Creative Commons via FlicKr from Pong

It’s easy to say that the public sector should begin to use social media tools.  This is especially true when everyday citizens can generate blogs within minutes, tweet about everything and enjoy Facebook pages in a relatively unrestricted way.

And, if government could participate in an unrestricted manner, perhaps there would be no story here.

But there are a few realities that must be considered when entering the realm of social media:

1)  Public Records Laws: Public agencies have a duty to archive their activities so that it is accessible to the general public, for litigation and for historical record.  When “tweets” disappear from the search engines now within 5 days, this requires regular archiving on behalf of public agencies.

2)  Public Disclosure Laws: There are rules against elected officials creating “unofficial quorums” within some states which can mean that they may not be able to respond in social media forums without violating public disclosure.

3) Americans With Disabilities Act: This law requires that communications be accessible to ALL citizens which means that information shared on social media must also be accessible in other manners.  This, too, can have an impact on social media presence and the strategies determined within agencies.

4)  Size of the Agency: Agencies, whether public or private, should have a social media policy and a strategy of how they will reach certain communications goals.  The larger the agency, the more complicated these policies can be to determine.  They nearly always require the strong support of upper management in agencies that implement social media successfully.

5)  Pace of Changing Technology is a Challenge for Govt Budgets: Governmental Budgets are often determined 2-3 years before they are implemented.  Technology investments are sometimes planned out even longer than that.  Few public agencies are capable of adapting to new technology on the 2-year speed that many mobile phone carriers offer to everyday citizens.  Making key technology changes across governments often requires significant funding and great support of their communities.  And, in tight economic times, support for technology improvements is difficult to achieve.

6)  Cultural Change Requires Regular Training: It’s easy to relegate “social media” to 1-2 people within an agency.  But the problem is that it doesn’t afford much continuity for your agency if that person leaves their position without training others in how to use social media as a communication tool.  And, for agency-wide implementation, it can be much harder task to train groups of people to use social media in a consistent manner.  Keep your social media footprint simple and it will assist you in training groups of people to use and contribute to the social media sphere.

It’s exciting to see government agencies begin to engage in the social media sphere, but it is also important to realize that determination of a social media strategy is not an overnight process.  As a community, we must be supportive, encouraging and partner together in meeting where we are all at in this brave new world.

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