This post was originally published in Federal Computer Week on November 29, 2010, and it was written with Kristin Bockius of Microsoft.
Kristin Bockius is relationship and social media marketing manager at Microsoft’s U.S. state and local government business. Mark Drapeau is director of public-sector social engagement at Microsoft. The opinions expressed in this article are their own and do not reflect the official position of Microsoft.
The Navy’s recently published Social Media Handbook has some good lessons for everyone.
Geared toward Navy commanders, the handbook is intended to encourage the use of social media and provide some guidance on matters of online etiquette, privacy, security and related issues. However, although the handbook is Navy-centric, many of its ideas and best practices apply across the government.
Here are some of the takeaways we found, along with insights we gathered in developing a similar guide for Microsoft’s public-sector customers.
Get guidance from the top. Rear Adm. Dennis Moynihan, the Navy’s chief of information, clearly supports the Navy’s use of social media. Such senior-level support is necessary for any corporation, agency or institution that plans to engage in social media conversations. Employees should not be confused and wondering if they may or may not use social media or how they may use it. Now more than ever, they need some structure and guidance.
Keep an ear to the ground. The handbook points out that social media provides a great way to learn about your employees’ thoughts and concerns. That is incredibly insightful. Social media can indeed be a great indicator of things going right or wrong at your organization.
Protect your brand. The Navy’s handbook points out that service members and employees who use social media are always brand ambassadors and should act accordingly. We take it one step further: Your actions and reactions online affect not only your reputation but also your professional affiliation. Thus you must act in a way that is proper for yourself and your employer.
Keep the brands simple. For our work in state and local government, we use two big brands — @Microsoft_Gov and Bright Side of Government — rather than breaking up our content by solutions, such as e-mail or cloud computing, or audience, such as states, cities and counties. In many cases, we feel that such divisions unnecessarily dilute a brand and make it harder to engage in consistent online conversations.
Centralize brand management. The manual reminds people that anyone who is establishing a social media presence must register that outlet with the Defense Department’s public affairs office. That makes it possible to roll up all the activity into a master online directory. Our own company could do a better job of this, considering the many brands and social media accounts that we have.
Have a response plan ready. For an organization such as the Navy, having a crisis communications plan is somewhat of a no-brainer. But that is true of all kinds of organizations. Your public relations team should have a crisis plan in place — for before, during and after conversations — so you can manage any crisis or rumor that arises. All brands are increasingly at risk for public criticism. Acknowledge that and plan accordingly.
Save your work. The Navy’s handbook suggests that people should selectively choose what to archive and even use screen shots to do it. But these days, you can find cheap or free tools to help you archive everything automatically. For example, many government agencies already use SharePoint to share enterprise content. You can now get a free, open-source SharePoint plug-in that can help you manage archiving.
Overall, we think the Navy’s social media guide — like the Air Force’s flowchart for online rules of engagement that preceded it — will provide valuable information about social media not only for the military services but also for agencies across the federal government and beyond.