A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues

By John Simpson, Business Consultant, GovDelivery Federal

Just after the new year, the Washington Post advertised a recent study showing that an increasing amount of world leaders are taking to Twitter to increase their reach to the public. While this new report from the Digital Policy Council does show a significant upward trend in the number of leaders that are leveraging Twitter, a 75% increase from 2011, the more revealing graph is the one below that highlights which country’s heads of state have the largest amount of followers and supposedly the larger trend towards open government.

Map: Heads of State on Twitter

The Washington Post continues that “the numbers sound like a big win both for Twitter and for open government, which have gone hand-in-hand since even before the Arab Spring uprisings popularized social media as a form of civic participation in 2010.”

participation medalWhile it is undeniable that Twitter holds enormous outreach potential to a global population that is only increasing its use of social media tools, the assumption that “more leaders tweeting equals a more open society” is a misguided notion. Simply because a member of a leader’s staff maintains a regular presence on Twitter does not mean that anything being communicated is new or the government is becoming increasingly transparent. Having a large amount of followers does not automatically mean that a government is lending itself more to the idea of an active dialogue with its citizens. Without proactive engagement and real participation in public discussions, social media simply becomes an avenue for leaders to spam their followers. It is also not much of an accomplishment to tout a large base of followers over other global leaders when your country already has a large, social media savvy citizenry.military connection mobile

Many organizations that leverage social media, both within and outside of the government, use these tools as simply a device for re-purposing the same, old information. Having a bare bones social media policy does not mean an organization can boast about being more open to the public. Tools like Twitter and Facebook were not conceived as a one-to-many tool, but as a means to connect people across the world and discuss issues relevant to them. Whether it’s talking about your cousin’s ugly baby photos or the organization of a protest against a tyrant, Twitter is about proactive engagement and conversations. A steady and sizable increase in global leaders communicating to their population through social media is a positive trend, but progress cannot stop there. A country’s leader having a large following online doesn’t mean that the country itself is moving towards a policy of open government. It’s what a leader does with his or her social media megaphone that matters.

City of Raleigh Update

By Jennifer Kaplan, Product Marketing Manager, GovDelivery

Thom Rubel Cover SlideIf you work in government, you might agree that one of your main goals is to provide services to the public. Thom Rubel, Vice President of IDC Government Insights, recently spoke at the GovDelivery event in Washington, DC. He mentioned a quote from Dave Bargar at JetBlue, who said “We are a customer service business, we just happen to fly airplanes.” Thom helped us see that this translates to the public sector. “Smart government” consists of organizations that think of themselves as “a customer service business first, we just happen to…{fill in the blank with your mission}.” That’s step 1. Step 2 is getting the public to share that vision for your organization.

The best example of this type of public understanding is a story that was told to me by my friend Cindy. Cindy and her husband Ryan have a 2-year-old daughter Mallory.  They live a few blocks from the closest elementary school, where Mallory will attend kindergarten in a few years. While walking the path to the school, Cindy and Ryan discovered that there was a part of the street that didn’t have a sidewalk. The shoulder of the road transitioned directly into the grass. Cindy and Ryan found this concerning, as they didn’t want Mallory walking so close to the road. They were also worried about distracted drivers coming too close to the grass. Instead of complaining, finding a different route, or moving, Cindy and Ryan took action by engaging with their local government.

The city and county in which they lived both had well-organized websites that made it easy to find local resources and contact information for those responsible for issues of this nature. They were able to contact various city officials by phone and email. They attended relevant public meetings, which were also listed on the website. They were able to schedule a walk around their neighborhood with a county official, as well as a traffic monitoring session with someone from public works.

After all of their efforts to engage local government through various channels, the city inevitably put in a rumble strip, a road safety feature that alerts inattentive drivers to potential danger by causing a vibration throughout the car.  A sidewalk is also slated in the coming years. One small step for Cindy and Ryan. One giant step for the future of their community.

I think we need more people like Cindy and Ryan, who know that government isn’t a monolithic entity, but a collective group of people who also have families, who care about their neighborhoods and who they can engage with to get the help and service they need. However, convincing the public that your organization can be valuable resource to help in these types of situations can be an uphill battle. So, it may be up to your organization to start the conversation.

