Last week I had a very interesting meeting with a US local authority that has been struggling for about six months with putting together a social media policy. The meeting was attended by a representative of their legal counsel, the CIO and some of his reports. Topics on the table were ranging from what to consider as a public record to how to manage comments on an official blog or official Facebook page, from how to deal with potential copyright infringements to who to authorize to represent the organization on social media.
As usual, I asked what was the main purpose for establishing an official presence on social media, and found out that their senior leadership wanted to respond to frequent attacks from disgruntled citizens who were complaining about the cost cutting measures that were affecting service levels.
They were visibly disappointed when I used a strong analogy by telling them that they are trying to face a tsunami (actually I qualified that they were not getting exactly clean water…) with a teacup. Establishing an official presence on any social media to pass messages is unlikely to do much to stop or slow down the tsunami. If they open those pages to comments, moderation may become a fulltime job for a team of people; if they do not open to comments, they would be accused not to be willing to really engage in a conversation. In a nutshell, they are probably going to lose, whatever they do with their own Facebook page.
I suggested that they need to go at the very root of where these social media attacks come from, identify who are the influencers, and engage on those people’s turf. The closer you are to the pipe that originates the tsunami, the easier it is to partially contain (or at least understand) it. We also discussed what would be the best strategy between having senior leadership “officially” appear as commenting and responding on somebody else’s blog, Linked group or Facebook fan page, or encouraging individual employees or external supporters to participate in the discussion on a more “personal” basis, in order to make it more sociable and less formal. Last but not least, if they really feel compelled to do something on Facebook, why not picking up a specific, rather narrow topic and create a page dealing with that, rather than a general one?
During the rest of the week I had similar, although less dramatic, conversations with other government organizations that are thinking about a Facebook and Twitter presence. I suspect that over the next several weeks I will meet or have inquiries with quite a few whom I will try (most likely unsuccessfully) to talk out of the idea of creating an official Facebook page.