Three Mistakes Agencies Often Make on Social Media

Social media has completely changed the way we communicate and share information. It provides a unique opportunity for government agencies to improve communications, policy and operations. However, before social media is integrated fully within your agency, you must be aware of three very common potential roadblocks.

First, make sure your upper-management team believes in social media.  Without the support of management from your agency, your efforts are dead on arrival (DOA).  This occurs because, despite common misperceptions, social media is not free. The platforms used to create the media may be, but it takes time and resources to create and market your content. Without senior leader buy-in, it will be difficult to make adequate time for social media creation, outreach, and engagement.

Before you get approval from management, you must realize that social media is not a panacea for all of your agency's problems. It is a useful tool for accomplishing your goals and you must manage the expectations of those around you for the success of a social media program by conveying this message as you seek programmatic support.  Federal executives and managers can read through the BS, so you need to clearly identify the opportunity realistically.

Second, if you’re jumping into social media because everyone else is doing it, please step away: Social media is a long-term commitment and not a gimmick. While it is exciting and instantly gratifying to setup a Facebook fan page or Twitter account and quickly see growth on both, a strategy must be in place in order to know what you want to do with these accounts, how to handle situations as they arise, who is doing the outreach, and how success will be evaluated. While social media experts are born out of experience, not academia, being too pioneering in your approach can quickly land you in a place from which it may be difficult to recover. The Twitter landscape is paved with dead accounts from the poor souls who were well-intentioned but did not have an adequate strategy or the resources to continuously put effort into managing the account. As a result, like a beat up '71 Chevy, these accounts are often abandoned and left to litter the social media superhighway.

Third, before committing to social media, you need to have a reason for using it. While simplistic and perhaps insulting to some, this is the number one reason social media efforts fail -- they simply lacked a clear goal. No one would dare send troops to the field without a mission, but many agencies allocate resources to social media campaigns without a clear rationale for doing so.

Before embarking on social media, you need to answer a few easy, but mission critical questions:

1) What problem am I trying to solve? What are my goals?

2) Why is social media the right solution for that problem?

3) What type of social media should I use to address this problem?

4) Will doing this support the mission of my organization?

Start with the question “What are my goals,” NOT “I want to build a social media presence.”  If you develop clear goals and realistic expectations you can avoid wasting time, energy, political backlash, social media fatigue, missed opportunities, and public relations debacles.

Just remember, even if your goals are clearly thought through, when you sell the concept of social media you must be an honest broker in identifying the advantages and disadvantages of using social media. This will allow your agency leadership to make an informed decision and avoid feeling like a social media lemming.


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