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2/17/2012
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Top 14 Government Social Media Initiatives

Government agencies are embracing social media, using Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms to inform and interact with the public. Take a look at the best examples of social networking in government.




Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced recently that New York City was launching social media streams on Facebook, Foursquare, Tumblr, and Twitter. "With these new channels, the city will be able to get New Yorkers the information they need in the way they want to get it," Bloomberg said.

It's the latest example of how local, state, and federal government agencies are using social media platforms and technologies to engage the public in a variety of ways, from providing information on government services to emergency response.

New York hired chief digital officer Rachel Sterne in January 2011 and has had a full-fledged social media strategy since last spring. Bloomberg's recent announcement coincided with Social Media Week, a series of events held around the world focused on government use of social media. Speakers included State Department policy advisor for innovation Ben Scott, White House new media director Macon Phillips, and others.

It's increasingly difficult to find a government that's not involved in social media in some form. Even the tiny town where I grew up, Sykesville, Md., has both a Twitter feed and Facebook page.

Governments are using social media for everything from handling 311 service requests to hosting real-time interviews with public officials to crowdsourcing ideas around public policies.

At the same time, federal officials at the Department of Homeland Security are monitoring the buzz on social channels for threats to national security, and the FBI is looking into similar capabilities. That has sparked privacy concerns in some quarters, underscoring that agencies' social media policies must take into account a range of potential issues associated with their use of these new tools.

Here are 14 social media initiatives that are among the best of the bunch in government, starting with New York City.

The New York City Mayor's Office's Twitter feed is just one of several dozen social media sites managed by different departments of the city government in New York, but it's one of the most active. The feed includes Tweets on city news, links to press conferences, responses to citizen questions about city policy, and more. It's also frequently re-Tweeted by other New York City government agencies.




Numerous cities are moving to online 311 platforms where citizens can report potholes or burned-out streetlamps. Most of those come in standalone sites or mobile apps, but some cities are beginning to move their 311 services to social media platforms. San Francisco, for example, has both a page that allows users to make 311 reports directly from Facebook, and one that allows users to interact with 311 on Twitter.

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The White House has for the last three years held an annual crowdsourcing competition called the SAVE Award, which lets federal employees submit ideas on how the government can save money and also allows them to vote on those ideas. The initiative has led to more than 19,000 ideas posted last year. After the effort is over, the administration doles out annual awards for the best ideas. Among the finalists last year were a plea to stop printing paper copes of the Social Security Administration's quarterly internal magazine, which is also available online.

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The U.S. Marine Corps has the most popular government Facebook page--by far. With more than 1.85 million "likes," the page has been liked almost 700,000 more times than its closest competitor, the Army. It's currently engaged in a campaign to reach 2 million followers. Posts on the Marine Corps' wall range widely, from press releases to stories about the Marines to famous quotes.

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Just as the Marines are the most popular federal agency on Facebook, NASA is the most popular federal agency on Twitter. The agency's Twitter feed has more than 1.87 million followers. Much of that has to do with the content, which includes very regular updates about NASA programs, regular replies to fellow Twitter members, cross-references to other Twitter feeds, and links to photos.

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The Obama administration has reached out numerous times to the public via social media, including chats that have taken place on YouTube, Google+, and Twitter. The Twitter Town Hall with President Obama was one of the most heavily followed--and one of the most interesting--in that Twitter identified "the most engaged-with Tweets" and the #askobama hashtag has continued to live on long after the July 2011 chat.

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The State Department's CO.NX effort, part of the agency's larger "digital diplomacy" initiative, connects people around the world with the State Department officials and others via live interactive webchats and video chats. Upcoming events include chats on drug abuse prevention, cancer, and Internet freedom.

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The Library of Congress' Flickr stream is one of the best in the government. It includes thousands of images, including high-quality photographs of President Abraham Lincoln, pictures of jazz musicians, news from the 1910s, color photographs from the Great Depression, and more. Almost every photograph seems to elicit at least a comment or two upon posting.

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A May 2011 post on the Centers for Disease Control's Public Health Matters blog provided tongue-in-cheek tips on what citizens should do in the face of a zombie apocalypse. While this isn't a full site or a social media stream, it's a prime example of how a bit of creative thinking can drive conversation and traffic. The zombie apocalypse post resulted in 770 comments, ten times the blog's normal traffic, and was even covered by major national news outlets.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related problems plague many soldiers who return home from war. Now the military is using social media to help ameliorate these soldiers' problems. The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury launched the Real Warriors campaign that uses a variety of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and live online chats to reach out to soldiers in need.

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DARPA Seeks To Learn From Social For Warfare

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Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

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The National Archives and Records Administration has multiple Tumblr feeds, but Today's Document is one of the most interesting. Among the recent posts is the 1790 Census record of President James Adams, an image of Marines raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi during battle for Iwo Jima in World War II, and a painting of George Washington. Today's Document started as a feature on Archives.gov and has since moved to social platforms, including Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.

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Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

Social Media Carries Risk At Disaster-Relief Time




NASA is very active on Google+. The space agency posts multiple times daily, and in response sees numerous shares of and comments on its posts. While its posts are often duplicated on NASA's Facebook page, those posts show that NASA knows how to spark conversation online, and can be an adept user of social media.

RECOMMENDED READING:

FBI Seeks Data-Mining App For Social Media

Top 10 Open Government Websites

Marines Release Social Media Handbook

DARPA Seeks To Learn From Social For Warfare

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Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

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Not all federal agencies are on LinkedIn, but of those that are, most have pages that just define their mission and provide a line or two on the different services the agency offers. However, the Department of State actively updates content on its page with details on job opportunities, such as one for U.S. citizens who are fluent in Mandarin that was posted recently.

RECOMMENDED READING:

FBI Seeks Data-Mining App For Social Media

Top 10 Open Government Websites

Marines Release Social Media Handbook

DARPA Seeks To Learn From Social For Warfare

White House Seeks Advice On Tweets

Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

Social Media Carries Risk At Disaster-Relief Time


Pinterest, the newest popular social media site on the block, doesn't appear to have yet drawn much interest from government agencies. However, the Army is on Pinterest and has been posting up a storm. It has Pinterest boards on "DIY and Decor," Army style and fashion, and Army families, among other topics. The Army also appears to be regularly "repinning" posts by others.

RECOMMENDED READING:

FBI Seeks Data-Mining App For Social Media

Top 10 Open Government Websites

Marines Release Social Media Handbook

DARPA Seeks To Learn From Social For Warfare

White House Seeks Advice On Tweets

Obama's Google+ Debut: Lessons Learned

Social Media Engagement: Feds Need Better Policies

Social Media Carries Risk At Disaster-Relief Time

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