Engaging with the public is an important role of state, county and municipal government agencies. And throughout the last decade, social media has evolved into a critical engagement tool. Social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be used to offer local news updates, information about events or timely happenings, and a peek behind the scenes at public agencies.
Social media on an official government account is considered an electronic record. As a public agency, you must keep in mind that your social media communications — including all posts, reshares and direct messages — need to be available for public record requests.
If you’re using social media as a government agency, it is critical to formulate policies and a strategy for its use. A combination of plans, processes and technology should be used to support your efforts, protect your organization’s reputation, and make responding to public records requests more efficient.
Here are a few ways government agencies can use popular social media channels to better engage with constituents.
- Develop an internal social media policy for employees
A solid social media policy includes clear rules of social media interaction, and how those communications will be monitored and retained. These rules will help meet public records requirements and provide guardrails for public employees to communicate on social channels. Written policies should describe:
- Who is permitted to administer the agency’s social media accounts
- Rules for employees using personal accounts to discuss government business (if this is allowed, how will that content be preserved?)
- What types of information can be shared, and rules for comments and responses on social media
- Consequences of noncompliance with social media policy
After the policy is finalized, employees need to be trained on the permitted use of social media. Review and update the policy on a regular basis, especially when new technologies are adopted into the agency’s communications strategies.
- Create content plans and actively manage accounts
Identify your audience
First, you’re going to want to identify who you’re trying to reach on social media. As a government agency, your primary audience is your constituents. But it may also include a variety of the public even outside your jurisdiction. Make sure that you are creating content that is timely and useful for the people you serve and provide ample opportunity for engagement.
Tailor content for each channel
The number and variety of social media platforms continue to expand, but you don’t have to use them all. Choose which ones work best for you and your audience and put your focus on those accounts. For example:
Twitter: a great place for citizens to get quick, bite-sized updates such as updated office hours, wait times or service interruptions. Twitter is especially useful when discussing breaking events with developing situations.
Facebook: from community discussions to media albums to virtual conferencing, Facebook allows public agencies to interact with constituents in multiple ways. Facebook Live can be used as a virtual public forum and Facebook Messenger can be used to privately ask and answer questions.
Instagram: an ideal platform for sharing cultural, image-rich content from your department or agency. Instagram can give visual insights about celebrations, holidays, local events or behind-the-scenes happenings.
Create an editorial calendar
Make plans for upcoming posts or themes. Consider what’s planned for events, road closures, construction, elections and anything else that is relevant to your audience. Plans can change, but an editorial calendar provides internal transparency about what’s coming on social media and helps you stay consistent with your engagement. You should also build a library of approved images, links and copy that you can use to fill in gaps during quiet periods.
Don’t feed the trolls
Inevitably, you’ll run into comments from disgruntled commenters. In these instances, we recommend that you:
- Do not delete these comments — you may choose to hide them but allowing them to be preserved and monitored ensures evidence in case of legal issues
- Acknowledge their complaint so they know they’ve been heard
- Have empathy — whether it’s a bot or an angry constituent, be a good example
- Know when to move the conversation offline or stop responding
- Use technology for efficiency and visibility
Automate your processes
There are a variety of social media automation tools for staging and scheduling posts ahead of time. Tools like Hootsuite are useful for workflow processes like copy and image approval and can save a lot of time and effort by getting ahead of schedule. Social media listening tools can help you monitor how your organization is being talked about outside of your own accounts. However, even with automation, you’ll want to make sure someone is actively monitoring your accounts for comments or last-minute changes.
Set goals and measure performance
Every social media platform offers engagement metrics that can help you measure if you’ve hit your goals. Determine what you’re trying to accomplish: expanding your audience, increasing likes/comments, engagement with content, etc. Set goals and continue to measure and optimize based on them.
- Preserve your social media content for public records
While the timeliness of your agency’s social media content may be fleeting, the content itself isn’t. It’s not enough to rely on the social media channel to retain your agency’s posts on their servers. And it’s a lot of work to dig through old posts on several accounts to gather a complete record when requested. Your agency needs to be able to capture and archive its activity and content comprehensively and present it quickly upon request.
An archiving solution that collects and preserves all social media communications and activity can be used as the first line of defense against malicious commenting and potential legal action. Make sure your archive can preserve contextual details:
- The original post and all related comments and reaction activities
- Revisions and/or deletions of posts and comments
- Time and date of posts and other associated metadata
It’s important to stay engaged and have fun, but having this information fully preserved is also an obligation to your community — and a major time-saver when a public records request comes in.
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Nothing in this document should be treated as an authoritative statement of the law. Action should not be taken as a result of this document alone. We make no warranty and accept no responsibility for consequences arising from relying on this document.
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