Saturday, December 22, 2012

Facebook is Broken: Government Edition

I woke Monday morning to find my car missing from the street in front of my house.  I called the police and the dispatcher informed me that it had been towed due to a parking ban because of snow.  They couldn’t locate an announcement on their site.  They did however find it posted on their Facebook page.  

Social Media has been the rallying cry for much of 2012. Because of this, many businesses and public agencies are staking a presence on Facebook and other social media sites.   Meet the people where they are, right? 


Public agencies have a different remit and responsibility than private business. Using a private website such as Facebook as an adjunct to their primary site can be a great way to promote a city or an agency and the good things that are happening there.  It can be a way to build a community and converse with the constituents.  However, Facebook and other social media outlets should not replace posting information and announcements on a government site (or a business's site for that matter).  

Last month the blog Dangerous Minds announced “Facebook: I want my Friends Back”.  He’d noticed that despite increasing number of “likes” on his page from fans, the traffic to his website from Facebook was decreasing.  The short version is that Facebook does not post every announcement by you to all of the people who follow or “like” your page.   “Each post was now being seen only by a fraction of their total “fans” who would previously have seen them”   According to the New York Observer
“Facebook acknowledged it as recently as last week: messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an account’s fans....if you want to speak to the other 80 to 85 percent of people who signed up to hear from you, “sponsoring posts is important.”

Sponsoring posts means paying.  It offers publishers the option to promote a post, which extends a post’s reach to additional users.   For bloggers and website owners, this can mean a lot of money to reach the people that have liked their page. . 

For government agencies this means that emergency or time sensitive announcements are not getting to a large number of people who, may or may not, believe they’re getting them.  Announcements government makes can be legally obligated such as public hearings or legal proceedings or have legal implications like parking bans.   In the case of my town, of the 3,754 people who “like” the local PD, approximately 563 (15%) of them had the parking ban announcement posted to their page.

What to do about it?

For Government:
  • Post every official announcement to the government page
  • If you want announcements to go to social media, use a services that posts your RSS feed to  your social media accounts.
  • Notify constituents that they should check the official agency site for announcements.
  • Encourage social media users to sign up for e-mail alerts directly from your webpage.  It’s the only page you truly control.

For the public
Social media can be a great tool, but it should not replace either a government or business keeping their own home site current.  

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