Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Confession: I Don’t Want to Be “Friends” With the Government

I’m a Facebook junkie. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I look at before I go to bed. I visit it several times during the day. Why? Because I love the day-to-day updates from my friends and family. It helps me keep in touch with them. It’s a place where I know I’m going to be with people I know (at least a little) and like. So last night, I finally admitted to myself that – though I support government’s foray into social media - I just don’t want government agency updates mixed in with all my friends' and family's. I don’t want them in my “social network.” And I turned them all off. I don’t want to be “friends” with government agencies.

Early on, I was eager to see what government agencies were doing on social networking sites, and I “friended” or “fanned” (new verbs?) several. A couple – specifically EPA and – have done a nice job with their Facebook presences. They get it that these are social networks – places where people are informal; and what they post and the words they use reflect that awareness. That is not true of some other agencies. In fact, some (and I won’t embarrass them here) just use Facebook to post their press releases. Not seeing too many “likes” on those announcements. Duh. Press releases are not friendly. And most people I know don’t like to be bombarded by propaganda in their social settings (harsh, but true).

Unfortunately, over time, even the friendly agency status updates started to annoy me. They seemed intrusive in a place where my friends and family and I are hanging out. So I gonged them.

It looks to me as though interest is (and I’m being charitable) modest at this point for government presence in social networking sites. EPA’s Facebook page has 2,200 fans, as does Department of Homeland Security’s Facebook page has 1,600 members. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has 163 “fans.” Considering that Facebook has some 75 million users in the U.S. alone, not sure that government is doing a resounding business in that realm.

Would I search out government agencies on Facebook or My Space to find government information? Hmm – I don’t think so. I’d go to or the agency website. Or I’d just do a search on the web.

Do I still think government has a place in social media? You bet. Twitter (and other microblogs). Feeds (web, email, and mobile phone). Huge potential! In fact, a must. YouTube…at least for agencies with an education mission (Smithsonian, NASA, etc.). I’m not convinced yet that people go to YouTube to be informed. I do know they go because they’re curious. So that might be a reason to be there…if you have the right content. Again – forget that press stuff. Boring.

I follow my local government on Twitter, and I’m grateful for their helpful and responsible Tweets on weather alerts, traffic snarls, and community issues. I subscribe to both email and mobile phone feeds from my local/county governments’ “alerts” page. As long as they Tweet/feed useful, practical information that I want and need (and don’t over-do it!), I think this is a great way for government to use social media/web 2.0. If they start sending me press releases or bombarding me with Tweets every 10 minutes, I’ll gong them, too.

I think it’s fine to do some experimenting – see what sticks. But at some point, I think it’s best to put your investment where data shows a real payoff. I don’t think government has to be (or even should be) everywhere, to benefit from social media.

Are my opinions and actions an aberration or a trend? Time will tell. So what do you think?


Gwynne said...

Friend, I am SOOO with you. I want to track my family and friends. And I want my announcements in a different venue. I want to separate my private from my public.

Is this a trend? Don't really know. I also don't want to hear from Guinness or even Justin Timberlake. Facebook as a brand builder? Don't know the value-not much of one for me. So I don't know that it's government, per se, but how one engages.

I do know, however, that as Facebook becomes a search tool, it's important for government information to be available. The question for us is, "How?"

BTW, there is no Department of Homeland Security Facebook page. At least not from the Department. See for a list of media that the Department uses.

Candi Harrison said...

Hmm...could be another blog do you know if a Facebook page that looks like it's an official government page really is? There is a DHS page on Facebook that surely looks real. It fooled me. Wonder how many others are fooled, too?