Federal Employee Use of Social Media Increases

by Carolyn Elefant on November 18, 2011

in Social Media in Regulated Utilities

recent survey  prepared by Market Connections and released last month shows that social media usage is gaining traction with federal employees and contractors. Over the past year, social media use jumped dramatically among federal employees, with 41 percent of federal employees coming on board within the past year. Nearly 3/4 of government employees and contractors surveyed are using social media for work, with 70 percent accessing it through a mobile device.

Federal government employee and contractor use is spread fairly evenly across platforms. Facebook is most popular, used by 86 percent of federal government employees and 88 percent of contractors. Twitter use still lags among federal government employees with just 55 percent on board. LinkedIn experienced the most dramatic growth, however, a full 93 percent of contractors and 70 percent of federal employees used LinkedIn, up from 32 percent overall the previous year.

Federal employees aren’t engaging social media only for social purposes. While 78 percent use social media to communicate with other colleagues, all of those polled said that social media informs decision making, while 85 percent rely on social media to communicate with citizens.

Of course, federal policy doesn’t necessarily facilitate social media engagement. Nineteen percent of federal government employees surveyed are banned from using platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

How do those federal agencies that set policy for utilities or energy stakeholders fare with regard to social media use? Back in June 2011, the GAO released a report on social media use by two dozen federal agencies. While concluding that use of sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube offer opportunities for agencies to “more readily share information with and solicit feedback from the public,” GAO expressed concern that these services might pose risks to protection of personal and government information.

The Department of Energy has a fairly robust social media presence, as well as extensive guidelines for engagement. GAO’s only recommendation to DOE was for the agency to identify and address potential security risks. Because FERC is an independent agency, its social media use was not addressed in the GAO Report. In addition, while FERC has both a Facebook and Twitter account, FERC uses them primarily to communicate recent issuances rather than to interact with the public.

From my own perspective, I’m gratified to learn that federal employees and contractors are using social media to inform decisions and keep abreast of new developments. Energy regulatory law and policy is so complex and changes so quickly that tools like Twitter are essential to staying current, while Facebook and blogs provides an opportunity to discuss new developments with colleagues.

If you do business in the energy industry, how are you using social media?

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