Social media and government go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly. Why? Because social media is a great place to communicate with constituents and launch campaigns. It also helps to build awareness around initiatives. It is also an essential tool for crisis communications.
Hootsuite works with all levels of government. We understand how social media has played a significant role as part of the communication strategies of politicians, government bodies, and legislators around the world.
Continue reading to learn how all levels of government from municipal to federal to provincial to federal can and should use social media.
Bonus Hootsuite’s annual report on government social-media trends. Find out how the top government agencies use social media. Also, find out our top five areas of opportunity.
Social media in government: Key benefits
Engage with the public
Social media is a great place to keep the public informed about important issues and engage on a deeper level with your audience, regardless of whether you are focusing on TikTok or Facebook.
@trafficservices #Inverted Original Sound – Toronto Police Traffic Unit
Toronto Police Traffic Service hosts regular AMA (ask anything) sessions on TikTok. Representatives answer questions about everything, from whether laborers can run red lights (no apparently!) The legality of after-market steering wheel.
Engaging with constituents and communicating with them will help build trust and credibility. However, you must not use social media to broadcast messages but instead engage with those who follow you. More on this later!
Nextdoor is an app that local governments use for organizing town halls, educating citizens on safety issues and engaging community groups.
Show people who you are
We will be honest with you: politicians don’t have the best reputation. Stereotypes of politicians as dishonest, greedy, or sleazy are common. However, social media can help to change perceptions and build a personal brand that is transparent.
Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional District, has made a tremendous impact via her Twitter account.
AOC has grown her following by being authentic and using photos to support her anecdotes. AOC’s authentic approach helped her increase her presence on the platform 600% in just seven months.
Source: The Guardian
Social media makes politicians more humane and makes them more accountable to the public. This can backfire if politicians post content that is considered socially unacceptable. This is your warning to anyone in charge of a government’s social media account (we’re looking at Anthony Weiner!)
Communication in crisis
In the last few years, there have been many crises across the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, as well as the January 6th rebellion and the occupation by Russian forces of Ukraine, are just a few examples of how decisions made outside of the control of the general public or those made by lawmakers have had an impact on the world.
People turn to social media when events such as those mentioned above happen to find and source information, keep up to date with the latest news and laugh at some memes.
People also look up to the government for leadership in difficult times. Therefore, it is natural that politicians, politicians and governments use social media to manage crisis communications and provide regular updates to citizens around the world.
On the other hand, social media and crisis can quickly become a place for misinformation. For example, nearly 50% of Americans saw fake news or a lot of it during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 70% also believe that fake news creates a lot of confusion.
Governments must invest in social listening to identify inaccuracies, and then respond accordingly. This is especially important as citizens will look to government social media accounts for accurate and objective information.
Don’t feel obliged to respond to every comment or post that you find in your social listening efforts. Some content may be too inaccurate to warrant a response. If you find many social media users spreading misinformation on the internet, please use official channels to correct the record.
Want more information? Learn How to Use Social Media For Crisis Communications and Emergency Management and get your organization on the right track.
Start and grow campaigns
Social media is more than a place where businesses can share their latest product launches or grow their business through engagement and community. Politicians know the power of virtual town halls to launch their own initiatives.
Social media is a great place to test campaign messaging. This strategy is low-stakes and you can get instant feedback from people all over the world. Social media can also be used to go viral, track what’s hot, and measure your relevancy.
Social media can be used by politicians to align themselves with trends and initiatives. In the following example, Elizabeth Warren, a US senator, explains to her audience her position on the US Roe vs. Wade situation.
Low cost, but high stakes
Donations are the backbone of political campaigns. Therefore, saving money is always a priority in government decision-making. To raise the profile of candidates, politicians and governments used traditional media long before social media. This was expensive and had a tremendous impact.
Social media, on the other hand, provides the government with a low-stakes way to increase awareness about their initiatives, build personal brands, and connect with the public. You can track how much you spend on campaigns and which social campaigns have the greatest impact.
