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Social Networking Guide | Principles
Guiding Principles

To understand and successfully engage Web 2.0 applications and Internet audiences, agencies will likely need to adopt new media policies.  Remember that anytime you use a Web 2.0 application, you represent your agency.  As an “e-ambassador” for your agency, you have an obligation to provide reliable and accurate information, and you must not publish anything that discredits the agency or the state.
 
Agencies should enforce certain restrictions to ensure consistency, safety and effective communications. If you use any social media, follow these guiding principles:
 
  • Ensure that your agency sanctions official participation and representation on social media sites.
  • Stick to your area of expertise; provide unique individual perspectives about what’s happening in state government.
  • Post meaningful, respectful comments; never post spam, off-topic information or offensive remarks.
  • Pause and think before posting. Reply to comments in a timely manner.
  • Respect proprietary information, protected content and confidentiality.
  • If you must voice disagreement with others’ opinions, do so appropriately and politely.
  • Know and follow Oregon’s “Acceptable Use of State Information Assets” policy: http://oregon.gov/DAS/EISPD/ESO/Policies.shtml 
  • Follow applicable agency social media policies.
  • Be careful when using “Tiny URLs” (see Glossary). You don’t always know where they will take you when you click on them. Some agencies choose not to use them or click on them. Sometimes Twitter makes them automatically.  Though they are usually safe, consider that others might not use your tiny URLs.

 
Finding Your Social Media Voice

A strong organizational voice is essential to communicating your agency’s story. Your voice is a major component of your agency’s brand identity. Just as Oregon’s Web sites capture a consistent look and feel with colors, style and formatting, so should your agency’s voice be consistent in tone, style and texture. Your agency’s voice appears in the following forms:
  • News releases
  • Brochures
  • FAQs
  • Web content
  • Customer service
  • E-mails
  • Social Media (Tweets, Facebook, YouTube, Blogs)
  
A consistent voice communicates value, authority, energy, professionalism and personality.
 
Challenges of social media:
  • Rapid communicating in ‘real-time’ scenarios
  • Frequent changes that require new processes and training (e.g., Facebook frequently changes its format)
  • Multiple formats featuring unique benefits and challenges (e.g., Facebook and YouTube are flexible and fluid; Twitter is not)
Who are you? Your voice must accurately reflect your agency and its mission. Answer these questions to ensure that your voice is authentic and deliberate:
  • Do you represent an agency or program?
  • What is your mission? What are you trying to accomplish? (Base your content on your mission and goals.)
  • What unique information do you have to offer?
  • Why are you speaking? (To persuade? To educate?)
  • Why do you want people to subscribe to your updates?
  • How long will your agency or program exist?

Who is your audience? Your language, content and tone should flow from knowledge of your audience. Answer these questions to ensure that your voice is appropriate to your audience:
  • Whom do you want to reach?
  • Who wants to hear from you?
  • What are your audience’s top tasks?
  • How does your audience prefer to communicate?
  • What do people expect from you? (Humor? Knowledge? Professionalism?)
  • Why do people subscribe to your updates?
 
Use plain language. Always write clearly. Use language and terminology that mean something to your audience. Clear and direct language is always good.
  • Facebook and Twitter updates require “vigorous writing,” careful editing and precise word choice.
  • Focus every update on a single topic.
  • Social media updates must compete with a lot of other information; make yours clear and valuable.
  • Short form communication is here to stay.
  • Posting too often annoys users. Find a balance in how often you post.
Match your language to your voice. Strengthen your multimedia (video, photos, podcasts) content with clear and explanatory titles and descriptions. Remember your audience when writing titles and descriptions.
  • What do they need to know about your content?
  • Why does your content matter to them?
  • Seek to use keywords in titles and descriptions to facilitate discovery through search.
  • Content titles and descriptions and video scripts are opportunities to reinforce your voice.

What do you talk about? Communicate value by providing useful information to your audience. Common types of content include:
  • News updates
  • Research findings
  • Public service announcements
  • Emergency notifications
 
  
How often do you communicate?
  • Which activities merit official communications?
  • How long does it take to create an official communication?
  • How many people have to edit and approve official communications?
Your social media voice allows you to communicate faster, more personably, and more directly with your audience:
  • Be authentic. Stay true to your mission and audience.
  • Be timely and relevant. Social media operates in real time.
  • Be social. Social contexts require that you sound more casual and human. Get to the point quickly.
  • Speak directly to your audience. Don’t speak about them; speak to them (i.e., don’t tweet to a media outlet, tweet to your customer)
  • Be consistent and flexible. A consistent voice allows your followers and fans to build a relationship with you over time.
  • Avoid social media jargon. Social media may require some abbreviations and new syntax, but being understood is paramount. Keep acronyms to a minimum.
The Three “T’s”
  • Train your employees who will use the social media tools.
  • Give them access to the tools they will need.
  • Trust them to do the right thing.

 
Rules of Engagement

Social networking can help you build stronger, more successful professional relationships by enabling you to take part in global conversations about the work your agency does and the goals it pursues.
 
As you start to use these tools, strive to address the following factors:
 
 
  • Transparency:  Savvy users can quickly detect dishonesty in the social media environment. If you blog about your work in a state agency, use your real name, and be clear about your role. If you have a stake in the issue under discussion, be the first to point it out.
 
