4.0 Social Media Guidelines

PSG Number: GM-14-005  
Topical Area: Web Design and Development
Issue Date: 11/1/2013
Effective Date: 11/1/2013
Updated: 10/5/2015
Document Type: Guideline; Published (approved by Web Standards Group and GTA)
POC for Changes: Georgia.gov Interactive
Synopsis:  Social Media Guidelines for State of Georgia Agencies

4.0.0 Introduction

Social Media integrates technology, social interaction, and content creation using the "wisdom of crowds" to collaboratively connect online information. Through social media, people or groups can create, organize, edit, comment on, combine, and share content (as told by DigitalGov.gov).

The first question many government agencies ask is: should government use social media outlets? Our position is a resounding Yes. Your constituents are already using social media, and they’re already talking about you (whether in a positive or a negative way). By engaging in the same social media platforms as your constituents, you can make sure you’re hearing their feedback, and you can also help to shape the public perception of your agency and guide the conversation.

4.0.1 Why Should Government use Social Media?

  • Puts a human face on government that allows you to provide real-time customer service.
  • Helps build interactive communication & community.
  • Allows you to listen to your audience - capture the pulse of public sentiment, get real-time feedback and “instant polling” from constituents - and thereby increase your effectiveness.
  • Increases awareness of your agency, its programs, and its impact
  • Allows you to monitor and influence messaging about your agency and programs
  • Reaches your audience where they are - rather than expecting them to come to you.
  • Expands your reach to new and diverse audiences that wouldn’t typically visit your website.
  • Provides opportunities for viral engagement - your audience can help share your message.

4.0.2 Types of Social Media

Many types of services are categorized as Social Media. For the purposes of these guidelines, we will focus on the following:

  • Blogs (e.g. WordPress)
  • Social Networks (e.g. Facebook)
  • Microblogs (e.g. Twitter)
  • Video Sharing (e.g. YouTube)
  • Photo Sharing (e.g. Flickr)
  • Social Bookmarking (e.g. Pinterest)

4.0.3 Strategies for Social Media

In order for your agency to be effective when it launches a social media effort, it is important to consider your agency goals and priorities, research social platforms, write a social strategy, and plan for continued use of the platform. Social media platforms are not “set it and forget it” systems- they require interaction and frequent updates. They are not effective if they are not used regularly.

Before you delve into social media research, assign a point person or a small group within your agency to answer these questions:

  • What are my agency’s strategic goals and communications priorities?
  • How will social platforms support those goals and priorities?
  • Who is my audience?
  • What is my purpose as I engage that audience on a social platform?
  • Given those goals, priorities and audience, is social media right for my agency right now?

If you determine that engaging social media is right for your agency:

  • Coordinate with other department and division staff (e.g. legal, human resources) to cultivate champions across your agency and avoid future conflict.
  • Inquire about department and division initiatives and brainstorm which social media outlets will best support those.
  • Research and identify which social media outlets you can leverage to best promote your agency as a whole.
  • Write your social media strategy. How do you intend to move forward with the social platforms you’ve chosen? What restrictions will you set?
  • Assign a point person or a small group within your agency to be Social Media Managers in charge of monitoring, managing and updating content on each social platform.
  • Collaborate with your Human Resources department to write an employee social media policy. How should employees behave on platforms when they’re representing the agency? Will you set any restrictions on what employees can say about the agency on their personal accounts? Make sure your Social Media Managers understand and accept that policy.
  • Be sure your Social Media Managers understand what is expected for each social outlet:
    • How often should each outlet be updated?
    • What tone of voice should they use?
    • What topics are relevant to your mission; which topics should be avoided?
    • What comments are considered “appropriate” (even if they are negative), and which will be considered spam or inappropriate comments that should be removed?
  • Set goals for user response, “Likes” or “Follows,” etc.
    • Do you have incentives to encourage others to share, “Follow,” or “Like” your content?
    • What are other ways that you can get the word out about your social media page and encourage interaction?
  • Plan for sustainable social campaigns on the platforms you’ve chosen.
    • Are you resourced to maintain all platforms going forward?
    • If you’re not sufficiently resourced, which platforms should you launch now and which should you launch only at a later date?
    • What happens when a primary or secondary Social Media Manager leaves your agency?

Are You Ready?

If, after careful analysis and planning, you find that your agency does not have the resources to maintain an active social media strategy, it would be wise to wait until you are better prepared.  

4.0.4 Policy: Responsibilities and Approved Topics

Remember that people put a lot of trust in content that comes from government entities and consider that content to be authoritative. Any information you post on your agency’s social media outlets should meet the same standards of authority as those for your .gov website.

You should also include lists of approved and prohibited topics for Social Media Managers representing your agency. These will fall in line with standard codes of conduct for agency representatives. Topics to address in your agency’s social media policy may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Agency representatives should not endorse any commercial products, services, or entities, nor should they endorse political parties or groups within the realm of your agency’s social media outlets.
  • Which parties will your agency “Like” or “Follow” in these settings? For example, will you have a policy that your agency should only follow other agencies and programs, but not other individuals?
  • What 3rd party programs, if any, will your agency endorse? For example, will you endorse events or programs by certain related non-profits, other state agencies, or federal agencies?
  • Avoid the appearance of political leanings in your agency’s social media interactions. For more on this, refer to:
  • Write a localized Terms of Use (TOU) for your social platforms, and review those Terms of Use with legal counsel. Be clear and specific, while building in some elasticity to cover unexpected cases.
  • Plan for mistakes. For example, what happens if a Social Media Manager accidentally posts to the agency account, rather than to a personal account?
  • Assign point people who should be in charge of responding to different types of interactions, e.g. when should legal counsel be involved in a response?
  • Keep on hand an approved list of Social Media Managers and plan to change social account passwords when managers leave.

4.0.5 Tone

Social Media Managers should be well versed in their expected level of engagement with any social media platforms your agency participates in. Create a list of expectations for the role, particularly with regard to the tone of these social engagements.

Whether you adopt a friendly, quirky tone or a formal, informative one, we’d recommend the following:

  • Be as authentic and transparent as possible.
  • Admit that you make mistakes from time to time.                                                         
  • Encourage and respond to comments and questions.
  • Ask for social community feedback via surveys and use that feedback to refine your social strategy.
  • Embrace and acknowledge both positive and negative feedback from your community.
  • Make suggestions to leadership that can help you provide better customer services to citizens.

It is also important to embrace straightforward language and avoid agency jargon. For more on plain language, see section 3.1.1 of the Editorial Guidelines.

4.0.6 Authenticity

It is important to establish your social media pages as your official voice, and not that of a third party pretending to represent your agency.

  • Specify in your social media profile or description that this is the official page of your agency, as spoofers are often wary of claiming that authenticity.
  • Use your officially recognized logo as your profile picture.
  • Link to your social media outlets from your .gov website, and link back to your agency website from your social media outlet as a simple way to prove this authenticity.  
  • When possible, seek verification from the social platform itself.

4.0.7 Security

One factor to consider with any sort of online platform is the importance of security, to prevent hackers from hijacking your account and, by extension, your message.

Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Review the State of Georgia Password Security standards (PDF) before you create your social media accounts and passwords.
  • Ensure that your agency’s IT or Communications department has a master list of all Social Media Managers and account passwords.
  • Consider, if appropriate, adopting two-step verification for your social platforms. Many two-step verifications require that you type in not only your password but also a special code you’ll receive by e-mail or text message.

For more on security and risk management in regard to Social Media, please refer to the GTA guidelines on Social Media in IT Management (PDF).

4.0.8 References