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What I'm Saying.

Government Agencies Are Now Free to Engage in Social Media

New Media

The White House LogoOriginally restricted by the confines of the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Obama Administration, through the Office of Management and Budget, recently released a memorandum to all federal agencies that affirmed an original memorandum issued by President Obama on January 21, 2009 calling for “a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration” as part of the Open Government Directive, freeing federal agencies to begin taking steps to engage in the “use of social media and web-based interactive technologies.” The memo goes further, “under established principles, the PRA does not apply to many uses of such media and technologies.”

So, what does this mean for the future of engagement at federal agencies? The answer to this question could be rather simple or quite complex, depending on the leadership of each federal agency. Already there are job postings for “New Media Specialist” positions at the GS-07 level. A follow up to this question, and what many have found in their own implementation of new media strategies, is how to understand the “why” first before jumping into each platform, just because the ability exists to do so. Some managers, not understanding the intricacies of each different network may sporadically approach each network and set up accounts just because they can. Other managers, those engaging in the “Listen, Learn, Adapt” methodology will likely take a step back to find out what is being said about the agency or program and then build a communications campaign/strategy around it to engage those who support or have questions about agency activities that can be quickly answered.

This is a great turning point for the government to move closer to the citizens in achieving transparency and value for its citizenry. I must admit this much.

However, will questions of ROI plague the government sector as much as it troubles the nonprofit and public sectors when measuring the performance of each network. Social networks, by their very nature lend themselves to qualitative measurement and drawing conclusions on the basis of engagement rather than the sheer number of supporters a given social network counts can lend much more understanding and depth of perception of the constituency’s needs than a blanket “bean count” ever could. It is my hope that the government sector will seek to observe these numbers in such a qualitative fashion rather than reporting the results of their new media production line.

Further, the amount of what I could call “trust” that is imparted to the individual responsible to conduct business on social media platforms is also something worth questioning. The ability to remain flexible and responsive in a timely manner is a characteristic necessary when employing a new media strategy. For some, giving up this trust will be rather difficult. As we all know, and I am making a general assumption here (forgive me if you do not agree), there is a large amount of red tape to sift through when something needs to get done on a governmental scope. Increasing transparency also includes increasing the freedom of those working in this environment to remain flexible and empowered to make prompt decisions in response to the needs of the citizenry. It remains to be seen, however, how this will all play out on a system-wide scale. I am deeply interested, however.

Here is a great example employed by the U.S. Air Force in how to empower, yet ensure continuity in communication, that could become a best practice by all federal agencies in the future.

Below is a presentation exploring the idea of the “why” of social media and how it contributes to reputation management for any given organization as well as a couple examples of such reputation management in action.

Further reading:

- Will

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