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Social Media Management is Now a Full-Fledged Government Discipline


December 17, 2015  by  Josh Mahar
Category:  Social Media

Social Media Management is Now a Full-Fledged Government Discipline

The year 2015 was a milestone for government social media managers. In April, the first-ever Government Social Media Conference took place, drawing over 400 attendees down to Reno. Then, a few months later, government social media managers founded their own professional association, the Government Social Media Organization. In my view, these events signify the culmination of an important trend: the professionalization of social media management in government.

The experimentation that was going on in the early years of the discipline has now matured into a specialized set of skills, knowledge, and expertise that require real training. Additionally, organizations are also realizing how critical social media is becoming for communicating with the public. Very briefly, I want to highlight three reasons why I believe this trend of professionalization has taken place, and why it may be time for your organization to start taking social media more seriously.

1. It’s Hard to Get Noticed on Social Media

With people spending nearly two hours per day on social media channels (over 25% of all time spent online), social media has become what cable news was 20 or 30 years ago: the central medium by which people gather news and information about the world. At the same time, there are literally millions of users on social media, all of them competing for attention. This sets up the frustrating dichotomy of social media being a critical channel for public outreach, yet an incredibly challenging space to get noticed in. Assuming you can just “post it to Facebook” and people will see it, simply isn’t true.

To take advantage of the outreach opportunities of social media, governments have realized that they need someone who knows the game. Professional social media managers take the time to understand the nuances of the notoriously complicated algorithms used for display feeds, researching data to identify the perfect time and the ideal channels to garner the most exposure. They also understand the different messages and content types that will be most relevant to various niche networks and groups. Truly savvy professionals take it one step further by fostering relationships with social influencers, people who can help spread an organization’s message to a far larger demographic.

2. Social Media Requires Real-Time Dialogue

One of the more transformative things that social media has done is to democratize communication. Instead of the traditional model of using the media as a middle man for relaying information, governments are now connecting directly to their citizens. What’s more, the medium fosters and encourages two-way dialogue, setting up a high expectation that questions and comments from citizens will be responded to in minutes, not days or even hours.

Needless to say, monitoring citizen feedback on social media and providing responses can be a full-time job in and of itself. But the real skill, and where a professional social media individual can help most, is leveraging discussion to build exposure for an issue and inspire people to get involved offline as well. Bland, canned responses simply fall flat on social media; instead, people are looking for honesty and sincerity, real answers to spark real discussion. As untold social media blunders attest to, this can be a risky game, especially for social media neophytes. Thus, hiring a shrewd social media professional can help an organization stay on the right side of the appropriateness line, while still being interesting and engaging. 

3. Social Media Is the Future of Opinion Polling

What I consider the most game-changing, yet underutilized, aspect of social media, is the insights it can provide about public opinions on an issue. Community surveys, public meetings, and polling are all well and good, but they are extremely limited in scope, and are often quite costly. Used appropriately, social media can paint a much bigger, and much richer, picture of public sentiment regarding an issue.

But, like so many data analyses, utilizing social media in this way isn’t easy. It takes a deep awareness of the different groups, networks, and demographics on social media. It also takes time to develop the systems and processes that will allow an organization to “listen” to these various sub-communities and interpret their feedback appropriately. Forward-thinking organizations are realizing that investing in dedicated professionals, with the time and expertise to do this, is paying off through a much deeper awareness of community attitudes.

Now, all of this isn’t to scare you into thinking you have to have a full-time employee to manage your social accounts. But I do think these new realities mean that local government leaders need to start taking social media more seriously. The days when social media could be considered as an afterthought - a task pawned off on the newest intern – are over and done. The skills and knowledge to strategically leverage social media should be thought of as critical assets to your organization, and you should be proactive in cultivating this type of expertise within your organization.

Questions or comment about social media in government? Comment below or send me an email directly at jmahar@mrsc.org.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Josh Mahar

Josh served as a Communications and Outreach Coordinator for MRSC and wrote about social media, government performance, and other local government topics. He no longer works for MRSC.

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