Social Media and Government Outreach

Elizabeth Leif, Research and Business Analyst
Grays Peak Strategies

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Social media has become a part of most people’s everyday life. We use it to connect with friends and family, to listen to music and other entertainment, to get news and opinion and increasingly to interact with government agencies and other organizations. While there may not be much argument to the claim that our government officials would be better off refraining from late night tweets, and yes, I’m referring to the #covfefe incident and the like, there are many benefits to public sector use of Social Media. In particular, social service organizations and courts provide some excellent examples of this. Our current population is not going to look up how to navigate the court system or the social services systems in the phone book. They are looking up information on their mobile devices and they are looking for help and information on social media channels. Having a presence on Social Media (hopefully a well thought out and deliberate presence) helps these agencies provide better services to those in need, and forge a better and more effective communication link with the public at large.

Social media has become a commonplace utility for connecting people. Through using social media, organizations and officials can appeal to people who choose to seek out their service, or movement.  Government officials who are active and accessible via social media give a perception of being more approachable in real life to their constituents than an official who is not seen on social media. Likewise, organizations that have a social media presence are more accessible to the citizens they serve. Social media can connect people and needed services, advertise community events and provide education. Like many other communication methods social media can be used irresponsibly. There must be strategy behind posts. When you allow irresponsible use such as personal attacks on other officials, too many posts, and being too formal then posting could do more harm than good to the official’s image (Hellweg, 2011). Government agencies also must have a concise social media strategy that aligns with the overall mission of the organization and avoids alienation of citizens and partners.

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There are also examples of social media being employed to focus on a particular event and encourage support that might not otherwise be provided. For example, as natural disaster and tragedy strike, social media has provided platforms for sharing stories, fundraising for victims, and making donating convenient. It can also be used for very practical purposes such as when Colorado experienced a flood that closed one of metro district courthouses for a few days. The closure was tweeted out to ensure that people were not making a useless trek down to the courthouse. Another example of this, is the Alaska Child Support program announced a few weeks ago their Twitter feed that they are closed for Sewards Day.

The days of waiting for the newspaper or even the 6:00 news report is long gone as social media is like having every town crier at your fingertips. Within minutes of a major event occurring and being posted about, it will be shared and have been spread to the coasts and soon enough over-seas. A recent example on how heavily teens and young adults rely on social media to filter through their lives, especially life-altering events, is how the victims of the Florida Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting were taking Snapchat videos while it was happening. Perhaps it felt instinctive for them to take the Snapchat or that they wanted people to know what was really happening, imagine if our government leaders felt this way all the time? Would be much more transparency and understanding of policies and their reform for a lot of people?

Facebook is one of the older social media platforms and many would say it is on its way out with the younger generation. It was predicted in 2017 by eMarketer that 14.5 million users between 12-17 would still be active on Facebook, but this was already a 3.4% decline from 2016 (Guynn, 2017). The hypothesis is that these users would be leaving for Snapchat and Instagram; however, in the defense of Facebook, eMarketer stated that this was the first predicted decline in any age group. Twitter, like Facebook is older, and there seems to be mixed emotions about its effectiveness (especially with limited characters). Snapchat is one of the newest and most prevalent social media platforms currently.  

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Snapchat is a social media app that functions on pictures and video clips that last for a brief period, requiring the follower to view the story within 24 hours of it being posted. It requires that the followers stay current on events and gives them the sense of needing to be updated at least daily. In 2016, before the State of the Union Address, the White House joined Snapchat (Girardin, 2016). A smart move under Obama’s presidency as he truly appealed to the people from the beginning. However, the White House and other agencies do have to take special precautions when using social media platforms, especially one like Snapchat, as they must keep a record of everything posted according to the Federal Records Act. For a list of agencies using Snapchat, check out Girardin’s article at govloop.com, as cited in the references. What about child support agencies using Snapchat as a tool in pregnancy prevention messaging or for younger audiences who need services?

As well as being a flash news source, Snapchat also holds a younger audience. As of December 2016, approximately 60% of it’s users are under 25 (Dalton, 2016). While Snapchat has been around for a few years, agencies are just logging on and people believe it is the right tactic to engage young people in politics.

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Social media may not just be an optional outreach tool for elected officials, human service agencies and courts, we may have reached the point that it is a necessity. Public servants need to meet people in need where they are and provide outreach so that when services are needed they are accessible.

 

Contact us if you are interested in more information on how to develop social media strategy plans, policies, or manage social media channels.

References:

Dalton, K. (2016). Can Snapchat help government engage a younger audience? Government Technology. Retrieved from: http://www.govtech.com/govgirl/Can-Snapchat-Help-Government-Engage-a-Younger-Audience.html

Girardian, L. (2016). Snapchat for government: The basics. Govloop. Retrieved from: https://www.govloop.com/community/blog/snapchat-government-basics/

Guynn, J. (2017). Facebook may have a grown-up problem: Young people leaving for Snapchat and Instagram. USA Today. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2017/08/21/facebook-teens-tweens-instagram-snapchat/588406001/

Hellweg, A. (2011). Social media sites of politicians influence their perception by constituents. The Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 2(1). Retrieved from:  http://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/vol2no1/03hellweg.pdf