Social Media is used to describe dynamic and interactive web-based communications. Current popular social media websites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr. Although these websites serve different purposes, the technologies that underlie social media enable users to instantly create and share content without web programming skills.
From basic two-way communications to clever educational campaigns, many entities use social media to support business goals in creative and innovative ways. Internet technology has empowered business owners to not only create interesting and engaging content, but also to promote the content across multiple social networks. Websites aren't just for displaying static information; they've become a primary vehicle for fresh, dynamic content to captivate audiences.
This new model has shaped the public’s expectation of online communications, which enhances their perception of e-government. Today, the public expects not just a website; they expect a site with a link to a Facebook page or a Twitter account.
Citizen expectation is not the only reason for government to commit resources to conduct social media campaigns. Like any technology initiative, there must be clear, demonstrated value before agencies can move forward. Many government entities have shown value in using these free or low-cost online tools as an official public communication channel.
Even though social media is a strategic priority, it might not be appropriate for every agency to immediately initiate a social media presence. Although many agencies have reaped tremendous benefit from social media, some have been disappointed as well. Before an agency enters into social media, many business considerations and strategic planning elements must be addressed to increase the likelihood of success.
In 2011, DIR chartered a multi-agency collaboration project to develop a Statewide Social Media Toolkit. Many agencies had expressed the need to evaluate social media for their use, but lacked the staffing resources or expertise. In response to this need, DIR gathered volunteers from 32 agencies to develop a comprehensive toolkit to help state agencies implement and improve their social media initiatives. The toolkit will be launched as a website in early 2012.
The Statewide Social Media Toolkit comprises four sections:
- Strategy – how an agency can use social media to meet business goals
- Policy – how to maintain compliance with state and federal requirements
- Content – what types of content can be posted
- Tools/Operations – which tools aid in managing social media channels
Value of Social Media
Social media ranks as a strategic priority for Texas because there are tangible benefits from using these tools. Through appropriate use of social media, agencies have
- increased traffic to websites
- increased adoption of online services
- communicated with the public in a better, faster, and cheaper manner
- quickly resolved customer inquiries
- promoted information that would not have reached the public through traditional channels
- mobilized citizens with real time updates during emergency events
- provided a moderated forum for citizens to constructively discuss important issues
- turned negative complaints into positive experiences with timely customer service
- increased outreach and brand recognition to stakeholders
Unfortunately, there are also examples of missteps:
- expending time and energy without any clear strategy, goal, or objective
- proceeding with incomplete policies and procedures
- not providing accessible alternatives for citizens with disabilities
- compromising the privacy of citizen information
- failing to back up social media content for records retention purposes
- allowing inappropriate content to remain visible
- improperly engaging with public, creating public relation issues
- misrepresenting official government material by untrained staff
Agencies have developed successful methods to avoid mistakes. Successful agencies have taken the time to develop a strategy that aligns their efforts with business objectives and to create a strong policy that keeps the agency compliant with state and federal requirements.
Additional methods for success
- gain organizational support from executive management and across business lines
- build metrics for measuring the success of each strategy
- work collaboratively as an agency, gaining support from legal, communications, it, records management, accessibility, security, privacy, and other relevant groups
- allocate resources properly; the amount of personnel hours needed will vary across agencies
- continue to train and stay current on the evolving uses of social media
- find helpful and informative content to publish on each social media channel
- communicate with users when appropriate and be consistent with engagement methods
- determine which third party tools to use to best manage each social media channel
All of these points will be discussed in the Statewide Social Media Toolkit.
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