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May 25, 2012 / caitlynzim

All A’Twitter: How Social Media Aids in Science Outreach – Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Realities of Government Use of Social Media

In an ideal world, after deciding to create a social media account, you would go to that site’s website, create an account, fill out the profile and in a matter of minutes you would be good to go and start posting new information. Unfortunately, the reality is that working inside of the government, like most structured institutions, is not the ideal world. Long application processes thwart efforts for fast set up, and tentative co-­‐workers add time to the posting process. Not all of these side effects are 100% negative; yet, they still require a learning curve and preparation.

When the MMC team first applied for Twitter, the social media application process was under construction. The process should entail: filling out a rather simple form including a description of the project, points of contact for the account, and a description of why the social media account in question would benefit the greater good of the project. The application must first be approved by communication employees inside of the National Ocean Service (NOS) before continuing on for approval from communication employees inside of NOAA. Once all of these approvals have come through, you are then notified of the success – or failure – of your application. If approved, you must then go and create the account and submit the URL to the system.

The whole process sounds so simple. A tiny page-­‐long form and four people’s approval? Should not take that long. But it does. First, the language used on the form must be decided upon; if you are lucky, you can use previous language and tweak it a bit. Then you must choose the points of contact, one of which must be a federal employee. Once that is finished, you can submit the application. Then it becomes a waiting game. In the case of the Twitter application for MMC, the waiting never seemed to end. We were in contact with NOS employees in charge of NOS approval and all they could tell us was that they had approved the account and passed it on. It seemed that our account had been lost in the “we’re in the middle of transferring all of our information over to another system” void.

Finally, we were given the approval to create the account, almost two months after we had originally applied. Then the team had to decide what to post and how to go about approving each post. It was clear early on that to make everyone comfortable with our posts we needed a great deal of approving, editing and supervising. It is amazing how many emails can go into creating a 140-­‐character post!

The initial two of us that were assigned to the project turned into three when one of the leads on the project requested to see every post and approve it before posting. We learned quickly that it was easier to plan posts for a week, minimum, to increase the efficiency of approvals. As the process progressed, we have relaxed and fallen into a pattern of suggesting a week of posts, rewriting/editing if need be, approving and going ahead with the posts. It took a couple of months for this to happen.

Facebook started with a similar process. In order to create a Facebook account we need to fill out a form with a description of why Facebook is relevant to the project and the points of contact for the account. At this point, the new system was up and running meaning we did not have to worry about our application getting lost again. Completing the application and final approval took about three or four weeks – faster than Twitter but still not ideal. Again, we were required to create the account and submit the URL to the application system as soon as we received word of approval.

In terms of managerial processes, Facebook has run much more efficient than Twitter. Facebook posts are typically an extension of our Twitter posts and are therefore drafted and sent out in the same emails we send with the week’s Twitter posts. Everything can be examined and edited as need be at one time and takes little time to complete the approval process before posting. We have taken the time to add screen grabs and other pictures. These required less approval seeing as they were already posted on the main website and no changes were made while moving them to Facebook.

Other suggestions for Facebook posts include frequently asked questions, questions from specific events such as webinars, pictures from conferences, specific questions to gain feedback and examples of ways people and organizations use the MMC. Although we have used some of these ideas, some are still sitting in idea limbo waiting on approval and editing from other members of the MMC team. These longer posts of FAQs and questions from events require more extensive amounts of editing; plus, they must be posted to the MMC website before we can post them on Facebook. For these reasons, these types of posts have been a work in progress for over a month and have yet to be posted.

Overall, we have had a more difficult time – in terms of post approval – with the social media sites that lead team members were less familiar with to start out. As people became more comfortable with personal use of these sites, they became more comfortable with the MMC using these sites. If I were to repeat this process, I would take more time to teach the team members, encouraging them to create personal accounts and get to know the sites before we took on the organizational account.

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