How to Create a Successful Social Media Policy for Government


Millions of people communicate with each other through social media every day. Private citizens and businesses use social media platforms to share their news, photos, videos, advertisements and links.

If social media works so well in connecting people and businesses, won’t it do the same for governments? Absolutely. Governments are now finding that social media is opening new channels of communication with their local constituents. Not only can they get messages and announcements out faster and to a larger number of people, they can receive feedback easier too. People can voice their opinions, make suggestions and comment on their government faster and easier than ever before.

Using social media platforms is a great way for governments and citizens to engage with a wider, more diverse audience but it doesn’t come without risk. Of course all forms of communication carry some risks but it’s even more important to be cautious when using electronic devices and social media platforms. That’s why governments must create a successful a social media policy, a necessary tool to minimize the risks involved and ensure proper use of these great platforms.

What is a social media policy? 

The first step that governments must take before using social media is to develop a social media policy that assures responsible and effective use of social media by employees.

Through a study of existing policies, the Center for Technology in Government put together a guide to creating social media policies to help governments in the development process.

The results of their study showed that there are 8 core elements to a social media policy. They include employee access, account management, acceptable use, employee conduct, content, security, legal issues and citizen conduct.

Government agencies use social media policies to define their official position regarding use of social media by employees by describing what constitutes acceptable use and the correct process for accessing social media sites.

Why is having a social media policy important for governments?

Typically, government employees engage in three types social media use: agency use, professional use and personal use. The problem is that there tends to be an overlapping of these three types of usage. In other words, employees may spend time on personal or business social media sites while at work, on a government computer, or do official government work on a personal computer while at home. While the boundaries between the three types of use may seem straightforward when explained in writing, in practice they are not. Therefore, they are difficult to regulate without an official policy in place.

How do governments create a social media policy?

In order for a government to create a successful social media policy they should use those 8 core elements as their guidelines when drawing it up. Each of the elements covers a necessary section of the policy:

  • employee access defines whether or not employees are allowed to access social media sites while at work, as well as the official procedures for gaining access
  • account management determines the procedures for the creation, maintenance and dissolution of the social media sites used by the government concerned
  • acceptable use gives guidelines as to how employees are to use social media tools at work and includes time limitations, purpose of use and acceptable equipment (personal or government-owned computers, for example)
  • employee conduct defines the expected conduct while on social media sites and what constitutes a violation as well as what the consequences are
  • content explains the procedures and responsibilities for posting content, creation of the content and editorial requirements for the content
  • security procedures that are necessary for government data and infrastructure
  • legal issues to include legal considerations and requirements
  • citizen conduct describes managing citizen posted content

As an additional reference, The Institute for Local Government’s website has a very helpful list of links for sample social media policies that are sure to give more insight into how to create a successful social media policy for a government.

The Hard Truth You Need to Hear: Citizens Don’t Have Time For Your Meetings

The idea of a city council meeting is a fairly simple one; being open and transparent with your citizens. It’s a tradition in America that when government officials are discussing decisions that can affect their constituents, those constituents should be privy to the discussion. They should also have a chance to raise their voices, and be heard.

All of that sounds great, but there’s a problem. Most citizens do not have the time to show up to council meetings. Not because they aren’t interested, of course, but because we live fast-paced lives in the modern world. Even if citizens are very interested in the issues being discussed, they have jobs to go to, families to spend time with, and a thousand tasks filling every day. They can’t drop everything they’re doing just to show up to a city council meeting, much as they might wish they could.

The result is that, even if an issue is genuinely important to the public, the public largely won’t be able to show up. Fortunately, because we live in the age of the Internet, it’s possible to bring city council meetings into the 21st century. If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, and find solutions that will work.

Bring The Meeting To Them

Even if a meeting isn’t attended in-person, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it possible for people to watch the proceedings. Thanks to the proliferation of technology, it’s possible to broadcast a meeting over the Internet. Not only that, but opening a forum for public commentary can allow people who may not be able to attend to still voice their opinions on the proceedings. This allows you to make sure the public is aware of what’s happening, and to collect the views of the citizens, without expecting people to clear their schedules to be in the same room as council members.

It isn’t enough to simply make access possible, though. You need to make sure the citizens can easily find when meetings are being broadcast, and that they can find the archives of past meetings in case they need more context for what is happening. All of the relevant information regarding the current issue needs to be on-hand, and it all needs to be simple to find. Putting the information on the city government’s homepage, social media accounts, and other locations are all positive steps forward to ensure everyone can be as informed as possible about what’s happening.

Encourage Participation, And Listen To The Citizens

Government is often slow to adapt when it comes to the latest technology. However, with communication moving at the speed of light, and shrinking our world on a daily basis, there’s no reason not to embrace it as a solution to the gap between the government and the citizens. Especially when most of these solutions can be implemented for relatively little cost (if not for free).

You don’t want your meetings to be the proverbial tree falling in the forest, though. You need to make sure you publicize your activities, and reach out to the public so they know where to go, and when to watch, to find out about the issues that matter to them. Check the metrics, and see how many people are watching. Listen to the criticism that’s made, and try to adjust to better suit the needs of the public. Make your meetings a conversation between the council and the citizens, and those citizens will make the effort to get more involved. Even if they’re doing it from a mobile device, rather than from the third row of the meeting room.