often be the most lonely person in the agency, an interviewee said.”

How is social media perceived at your agency? Is it well-received and having an impact, or is your social media guru a lonely, unheard member of the staff?