The great news? Government organizations can help motivate citizens to shift their mentality and take action, ultimately increasing their satisfaction. Digital communication channels are the perfect outlet to take the first step towards stimulating conversation and building a relationship, and I’ve seen a few great examples of this come through my inbox lately.

Wellesley Police Department Notice

The Wellesley Police Department takes a proactive approach to fixing street lighting to ensure safety for trick-or-treaters on Halloween. They hit the nail on the head when the say “the WMLP can only repair the lights they know about.”  They also do a great job of providing various points of contact for reporting street light outages.

City of Raleigh Update

This example from the City of Raleigh, North Carolina does a great job of getting citizens involved. They explain the background and plans for their projects and invite residents to come and provide feedback or concerns. This communication lets citizens know that the city values their feedback and encourages a two-way conversation about these types of projects moving forward.

Petitions Website - The White House

At the Federal level, petitions.whitehouse.gov gives the public an opportunity to petition the current administration to take action on a range of important issues. Citizens can search current petitions or create new ones. This website was created to be a direct channel to connect with government, because they wanted to hear from everyone. If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.

The more government takes action to show they value and encourage feedback from citizens in order to improve the services they deliver, the more likely it is that we’ll move the needle on the public’s perception of government. The next Cindy and Ryan might be right around the corner!


Last week, Kristy Fifelski, known as “GovGirl”, shared tips and tools for government organizations looking to take their social media efforts to the next level in a GovDelivery-sponsored webinar titled “You’re On Social Media…Now What?”. The upbeat presentation provided useful ideas beyond the simple how-to’s of setting up a social media presence, offering actionable tactics for government organizations looking to expand social media efforts to reach new audiences, better connect with existing audiences, and create real value through content that citizens care about.

Key takeaways for the audience included ways to engage citizens to get views, likes and comments, how to respond to negative users and downbeat comments, and tips for successful ongoing management of government social media. For those unable to join us for the event, here is a countdown of the top eight ways government can give their social media presence a boost.

8 ) Review social media policies. It is never too late to draft your organization’s social media policy, and if you have previously created one, it is a good idea to update your policy to help clarify best practices in using new or updated social media tools. Be sure the policy identifies who is authorized to post and when they should be posting information. Clear up any vague terms around who is authorized and responsible for creating content and how they should identify themselves on social media platforms, including on their own accounts. Do not forget about staff and elected officials that represent your agency. Those that feel comfortable with social media may not be aware of the need to align their social media presence with your agency’s online image. Within your policy, clear terms can help protect your agency, inform users of your social media channels about acceptable use, and invoke your ethics policy within your social media policy.

7) Repeat and reinforce staff training. Sit down with your staff and review training beyond basic procedures and be sure to include elected officials. Employees will need a regular review of best practices – train early, and train often. Teach employees how to engage using social media beyond using automated tools. Relying on automation to deploy content can alienate citizens and make your content boring. Having a “conversation quality” to your tweets and posts encourages your audience to interact and add to the dialogue. You can create this quality by directing employees to create custom content and reply to users that get involved in the conversation.

regulations.gov tweets

Automated social media results in repetitive, unrelatable content



Staff-generated content invites citizens into the conversation


6) Expand to new channels. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, have you thought about Google+, Quora or Pinterest? Google+ is relatively new but is quickly becoming a more viable tool for engaging with a new and expanding audience with the addition of brand pages. Quora is a social question-and-answer tool that can allow your organization to pose questions and receive answers from citizens. The answers can be ranked and voted up or down, allowing your agency to “crowd source” solutions. You may not connect with the bulk of your constituents, but it can be an interesting way to get a new perspective on the public’s viewpoint. Pinterest is a visual social tool that allows users to share images that interest them, which can be useful for your organization if you have a highly visual story to tell.

