Government Technology Center Publishes Study on Social Media Policy Best Practices


Policy Picture

Counties interested in building a social media network online but unsure of how to ensure it is properly used and maintained now have a new helpful guide. The Center for technology in Government recently released “Designing Social Media Policy for Government: Eight Essential Elements,” an analysis of 26 different government social media documents and interviews with 32 government officials and department heads from entities that are already using the tools.

“Many governments are struggling with what such a policy should encompass and convey,” states the report. “The process of adopting new tools and managing the related changes in work processes and policies is not easy for any type of organization. But governments at all levels are starting to put more and more effort into figuring out social media tools that involves exploring new ways of working and shifting communication patterns.”

According to the analysis, the eight essential elements include:

Employee Access — “The balance between unrestricted and controlled access remains a dilemma for many agencies,” the study states. Most agencies allow social media access to only a handful of employees whose jobs are related to social media, such as public information officers, though other agencies allow all employees access to specific pre-approved social media sites, such as YouTube.

Account Management — “The lack of a clearly defined policy on account management may result in a situation where agency leadership does not have a handle on what types of social media accounts are being established, maintained, or closed by their employees for professional or official use,” the report states. “Local government policies tend to be more explicit on account management as compared to state or federal policies.”

Acceptable Use — “As the use of social media in government grows over time, acceptable use policies may need to address the blurring boundaries around personal, professional and official use,” the report states, adding that some agencies clearly state that social media use at work should be for business purposes only, while other agencies ask that employees “think of themselves as on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week when it comes to social media use.” others define acceptable use on a case-by-case basis.

Employee Conduct — Many agencies rely on existing ethical code of conduct policies, but some went further to express “an expectation of ‘trust’ that employees will provide professional-level comments or content whether in their professional or personal lives,” the study found. “none of the policies reviewed directly address the consequences of inappropriate conduct on personal social media sites,” though researchers believed this was a hole that may best be filled. “outlining which aspects are simply recommendations for personal behavior and which ones are potential grounds for dismissal might be useful for employees and their managers.”

Content — This topic includes who is responsible for creating content, and policies ranged from allowing employees to write freely in agency blogs to having a single person responsible for content management and creation, but other issues related to content are as of yet uncovered. “The question of content management with respect to employees’ professional and personal use is left largely unexplored,” researchers found. “These professionals are more and more engaging in work-related group discussions on sites such as GovLoop of Linked in and leaving online comments in response to work-related topics on external blogs.” ten of the reviewed policies asked that employees include a standard disclaimer on comments that “distances the employee’s opinions and content from the official agency position.”

Security — This section can include “password security, functionality, authentication of identity using public key infrastructures and virus scans … (and) requiring users to maintain complex passwords.” Some policies directly reference behavioral security threats and scams, such as spear phishing and social engineering.

Legal Issues — These can include information on privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of information, public records management, public disclosure, accessibility and records retention; some policies require the use of standard disclaimers related to “public records, external links, endorsements, copyright, privacy and offensive behavior.”

Citizen Conduct — “Citizens are able to directly post audio, video and text to many social media sites. Agencies must decide whether to allow two-way communication, such as the use of comment boxes, and how to handle this engagement with citizens,” the report states. “For agencies that decide to elicit citizen feedback via their official agency social media sites, rules for acceptable conduct of citizens are often developed.”

The report also provided four pieces of advice on how to get started in drafting an individual social media policies. Researchers recommended sitting down to determine the goals and objectives an agency has with regard to their chosen social media tools. They also recommended bringing together a multi-functional team that includes communications, legal, technology and human resources experts to create the policy or guidelines. Additionally, they recommended that agencies look for existing policies that can be applied to use of social media tools and discuss any inconsistencies between newly proposed policies and existing procedures.

The study was the center’s second report related to it’s Exploratory Social Media Project; it published its first report, about benefits and concerns surrounding the use of social media in government, in December 2009.



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