Why government social media professionals are upset about an article

As the founder of the only professional association for government social media managers in the U.S., and an early-adopter of social media for city government circa 2008, I want to share my perspective on a conversation going on in our field – a perfect representation of the issues professionals in this industry face.

Many social media managers reached out to me recently for my thoughts on an article critical of local government use of social media. It was published on the newly relaunched Governing – a trade publication produced by e.Republic, the parent company of Government Technology magazine.

My long-running column on social media insights in government stopped running last month in Government Technology mag, who most likely tired of chasing me down to meet the deadline. If you flip to my old spot on the last page in the January 2020 GovTech issue, you’ll find an ad for the new Governing.

GovTech has always been supportive of our community, so it was surprising for me to see that this was the second of two recent Governing articles that appeared disconnected from social media use in government. Governing noted they were contributed pieces, the most recent labeled ‘Opinion’.

While this latest piece came out in the middle of some other events that took my attention over the weekend, I also wanted to take some time to reflect on how this affects my field and our community.

My perspective

We may have simply chalked up the article to a consultant’s out-of-touch opinion, but what really concerns us is that the author names specific government agencies for “being guilty of” doing something wrong.

What were these agencies guilty of (his words, not mine)? Apparently, failing to meet the author’s definition of community-building in social media posts.

The thing is, while storytelling that incorporates your community is a sound tactic – even the most skilled and trained social media manager is judicious about when to apply it in their strategy. It’s not a practical application of storytelling technique to use it in every necessary or routine announcement.

The author’s summation that “Clearly there is a lot of room for improvement for local governments” is based on a naive assertion of what community-building on social looks like, which is frustrating for our community.

Is it OK to talk about mistakes?

I’m not suggesting that we wear rose-colored glasses and either see no missed opportunities in this space or create an environment where practitioners feel unwelcome in discussing them.

On the contrary, we do make mistakes, and we learn from them.

The #myNYPD hashtag fail incident has been mulled over for years, and it certainly hasn’t been a hands-off topic in the government social media community. Difference is, we’re actual practitioners in the field discussing the pitfalls, challenges and opportunities in what we do.

In fact, NYPD’s former social media director will discuss some of those hard lessons learned – and their transformational work toward building trust through social media – during our gathering of over 1,000 government social media professionals at the Government Social Media Conference in Seattle next month.

Where do we go from here?

I’m incredibly proud of our community for coming together, not only to respond to the article on social media, but to give their perspective on this difficult role. Being a social media professional is extremely hard and requires no small amount of patience, effort and training.

Government Social Media is working on a platform that will allow us to have a great home in the future for more relevant and meaningful conversations in our profession like this one.

social media managers at the GSMCON training event

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