5) Integrate – EVERYWHERE! Include icons and links to your social platforms on organization websites, emails and digital communications. Twitter provides tools that allow you to share your Twitter account and feeds right on your website and even allows you to set up widgets for others to use and share your feeds on their websites and blogs.

multi-tweet visual

How the State of California integrates multiple Twitter feeds on its website

Include links to all of your accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn – and cross-reference each of these platforms across your multiple accounts. For example, write about your Facebook on your Twitter, and write about your Twitter on your LinkedIn page. Encourage visitors to “like” related agencies and their social media accounts, too!

social media cross-links

Include cross-links to social media accounts across your website

4) Incorporate mainstream references. Including things that citizens enjoy, relate to and are paying attention to will enhance citizen connection and interaction with government social media. Tying pop culture references like movies and TV shows to your content can direct new users to your content in an entertaining way. The CDC blog used the popularity of zombies to promote disaster preparedness awareness, and received so much attention that the website crashed!

3) Solve real problems that people are frustrated about. The so-called “Negative Nelly” draws attention to a problem that they feel is being ignored. Your social media response creates an opportunity to personally addressing citizen frustrations, change perception on public administration and public service, and create a real return on investment in government social media efforts. For example, a tweet from a citizen frustrated about construction affecting their family business exposes an opportunity to form a win-win plan to redirect traffic to their establishment. Use your social media platforms to acknowledge the information you receive from citizens and follow up when you investigate the issue. Residents will be surprised when you are actually able to solve their problem and may even share the good experience with your agency over the same social media channel they used for the initial complaint!

City of Reno Twitter feed

City of Reno Uses Twitter to Respond to Real Citizen Concerns

2) Plan for emergencies. Social media is incredibly important in emergency situations because it offers an outlet for real-time, instant communication with the public. Develop and document a social media approach in case of emergencies, and practice the procedure before a real emergency happens. Government webmasters and managers in charge of social media channels should have a seat in Emergency Operation Centers to integrate communication efforts with other government functions and be a direct part of the response effort. Government-run social media can broadcast corrections to misinformation, create an official hashtag to distinguish information on the emergency situation, and respond to social media users sharing out-of-date information.

1) Celebrate success! Management and officials need to be informed and understand the value of social media. Demonstrate real problems you have solved using social media (see tip #3) and how social media has positively affected the public’s perception of your department, no matter how small the success. Forwarding positive feedback to department heads or individuals in charge of department-wide communication is a great way to share the impact of social media interactions. Help public officials see that allocating resources to social media is a good decision and creates real solutions in the community.

If you have enjoyed these tips and want to find out more, check out Kristy’s website for more information. If you’d like to be notified of upcoming GovDelivery events or webinars, let us know at info@govdelivery.com. Also, you can view the webinar recording online and download the slide deck from Kristy’s presentation on SlideShare.

Have you applied any of these strategies to enhance your organization’s social media presence? What will be your next step to further leverage your social media efforts? Let us know what you think or celebrate your most recent social media success in the comments!


By John Simpson, Federal Consultant

It’s a given that social media and its wide reach with the public has revolutionized how organizations and companies interact with their stakeholders. Communicating to citizens through channels like Facebook and Twitter allows for a free, easy and more direct connection. Much of the government has embraced social media, working to integrate their communication efforts with these new tools to better reach the public. However, outreach through social media cannot stop with the simple re-posting of press releases or resting on the laurels of a large number of “followers.” As budgets shrink and offices are forced to justify initiatives, wasting or ignoring that opportunity to engage with your audience on a personal level is not an option.

An organization needs to know its community. Why are these people signing up to read your posts and tweets in the first place? Likely it isn’t for only site updates or press releases. Your organization provides a basic service they need to know about, research information related to their major, or resources to help build up their small business. When you send out newsletters, you work to craft articles or emails to a certain group of stakeholders. It should be the same for your tweets and posts. The attention span of someone surfing their Twitter feed through a smart phone won’t have time for an ill-targeted or uninteresting tweet.suggestion box

Once you understand the needs of your followers, solicit their feedback or comments. Posting general information about upcoming programs, events or blog entries is important, but social media was built as a tool of engagement. Ask for their advice on how to improve a program or how to better serve a need. Take questions on an upcoming tax deadline, inquire what they spent their tax return on or pose trivia questions on national forests. Build relationships with your followers so that they are actually looking for your next post instead of dismissing it after a quick glance. Stakeholder feedback is an invaluable resource for any organization and social media makes it easier than ever to solicit. Some public organizations fear that asking for feedback can only lead down a dark road of criticism and unregulated commentary. Sometimes your biggest critic can turn into your best resource. The Department of Veterans Affairs went so far as hired one of its sharpest critics to become a blogger on their site.

