Government’s Approach to Social Media Could Work for You

The CIO Council of the federal government is out with a social media report. You might find aspects of it helpful for your own organization.

At the council’s website, Adam Hughes writes, “In government, Federal agencies are leveraging social media websites to engage customers, understand and address issues raised by the public, and advance operational missions. To assist agencies with leveraging these communication tools, the CIO Council has published a new guide: Privacy Best Practices for Social Media.”

He adds, “When used effectively, social media can be an incredibly powerful set of tools, precisely because they can connect agencies directly to diverse audiences and opinions. [The report] addresses ways the Federal Government can use social media for information sharing, situational awareness, and to support agency operations. The guide covers many privacy best practices for establishing a social media program, from pulling together an intra-agency team of experts, to establishing internal social media polices and ensuring transparency through the use of published privacy notices and documentation.”

Situational Awareness

Granted, government policies and private industry practices are going to differ. (Ideally the latter should have a lot less bureaucracy.) However, there are ideas worth stealing from the guide, including dealing with the use of social media for what the government calls situational awareness.

The U.S. Coast Guard offers this definition of situational awareness, “Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it’s knowing what is going on around you.”

Corporations would use it to be aware of rising negative sentiments (such as befalls airlines when a guitar is destroyed or mother left unattended). Often the company’s reply to a problem makes it worse. The government wisely recommends, “Uses of social media to enhance situational awareness should be approved by senior leadership of the agency/organization, including, but not limited to, privacy officials and legal counsel.”

In other words, your social media team may do a great job 99 percent of the time. But, sometimes it needs a little guidance before hitting the send button with what they perceive as an appropriate reply.

Understand Your Mission

This sounds like official government speak (because it is) but the government is also on with this advice. ” Before using social media for any purpose, whether the websites or applications are hosted by the agency or a third party, a federal agency should first understand its mission and how it seeks to use social media to further that mission. The agency should establish a social media policy or program, and engage key offices throughout the development and use of social media,”the report says.

Or, in layman’s terms, companies need to understand why they are using social media. Don’t jump on Twitter without knowing why you may or may not want to be sending out tweets.

Collecting Info

Companies would also do well to follow the government’s guidelines on how social media information is being collected. The CIO council says, “It is imperative that agencies are transparent about their use of social media to avoid concerns about over-collection of information or unauthorized surveillance of these websites, especially when an agency is using a third party hosted social media website.”

Once again, cutting through the bureaucratic speak, a CIO should encourage his organization to post its policies about the collection of information of users. A smart company will know who is talking about it but is that information archived? There’s no right or wrong answer but it’s important that consumers know what your policy is.

Shortened URLs

Another interesting issue raised by the report concerns sites that shorten URLs. They help immensely when using Twitter with its 140-character limit. But, as the CIO council points out, “Risks that federal agencies should address include the potential compromise of the shortened URL and redirecting of individuals to illegitimate websites, which could lead to the dissemination of misinformation about the agency, to cyber attacks … or to identity theft.” Who knew posed such risks?

Keith Griffin
Keith Griffin is an award-winning business writer and editor with more than 30 years experience as a journalist. His work has been published in The Boston Globe, Medical Economist, Good Housekeeping,, the Hartford Courant, CT Law Tribune and numerous other regional publications.