  • Judiciousness:  Don’t let your efforts to be transparent cause you to violate the state’s guidelines on privacy and confidentiality. Follow all applicable legal rules that govern external communication. Get permission to publish or report about conversations that may not be “public information.” Verify the accuracy of any statement you make, and take care not to mislead. Make no claims you cannot substantiate. Never comment about legal matters, litigation, or any parties against whom the state may have lawsuits. If you want to write about other government entities, know what you are talking about and obtain appropriate approval before doing so. Be smart about protecting your agency, your privacy, and any sensitive or restricted information. Everything you publish in a social medium is widely accessible, and you cannot easily retract it. Your posts are likely to be around for a long time.
 
  • Expertise:  Do not comment outside your sphere of expertise.  If you must write about a state concern that is outside your “lane,” make this clear to your readers at the beginning. Write in the first person. If you publish to a Web site outside the state, use a disclaimer (e.g., “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent state government’s positions, strategies, or opinions.”). Respect brands, trademarks, copyrights, fair use, disclosure of processes and methodologies, confidentiality, and financial disclosure laws. Remember: You are personally responsible for the content you post. 
 
  • Perceptions:  When you identify yourself as a state employee, you create perceptions about your expertise and state government. Customers, legislators, stakeholders, business partners and interested citizens will form opinions about you and your agency, based on the content you post in the social media.  Ensure that your content conforms to state government’s values and professional standards. 
 
  • Tone:  Talk to your readers as you would talk to people in professional situations. Avoid overly “composed” language. Express your own personality, and say what’s on your mind. Offer content that invites response, and encourage comments. Broaden the conversation by citing comments from others about the same topic, and allow your content to be shared or syndicated.
 
  • Enthusiasm:  Share your agency’s enthusiasm and vision, and open channels to learn from others. The State of Oregon makes important contributions to our communities and the state, to the future of government, and to public dialogue on a broad range of issues. We provide services that benefit citizens and stakeholders throughout society. Use the social media to share information about what we do, and what we have learned. 
 
  • Value:  The social media offers access to a staggering volume of written items, each of which competes for attention. The best way to get your post read is to write things that people find valuable. Communication from state government should help citizens, partners, and co-workers. Strive to be thought-provoking. Build a sense of community. If your post helps people improve their knowledge or skills, build businesses, do their jobs, or solve problems, it qualifies as valuable. Word will get out, and people will read it.
 
  • Diplomacy:  A fine line separates healthy debate from incendiary argument. Never denigrate others. Remember that you need not respond to every criticism or barb. Frame what you write to invite differing points of view without inflaming others. Some topics, like politics, are sensitive territory. Be careful and considerate. Once you put your words out there, you cannot pull them back.
 
  • Responsibility: What you write is your responsibility. Participation in a social media network on behalf of the state is not a right—it’s a privilege and an opportunity. Treat it seriously. Follow the terms and conditions of any third-party sites. Go to the “Terms of Service” section in this document for more information.
 
  • Pause:  If you are about to publish information that gives you even slight discomfort, stop. Take a minute to review these guidelines. Identify what bothers you and fix it. You might want to discuss it with your manager. Ultimately, what you publish is yours, as is the responsibility for having said it.  You will own the repercussions.
 
  • Mistakes: If you make a mistake, admit it. Be upfront, and be quick with your correction. If you have posted to a blog, you may choose to modify an earlier post. Make it clear that you have done so.

 
Questions to Ask Yourself

Why engage in social networking?
 
A social medium—say a blog—lets you create a channel of communication between your agency and citizens you may not otherwise reach. A blog can be an effective method of explaining projects, policies, procedures, programs and perspective to citizens and the media.  
 
The cost is measurable in employees’ time (proportional to the use of the blog). The more people use it, the more resources the blog will require, but the cost is worthwhile if it enables the agency to meet the citizens’ needs.
 
Things to consider:
 
  • What is your agency’s policy on the use of new media?
  • What other divisions within your agency currently use (or plan to use) these tools?
  • Do opportunities exist for a coordinated approach within the agency?
  • Why will someone choose to read your blog, subscribe to your podcast, or regularly visit your Facebook page when the Web provides so many informational alternatives?
  • Who will provide content? Do you have enough good material to post two to three times a day? Such material should include links to other sites, news stories, etc.
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What will drive traffic to your product? Does your planned content have the elements that drive Web traffic?
  • Is it relevant and timely?
    • What’s in it for the reader
    • Is it on topic, valuable and worthwhile
    • Is it original, funny, scary, exciting?
    • Is it visual?
  • Who will edit your online content? Have you designed an approval process that allows your team to post information quickly?
  • Can you post throughout the day and possibly the night?
  • What happens when the news is bad?  Will your organization still post? More importantly, will you post more frequently?
  • Any social medium requires someone to monitor it and filter the information from posters.  Have you designated someone to do the monitoring?  Who will decide what to filter?
  • Will your communications sound personal rather than bureaucratic? Use a personal voice.  Be authentic, original, and fresh.
  • Is your organization willing to undertake a multi-year commitment with little or no guarantee of immediate return?
  • Linking is important. To whom will you link, and what limitations will you set for adding more links? Will you only link to .gov sites?  Give serious thought to the propriety and advisability of linking to any non-government site.
  • Many Web 2.0 applications are inherently interactive. Are you prepared to answer questions? By definition, blogs, for example, are dialogues, not monologues. Are you ready to host a debate on your blog?
  • How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts? Can you track readership to determine which posts receive the most attention? Does your social media account show up on Google and other search engines?