fist bumpOutreach is a two-way street. Your followers may communicate to you questions or concerns around a recent initiative. Just like the private sector, customer service is crucial to any successful company. You should respond completely, accurately and turn that inquiry into a real connection. If someone tweets your profile a question or places a question on your Facebook page, that is a sign that some of your audience is actually invested in what you’re posting. When Japan was scrambling in mid-2011 to handle the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant, some U.S. west coast residents were concerned if any possible fallout could affect them. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) posted clarifying content and fielded questions on both Twitter and Facebook to answer the questions of concerned citizens and calm those who weren’t necessarily looking for press releases.

Luckily, any public organization looking to expand into social media doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. An agency can look to the work of other government offices to see what they’re doing to be successful. A nonprofit group, Expert Labs, has created a dashboard measuring the success of federal agencies based on their public engagement on Twitter. Although not a complete picture of an agency’s digital interaction with their stakeholders, the rankings of organizations and offices gives a view of who is regularly asking questions and receiving answers back on Twitter. This dashboard also illustrates that you don’t necessarily need a staggering amount of Followers to effectively communicate to the public. NASA is often listed as one of the most engaging agencies.

Interactions through social media must not be a second thought nor “might as well” automation. Like any communications strategy, there must be an endgame and a method for measuring success. Having 20,000 followers who aren’t truly invested in the information you’re posting means you’re wasting both your resources and your time. Doing something just for the sake of doing it is always a poor plan. Only when you actively interact with your subscribers will you turn Twitter followers into an engaged community.

By Lauren Modeen, Digital Strategist, GovDelivery Professional Services

Regardless of whether you are representing yourself, an agency, a company, a non-profit, or a campaign online, you will most likely encounter negative digital feedback. While you cannot control what the world puts in front of you, you can control how you respond. In fact, how you do so might say more about your character than when you are just humming along. Below are some examples and tips for Facebook and Twitter, but they also apply to other social media networks:


1. When you read content directed at you that immediately raises your inner flag (i.e. it is negative), simply re-read it. Avoid jumping to unnecessary conclusions too early. 

Twitter screen 2. After you read it the second time, if it is in fact, negative, or unproductively critical, take a deep breath, step away from it for a few minutes, and then respond. No impulsive, angry thrashing out! Keep your cool.

3. If the person appears to be legitimate (see point C below), calmly analyze the tweet and respond in a constructive, non-threatening manner. If the person continues to engage (as long as it is not profane or otherwise abusive), continue to briefly interact with them until they give up.

Posts to block:

A. Those containing profane language

B. Those attacking anyone personally

C. Those that appear to be a spam account (can usually tell by the content of their tweets, 0 or < 10 followers, no profile image)

D. Anything else that appears to be completely inappropriate


Follow the same three steps as above.  Also, consider adding a Facebook policy to your page. Here is an example:

Sample Member Conduct Policy

[Name of organization] on Facebook is moderated. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, [Name of organization] expects that participants will treat each other with respect. [Name of organization] on Facebook will not post comments that contain vulgar or abusive language; personal attacks of any kind; or offensive terms that target specific ethnic or racial groups. [Name of organization] on Facebook will not post comments that are spam, are clearly “off topic” or that promote services or products. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also be subject to review.

Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other nongovernmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using [Name of organization] on Facebook.

Here is a summary of the guidelines we abide by:

The use of vulgar, offensive, threatening or harassing language is prohibited. Public comments should be limited to comments related to the topic.  [Name of organization] on Facebook is not the proper place to express opinions or beliefs not directly related to that topic. 

[Name of organization] on Facebook is not open to comments promoting or opposing any person campaigning for election to a political office or promoting or opposing any ballot proposition. [Name of organization] on Facebook is not open to the promotion or advertisement of a business or commercial transaction.

Have you dealt with negative feedback on Facebook or Twitter? How about in comments on your organization’s blog? How do you deal with this?

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