8 Ways for Government to Engage Citizens with Social Media

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!