After a few months of negotiation, the US General Services Administration has signed agreements with four mainstream social media service providers, namely Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and blip.tv.
As Federal Computer Week reports, the agreements “resolve legal concerns associated with many standard terms and conditions that pose problems for agencies, such as liability limits, endorsements and freedom of information”. In the announcement there is no mention of Facebook, which made the news about a month ago for being first banned and then re-admitted by the Maryland General Assembly. On the other hand, Twitter’s terms of service are already compatible with federal use.
These agreements pave the way for www.usa.gov and other federal government web sites to embrace web 2.0 innovation. They are not new to this, though, as witnessed by information collected by GSA about the use of social media and web2.0 in the US federal government. What these and future agreements will do is to accelerate this trend, in line with the directions set by the new administration, and covered in previous posts in this blog.
Now that Web 2.0 receives the federal blessing, and agencies can start publishing information where people look for it, as well as venture into engaging with citizens through social media, they may underestimate the organizational impact as well as the nature of risks and how to minimize them.
Do not get me wrong here. I think this is very good news. But as we’ve gone through the skepticism phase, when government officials were keeping these social media at a distance (at most performing cautious pilots), now the risk is that they jump too fast into waters that may be deeper and colder than they expect.
A few questions government officials planning the involvement of their agency in social media could ask themselves:
- Do we have a code of practice for online participation, as an extension of the civil service code defining acceptable behaviors for government employees?
- Do we have a framework to select social media and gradually engage with them (depending on out domain and what exactly we want to accomplish)?
- Which techniques do we use to determine which information should be made available in an easily mashable form, and which external information we should or could mash up?
- How do we decide whether or not to endorse a social media ?