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Facebook Feds: How Federal Agencies Are Using Social Media

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Social media is everywhere—even in the federal sphere. Case in point: In April, the U.S. General Services Administration created a social media registry on which federal agencies can list their accounts on 22 social media platforms. To be sure, social media tools are presenting unparalleled opportunities for collaborative government.  

Not only do examples of the federal government using Facebook abound, they seem to be using it fairly well, reported research firm Foresee in its 2011Q4 report of American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-Government Satisfaction Index.  

According to ForeSee’s findings, 15 departments have a Facebook presence:  

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • U.S. Department of Commerce
  • U.S. Department of Defense
  • U.S. Department of Education
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Department of Labor
  • U.S. Department of State
  • U.S. Department of the Interior
  • U.S. Department of the Treasury
  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Foresee reports that all 15 are using at least one standard Facebook application (notes, photos, links, events, and videos), and they have vanity addresses and official names that reflect the proper name of the departments or their elected leaders. In addition 11 of the 15 departments’ Facebook pages include custom pages or third-party tools (YouTube, Flickr), which are devoted to content that the departments want to feature, as well as comments, policies, and welcome statements. 
According to ForeSee President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Freed, “Social media is no longer a nice to have, but a necessity in both the private sector and the public sector. It’s just the way people communicate now. The good news is that federal departments are participating in social media.” 

A stellar example of effective use of social media come from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affars. U.S. armed service members returning from active duty can stay connected to local government health services on Facebook, thanks to a new social media strategy deployed by the VA. In a press release describing its Facebook strategy, the VA says it has more than 345,000 combined Facebook fans. The federal agency launched 152 individual Facebook pages for each hospital in the VA system. In addition, the department’s main Facebook page has some 154,000 fans, and its medical centers have a combined subscribership of over 69,000.  


But Facebook isn’t the only social media tool used by the VA. It also maintains 70 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel featuring 400-plus videos, and a Flickr page stocked with more than 12,000 photos. 

And the VA isn’t the only agency branching out into other social media tools. The Government Executive report “5 Innovative Uses of Social Media in Government” details how several other agencies are using popular tools like Flickr and Twitter to help them engage with the public, as well as make it easier and more desirable for the public to engage with government. For example,  

  • FEMA’s Twitter page has attracted 110,000 followers. Tweets predict potential disasters, monitor response activities and advise residents on actions they might need to take.
  • The Library of Congress has been compiling a Flickr photo stream, bringing to the public a panorama of historical images depicting American life and culture. Collections give a glimpse into the Civil War, baseball, the American West, and more.
  • The President has hosted Twitter chats as town hall meetings after the State of the Union address in January.  


There is help for agencies seeking to use social media or extend their network options. Some 21 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service have deployed tools through APPS.gov NOW to help government and citizens better interact with each other.  

From the Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement in the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies in the U.S. General Services Administration, APPs.gov NOW provides agencies tools that are free, secure, government-hosted and policy-compliant. The various tools provided through APPS.gov NOW help agencies engage with the public, and make it easier and more desirable for the public to engage with government. You can concentrate on carrying-out your mission and engaging with citizens, while we do the infrastructure lift.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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