Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

Blog archive

Federal Coach: Avoiding a Weiner scandal Social media tips for federal workers

 (Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)

Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools have been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this past week given the news about Rep. Anthony Weiner and his online liaisons.

While this news can be enough to scare federal employees away from social media, digital communication is a potential tool that often times can be the best avenue for federal employees to connect with the people they serve – the American public – anywhere, anytime.

As one experienced federal leader told me, “If you’re not using social media, you’re not connecting with the public. You need to embrace the technology and just realize that as a leader you may become the star of your own reality show. You never know when something you say may be picked up by the media and make a bigger splash than you had expected. If you don’t do anything embarrassing, you’ll be fine.”

To help managers and their teams have a better understanding of social media technologies, the General Services Administration (GSA) recently released guidelines for its employees. These guidelines are a good roadmap for other federal agencies and leaders who are looking for suggestions on how to best navigate the world of social media.

GSA’s The Social Media Navigator starts by making it clear that their leaders are encouraged to use social media, since it enables their employees to share information, start conversations and exchange knowledge both within and outside government. You might also consider following in GSA’s footsteps and having signed agreements with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and others, which will help make it possible for employees to officially use these sites.

Once you’ve made the decision to use social media, GSA proposes the following steps to help federal managers best make use of social media tools:

· Talk with both your Chief Information Officer (CIO) and your public affairs office – and possibly others like your general counsel – about the best social media tools for reaching your targeted audience.

· Be prepared to dedicate the time and people to monitor, engage and respond regularly. As the Navigator says, “social media conversations take place over minutes not months.”

· Understand the difference between the “official” you and the “personal” you. Officially, you can only do what’s authorized by your leadership. Personally, you can do anything that’s not illegal. You’ll just want to steer clear of making any mention of your official capacity.

· Minimize the risk to your agency by checking security standards with your CIO and posting only publicly available information. You also want to avoid endorsing any products, services or organizations.

· Ensure that your information is accessible by using plain English and confirming that it’s available to Americans with disabilities.

· Avoid any political activities that may violate the Hatch Act – the law that prohibits federal employees from being politically active while on duty.


Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on Jun 10, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Reader comments

Tue, Jun 28, 2011 Michael

There are a couple central questions to answer here. Is this a part of my job? Hence, consult, etc. Some agencies and departments specifically and explicitly state no use of social media except by designated personnel. Next, if using it off-job, then not of work time and then only publicly available information if talking on subject matter pertaining to the agency. This can be a slippery slope.

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