For valuable tips and insights on measuring campaign success, read our guide How to Prove and Increase Your Social Media ROI.
Social media challenges in government
Messaging can be difficult to do right
South Dakota launched a campaign in 2014 to warn people not to jerk the steering wheel while swerving on blackice. The hashtag was chosen by the Department of Public Safety of South Dakota. The sexually suggestive double entendre, “Don’t Jerk or Drive.”
The campaign was ultimately pulled. Trevor Jones, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety, stated in a statement that “This is an important safety message. I don’t want the innuendo distract from our goal of saving lives on the roads.”
Social media and government communications do not always work out as planned. Sometimes even the best campaign idea can backfire.
Sometimes social is not the right thing to be doing.
Social media is where headlines are made, storms are created, opinions are shared, and opinions are shared. This can have a negative effect on delicate or sensitive political situations.
Brittney Griner, WNBA star, was arrested in Russia on February 20, 2022 on a drug-smuggling charge. However, there was little to no social media buzz, not even a #FreeBrittney trend.
Brittney’s case wasn’t made public due to political tensions between the US, Russia over the occupation of Ukraine. It is possible that Griner’s status of a Black, openly gay athlete could make her a political pawn in the intensified negotiations between Russia and America regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
Concerning Griner’s case, President Joe Biden and other high-profile US officials have not called to alert the public. Perhaps that’s the best thing for now.
You will be called out
Social media is a harsh reality. People will call you out for it.
Here’s an excellent example from Eric Swalwell, a congressman who tweeted a photo of a Pride Flag with the caption, “I fly these flags daily 365 days a Year.” Unfortunately, Swalwell’s followers pointed out that the flag had creases because it was unpacked just moments before. Better luck next time, Eric.
These flags are flown 365 days a calendar year. pic.twitter.com/MsI1uQzDZ0
— Rep. Eric Swalwell, @RepSwalwell, May 24, 2019,
You will be a meme
I remind you once again that social media allows you to become a meme.
(In case you didn’t see it, here is the Bernie Sanders meme that was viral on social media in early 2020.
The results of having your words or image made into a meme can often be quite harmless. Be careful, though, because the way they are used is beyond your control.
5 tips to use social media in government
There are two types: soapboxes or dinner parties. A soapbox social media account is focused on . They use social media to communicate messages and issues, but not engage with their audience.
A dinner party social media account invites guests in and encourages dialogue. They encourage interaction between the host (you) as well as the guests (your audience).
You should make sure that you have a dinner party account to use for social media and government communications. Here are five ways you can do that.
1. Find out where your audience hangsout
To avoid wasting time and resources, you need to know the channel your target audience is using so that you don’t waste their time.
If you are a politician trying to convince younger voters to vote, you will want to be on TikTok and Instagram Reels, as this is where Gen-Z typically spends most of their time. You can also focus your attention on Twitter if you want left-leaning men who have a college degree to go crazy.
Remember AOC, whom we talked about earlier? She hosted a Twitch video game stream in 2020 to reach younger viewers who might not be as familiar with politics.
Do you want to play Among Us on Twitch with me to win the vote? It looks like a lot fun, even though I’ve never tried it.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) October 19, 2020
Twitch marketing might not be right for every candidate. It’s up to you to decide if Twitch is the right place for you. To learn more about how to target your audience on social media, see How to Find and Target Your Audience on Social Media.
2. Share valuable, relevant content and information
Engage and build trust with your audience by sharing relevant and engaging content. This will increase their trust in you and make them more likely to turn to you for information and knowledge. This is what the NASA Instagram account does for its over 76 million followers.
The BC Parks Instagram account follows a similar Canadian trend and provides tips, information and insights to its audience about what’s happening in the province’s many parks.
3. Engage with your followers
What if you were to go to a dinner party and just sit there, not participating in the conversation? Social media is no exception. Replying to messages, participating in conversations and answering questions are all ways government officials, lawmakers, or accounts for government, should engage with their audiences.
