Federal pros rise to social media challenges

Friday - 1/28/2011, 11:08am EST

Part 1: Getting to Know You

Click below to hear the guests talk about what they've been working on and some of their biggest challenges so far.

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Part 2: New Here!

Click below to hear the FCC's Haley Van Dyck explain how new media serves the public while allowing the agency to be served at the same time.

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Part 3: Finding the Path to Transparency

Click below to hear a discussion about the role played by datasets and blogs in transparency

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Part 4: The Business Case and Justin Bieber

Click below to learn about the costs of using new media and how the agency's message may influence its following on Twitter

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Part 5: Surprises Along the Way

All three panelists were surprised by a lack of communication within government, from silos to the Hill

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Left to right, Jennifer Gustetic, Tom Temin, Amy Morris, Haley Van Dyck, and Sheila Campbell. January 28, 2011. (FederalNewsRadio photo)

By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

The federal government is no stranger to Facebook, Twitter, blogs and even photo-sharing sites like Flickr. More and more, agencies are using social media to get the word out and connect with citizens. But making sure those messages are effective takes skill. Using those tools effectively is the subject of the Federal News Radio Discussion: Shouting from the Rooftops.

Joining us for the discussion are:

  • Jennifer Gustetic, lead associate at Phase One Consulting Group.

  • Sheila Campbell, director of the GSA Center for Customer Service Excellence and Acting Director of the GSA Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement.

  • Haley Van Dyck, the Federal Communications Commission New Media Director of Citizen Engagement

Here are some of the topics, questions and excerpts from the responses of the panel:

Part 1: Getting to Know You

Gustetic said she's been working with agencies since Open Government directive "focusing more on open government as a whole and innovation tactics" for agencies like Transportation and HUD. Her focus, she said, has been less on the new media side and "more engaged in the high level planning piece of a lot of how to get the agencies to a more transparent, participatory and collaborate state, and so part of that involves the use of social media but it's a lot bigger than that." Her work has been to set up infrastructure, like the nuts and bolts and policies and procedures.

GSA, said Campbell, is "doing a number of things to help agencies achieve their mission through social media." One of the first things her office was asked to do was to help agencies come up with online dialogue tools so that the public could comment on Open Government plans. Instead of 24 different agencies developing their own tools, "it made so much more sense to find a common tools." As a result, the federal government realized a "huge cost savings" "the out of pocket expense for that was $10,000" and it would have cost a lot more otherwise. so that's an example of what gsa has done to help agencies find common solutions to their social media challenges.

Where GSA is going wide, Van Dyck said the FCC is going deep; especially in terms of a bench. In setting up the first new media dept at FCC, they have the largest new media team in the federal government. The work covers "not just communications, but do a lot of work focused on citizen engagement and participation, as well as data and transparency." At the same time, the office is redesigning FCC.gov, "affectionaly referred to as probably the worst website in the federal government. So it's a big challenge for us right now." Her team has been working on it for five months with 1.6 million pages on the site now. They're expecting a March launch of the redesign. She describes FCC's social media effort as "very much up and running" on over a dozen different sites, "and we like to brag about the third largest Twitter following in the federal government."

Campbell found that the biggest challenge of the job is overcoming cultural barriers and the notion that putting data online somehow puts the agency at risk. "Over a long long time, agencies have developed cultures where it's low risk, they resistant to change, or resistant to looking at opportunities to use these emerging technologies." Another barrier Campbell said is the other side of the coin. "I think the biggest mindset barrier that we have to overcome is people using the tools for the sake of using the tools." In order to make a business case to use social media within their agencies, Campbell advises "don't go into your supervisor's office and say 'Hey! We need a Facebook page' or 'Hey, we need to have a channel on YouTube.' It's what's the business problem that you're trying to solve." Figure out who is your audience and where they are on the web.

Gustetic agreed, saying these are just new tactics to drive performance. Ultimately, social media, prizes and competitions are new tactics for driving performance. "If they're not driving performance, then why are you using them."

Part 2: New Here!

In the second part of the Federal News Radio Discussion, Van Dyck talks about how social media serves the FCC's needs, pointing out the FCC is "in the communications business" but part of that is to listen to the public. New media, she said "is a way of making us more efficient at our jobs."