Social Networks and Government
What are Social Networks?
Social networking sites are platforms that connect people and allow them to engage.
The most popular sites, such as Facebook and MySpace, also have groups and listing features, which allow targeted organization of dialogue and sharing. Members can share comments, links, photos, videos, and more. A professional networking site, LinkedIn, offers sections for jobs, recommendations, and questions.
Social networking sites make it easy for members to connect with others who have similar interests or affiliations, and establish contact networks. Many tools such as photo-sharing (e.g., Instagram) or location-based services (e.g., FourSquare) now incorporate social networking features.
Government Use of Social Networks
Social networking sites can help your agency promote government information and services. Many government agencies now use tools like Facebook to bring people together around their agency's work and information. Social networks expand the government's outreach capabilities and improve our ability to interact with and serve the public.
Agencies use social networking sites such as LinkedIn to advertise jobs, or answer questions about job postings they've listed on the federal government's official jobs site USAjobs.gov.
Interagency and intergovernmental social networking sites can promote cooperation across government. Internal social networking sites can establish connections across traditionally stovepiped and geographically dispersed organizations. Employees could form groups on social networking sites to overcome stovepipes within organizations.
Examples of Government Social Networks
GSA's Center for Excellence in Digital Government maintains a Twitter account that shares up–to–the–minute new media guidance, training opportunities and best practices.
The EPA's Facebook page gives the agency a venue to provide updates, share photos, videos, and job listings, and engage the public in discussions.
The USAgov Facebook page launched in March 2008, delivering RSS feeds, videos, photos, and news and tips about government service.
The Library of Congress' Photostream in Flickr is a good example of posting the government's public domain photos on a social networking site where the public can comment on the photos.
Before you create a new social networking account for your agency, learn about federal-compatible Terms of Service (TOS) agreements and coordinate with the broader social networking efforts already happening at your agency. The public is better-served when agencies establish a few (or one) central, official, authoritative site/account, instead of many niche pages or accounts.
Some agencies have blocked use of social networking sites from government workplaces, citing concerns of proper use, bandwidth, and security. An agency–wide ban, without waivers, prevents web managers, communications professionals, and others in the organizations from using these tools to market programs and achieve the agency's mission. Contact your agency Web Director, New Media Director, or CIO, if you have questions or concerns about the use of social networking tools at your agency.
There is nothing to prevent government employees from participating on social networking sites as individuals, but you should clearly separate personal and work-related activities in the social networking arena.
Additional Resources on Social Networks