Navigating the Shifting Landscape of Social Media
Government communicators are tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of sharing vital information with a broad range of audiences and in many methods, including on an abundance of social media platforms.
Unfortunately, the social media space has experienced some of the most significant disruptions this year with the acquisition and reimagining of Twitter (recently rebranded as X), the continuation of misinformation across all social media platforms, and the rapid rise and fall of Threads, Meta's answer to X/Twitter. In fact, the social media landscape has shifted so much this summer that I've had to rewrite portions of this story to keep up!
As government entities, how are we supposed to address such a moving target to match the industry and meet the expectations of our community members and constituents? While a lot has changed (especially for those of us who helped create our organization’s first Facebook page all the way back in 2010), there are still plenty of constants and approaches to consider while navigating this shifting landscape.
What’s the Big Deal Anyways?
Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has been an essential digital space for exchanging ideas and information almost instantly. It reshaped how and where we went for information. At its height, most people went to the platform to find out about an event — be it a natural disaster or other tragic incident — to get a first-hand account of what was happening in that moment. During the 2009 Iran elections and the Arab Spring of 2010, Twitter was a source of information in countries where the government either jammed or censored other traditional news sources.
Twitter also provided a space for regular people to interact with celebrities on a personal level — albeit digitally — and build their own popularity. Public entities, from municipalities to public safety organizations (even the Transportation Safety Administration!) have also garnered their own form of celebrity, humanizing their otherwise staunch and sometimes boring online presence, and then wielding that celebrity to convey important information. These organizations/agencies have relied on Twitter to share timely and concise information with the public and reporters, and losing that space can be costly, if not harmful.
With the change in ownership and vision of Twitter in 2022, the platform has entered a volatile time in its existence, and the only thing we can expect is more change. Its priorities have shifted so much that the platform is now losing users exponentially.
So...Should I Leave X/Twitter?
While it has changed, I am still posting to X/Twitter but avoid posting messages exclusively on that platform, and I encourage other local governments to take this time to audit your social media audiences and platforms. How would you describe your audience on X/Twitter, and have you seen a drop in followers over the past year? Are there other avenues you can use to reach that audience—such as a newsletter or a more localized platform like Nextdoor?
At the very least, I encourage you to contact your local reporters and editors to see if they're still using X/Twitter to gather news stories. If they have moved on, you’ll want to determine the best way to get your agency’s information to them, whether it’s on a different social media platform or via another method.
What About Keeping the Old Twitter Icon?
Overhauling the iconic blue bird Twitter icon to the 24th letter of the alphabet across all agency materials and channels will be challenging. If you've ever completed a logo or brand refresh, you know how tumultuous it can be to replace that pesky old logo in documents, forms and templates, websites, and links. Is that something you want to do, only to possibly have to replace it again in a few months — especially when that re-branding decision is being made by circumstances wholly outside of your control?
That's something you need to discuss with your team and weigh the options. That said, you can also gradually shift to using the term "X" for it to become more ubiquitous internally. A few ideas include writing it out as "X/Twitter" (as I have in this article) or even going the Prince route and calling it "X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter."
Colloquially, the platform may be known as Twitter for years to come, so consider that and adjust as needed.
Should I Join a New Social Media Platform Immediately?
"Are we on [insert new social media platform here]? Everyone is talking about it!"
I cannot count the number of times I've been asked this question by a boss, co-worker, or even strangers. This summer, communications professionals grappled with whether to join and be active on Meta's latest platform, Threads, which saw a record number of early users only to have them fall off almost as quickly. When a shiny object like a new platform comes around, ask yourself these questions.
Is it strategic?
Does the new platform help you accomplish your organization's communication goals? These might include increasing engagement, identifying and reaching out to new audiences, or creating and publishing specific content like videos or long-form blogs.
Is it authentic?
Does the new platform match your organization's voice? Different platforms give you the space to communicate in unique and fun ways, but does that form of communication match your organization's core values?
Is it sustainable for staff?
Platforms with short-form videos, like Instagram Reels and TikTok, outperform other channels, but creating that kind of content takes time and requires a specific set of skills. While capturing photos and videos well can be learned, it can also feel daunting for an employee whose career has only been tied to the written word. If that's the case, how willing is the employee to build up the skills needed?
Are the records produced retainable?
As MRSC notes on its Social Media Policies webpage, “Content posted to agency social media accounts is a public record,” so local governments need to maintain these accounts in accordance with state retention requirements. When moving to a platform, agencies will need to make sure that they have a safe and fool-proof way to archive content produced on that new platform.
How will you retain the records if it's not being captured by vendors like Archive Social? Consider contacting your city clerk or legal team for their thoughts and alternative ways to capture that information should you receive a public records request involving a post on your new platform.
While the social media landscape continues to feel uneasy, these platforms still offer a lot of benefits to local governments and should be included as part of a broad agency communications strategy. Agency staff tasked with updating social media during tumultuous times should trust their instincts and experience, and above all, remember to focus on the agency’s audience and their needs. When you do that, everything else falls into place.
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.