Digital President: How the Government is Using Social Media

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If you were one of the most talked about figures in the media, how would you make a major announcement? An exclusive in the New York Times? An interview with Katie Couric? If you are U.S. President Barack Obama, you may forgo all those options and choose to be in total control of the message, announcing it yourself using digital and social media methods.

Similar to announcing his plans to run for president in 2008, President Obama announced his plans to seek re-election in the 2012 presidential campaign through a largely digital program. Knowing that many of his supporters are online, active on Facebook, and general consumers of digital media, the announcement consisted of an email and text message sent to existing supporters, a post on Facebook and a YouTube video – posted simultaneously. The news spread virally and within minutes created more buzz than any traditional campaign may have created in one day. And by making the announcement via social platforms, Obama’s campaign was able to stay in control of the message while still receiving coverage in mainstream media. The announcement even received coverage on social media outlets like Mashable, which reaches a younger, tech-savvy audience – a key demographic for Obama. By creating collateral like the campaign video, outlets had multi-media components to use in coverage, increasing exposure to Obama’s message.

So how can government agencies and companies supporting government agencies leverage Facebook and other digital and social media tools to their benefit? Below are three things to take into account when using social media in government:

  • Make it accessible: First, and perhaps most importantly – make sure social media platforms are actually available for employees to use. Many government agencies block social networking sites for employees, citing concerns about productivity and confidential information. The U.S. Department of Defense is a great example of a highly regulated agency that embraced social media, completely reversing a three-year policy banning the use of social platforms. In fact, the DoD launched a Social Media Hub to share news and insight responsibly and effectively for both official and unofficial business.

  • Get to the point: In terms of content, consider your end goal – what is it you want to inspire followers to do? Make sure the content has a call to action (donate, share, etc.) that incites a reaction in followers. That said, some news or announcements coming from government bodies is difficult in terms of readability, so be sure to take in to account how well your end-reader will understand the content. Make your shareable content as direct and to-the-point as possible – users are much less likely to share content they don’t understand.
  • Inspire trust: Be clear about your organization’s mission and purpose for being active on social networking sites, and be transparent about who is running the show. The go.USA.gov URL shortener is available for use by government agencies, and is a great way to back up the credibility of your content.