Remember that social media is about building community. Ask questions, create opinion polls (Twitter’s great feature allows you to do this!) You never know what your response might do to change the mind of a voter.
You can also repost content from your constituents as an engagement tool. For example, the Government of New Jersey retweeted these photos of a beautiful sunset at Central New Jersey.
Beautiful #sunset tonight, Central Jersey @NJGov knows how to show its colors. #NJwx pic.twitter.com/rvqiuf8pRY
— John “PleaseForTheLoveOfGodFireLindyRuff” Napoli (@WeenieCrusher) May 17, 2022
Hootsuite is a tool that allows you to manage all your messages from one place. You won’t have to alt-tabbing between social media screens to respond to every comment.
This video will show you how it works.
Hootsuite is free to try You can cancel at any time.
4. Stay safe
A social media security breach can seriously undermine public confidence in government. To ensure your accounts are secure, the easiest way is to sign up for a social media management platform that can manage all your social media accounts.
Hootsuite includes two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of security. It allows you complete control over review and approval, log all interactions, and set up post review or approvals.
For more information, please read our step-by-step guide on social media security. This will give you more tips on how to safeguard your organization online, regardless of whether you use Hootsuite.
5. Stay compliant
Any government agency must be compliant with privacy regulations. Large organizations that have multiple social media professionals can benefit from establishing best practices in social media use to ensure compliance by all users.
To ensure compliance, organizations can use best practices to create guidelines for acceptable and prohibited content, data handling, citizen engagement and tone.
Hootsuite’s social media integrations with our partners make it easy for government and agency social managers to comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and other public records laws.
Recent years have seen dramatic shifts in public expectations regarding political and government discourse.
Innovative policymakers and staff are adapting quickly by creating engaging social content to rally support from followers while still remaining compliant and secure. It is essential that any government body embraces the new age of social media discourse if they want to capture and retain public sentiment and engage with citizens.
Examples of government social-media campaigns
The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was quite busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the government agency was able to create effective COVID-related messaging and campaigns on social media to keep the public informed.
Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources
Social media for government doesn’t need to be boring or dry — just ask the person who manages social accounts at Washington State Department of Natural Resources.
Their Twitter feed offers timely, relevant information in meme-friendly posts that go viral often.
Parents, please make sure your children have checked their candy this Halloween! I just discovered a megathrust earthquake of magnitude 9 in Cascadia that caused a tsunami inside this Snickers bar. pic.twitter.com/NJc3lTpWxQ
Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources (@waDNR), October 13, 2022
Their alt text game is also quite strong:
Via Washington State Dept. Twitter: Natural Resources
The US Food and Drug administration has the responsibility of determining whether a product or food is safe to be consumed by the public. It is important that their social media channels provide accurate information.
Here are some examples of how the FDA used social media to achieve this goal.
Folate is essential for lowering the chance of serious problems during pregnancy.
Learn how the Nutrition Facts label helps pregnant women make informed decisions about healthy eating habits. https://t.co/thsiMeoEfO #NWHW #FindYourHealth pic.twitter.com/eFGqduM0gy
— U.S. FDA (@US_FDA), May 12, 2022
Joe Biden, 46th President of United States, used social media to leverage momentum and gain momentum for his Build back Better campaign in 2020 and 2021.
Biden’s team leveraged the power of the # hashtag to create a catchy slogan, a measurable campaign and analyze the success and trends of this hashtag.
Our Build Back Better Agenda will help strengthen our economy by lowering taxes for the working and middle classes, as well as reducing the cost of child-care, housing, higher education, and other expenses.
We will grow our economy starting at the bottom and moving up to the middle.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 28, 2021
Hootsuite makes it easy to engage and inform on social media. You can manage all your social media accounts from one dashboard. You can also schedule and publish content to any network, monitor relevant conversations and measure public sentiment about programs and policies using real-time social listening. Get it today for free.
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