We might assume that social media and government don’t mix.

The reality, though?

Government agencies and officials represent some of the most engaged with users on social media at large.

And in terms of social media’s ability to “do good,” look no further than government accounts such as those run by the CDC, NASA and TSA.

From keeping people in the loop during a global crisis to entertaining and educating the public, government and social media don’t necessarily have to be “boring.”

But there’s no denying the challenges of running a government account in an era where trust in the government is on the decline.

That said, engaging citizens isn’t just an expectation for government accents: it’s a civic duty.

In this guide, we’ll highlight the best examples of government use of social media and key takeaways for managers running official accounts.

How to use government social media effectively

Comparing social media and government to brands or businesses might seem like apples and oranges.

But while your social presence might not be tied to selling a product or service, consider that your big-picture goals aren’t so different.

  • Establishing a sense of trust with your community as you grow your follower count? Check.
  • Responding to comments and questions from your followers? Double-check.
  • Keeping followers informed and up-to-date? Definitely.

The beauty of social media and government is that your community and constituency are already there. Therefore, your job is to publish content that attracts attention from your followers while likewise encouraging engagement. Below are some strategies to do exactly that.

Be a source of community news and updates

Perhaps the biggest and most obvious role of government social media accounts is serving as a source of community updates. This includes everything from events and road closures to upcoming policy changes and breaking news.

community updates are crucial to government and social media

Whether we’re talking about local constituents (think: the New York City school system) or the general public (think: the FDA or EPA), note that your audience is more than likely following you because they want to hear from you.

And so news should be a cornerstone of your content strategy as a government account.

For example, we’re currently seeing social media crisis management in action for many government agencies and offices, including real-time updates in response to COVID-19. Social media provides people a more timely source of information versus local news and likewise serves as a firsthand source.

Of course, not everything related to government and social media necessarily needs to be gloom and doom. Celebrating milestones, success stories and other uplifting updates all give your followers something to look forward to beyond just the news itself.

social media and government update

Respond to your community’s questions and concerns

Social media can be its own sort of public forum and place for government officials to go back-and-forth with constituents.

Serving as a timelier alternative to email, phone calls or face-to-face meetings, platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram make government officials more accessible than ever. In a situation where someone comes to you with a concern that’s beyond your pedigree, you can likewise point that person to someone who can help.

Additionally, government social media accounts serve as a way for officials to be more transparent. Think of your account as your agency or office’s face to the public.

Educate your community and better their lives

Again, government use of social media should center around information and helping your community. Both fun facts and real-world tips are fair game here.

Education also means clarifying potential misinformation in addition to educating your followers, by the way. Given how quickly social media moves and rumors can spread, government accounts serve as an important source for followers looking to fact-check claims made elsewhere.

Humanize your agency or office

When someone thinks of government and social media, they might imagine a robot or some suit-and-tie intern trying their best to sound prim, proper and “official.”

That’s why government social media accounts benefit the most when they let their human sides shine through.

social media and government go hand in hand for humanizing employees and showing what goes on behind the scenes

Strive to remind your followers of the people you serve and likewise the folks who run your department or office. Doing so isn’t just a great source of authentic content: it’s crucial toward building up your community and follower count.

What are the best practices of government social media accounts?

Now that we’ve highlighted what sort of content to publish, let’s talk about best practices when it comes to social media and government.

If you find yourself struggling to grow your follower count or quell negative comments from followers, don’t sweat it. You’re not alone.

According to previous Sprout Social Index data, government accounts are considered to be the most annoying across social media.

social media and government are found annoying

Ouch.

There are a few reasons why this is the case. General disillusionment with government and fierce partisanship both definitely play a big role in the hate that a government account might get.

Also, consider how too much promotional content and laggy response times contribute to the public’s dissatisfaction with some government accounts.

The good news, though? As highlighted by the City of Lexena and their rapid success growing their impressions and interactions using Sprout, engaging your followers in a positive way is far from impossible.

Here are some key tips and best practices of government and social media to grow your presence.

Emphasize visual content

Visual content in the form of videos, infographics, follower photos and memes are among the most-shared across social media.

And this also rings true for government social media accounts.

Not only are visuals easier for followers to understand at a glance, but visual content also makes your content more accessible to those with disabilities.

Beyond that, you can increase the share-factor of your content in the case of a crisis or emergency. Think about it: a visual PSA has more impact and shareability than a simple text-only post that could be misinterpreted or glossed over.

For example, this visual from the FDA is straightforward and easy to digest:

Meanwhile, note how much love this post from the Grand Canyon’s official account received. Visual-based posts are prime for engagement.

Social media provides a ton of opportunities for government agencies to get creative with their visual content. For example, check out how the CDC is using Instagram Stories to highlight how to make homemade masks in response to COVID-19.

the cdc's use of instagram stories is a shining example of social media and government

Get conversational with your constituents

Remember what we said earlier about showing off your human side?

You don’t have to be totally “suit and tie” when it comes to your voice and tone on social media. Humorous captions, candid conversations and playful comments are all common among government accounts today.

After all, nobody wants to just read stuffy, boring updates all the time. Interactions with your followers should be treated as an opportunity to make an impression on them.

social media and government doesn't have to be totally "suit and tie"

Of course, the caveat here is to be able to read the room and never make light of a serious situation. Government accounts are oftentimes responsible for balancing both “just-for-fun” posts and consequential content. If you’re second-guessing whether a comment or post is appropriate for your audience, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Use community and event-specific hashtags to monitor messages

This is particularly helpful for government accounts with massive followings.

Coupling your messages with hashtags not only makes them more visible in search but makes timely responses easier to spot when somebody uses your tag. Here’s a great example of effective hashtag marketing from the US Census Bureau.

Many government officials likewise host Twitter Q&As and other digital events with the help of hashtags.

Beyond featuring hashtags in your posts, government accounts can keep an eye on trending tags in their area (think: #floridaunemployment) where they may be able to provide insight.

Respond to your constituents in a timely manner

Although government accounts aren’t responsible for customer service per se, they are expected to respond to followers in a timely manner.

In addition to writing captions and scheduling content, set aside time to reply to @mentions and questions posed to you via social. This signals that you care about your community and take your responsibility of being an official resource seriously.

And if nothing else, responding to questions is a way to have meaningful back-and-forths with your followers and show that your account is an active forum for constituents.

Publish your social content to multiple channels

Bear in mind that your target audience as a government account is likely fragmented between platforms.

As highlighted by our demographic data, different audiences and age groups tend to flock to different social sites. Check out this breakdown of the CDC’s use of social media for reference:

CDC uses multiple social media channels for various purposes

Chances are you’re tackling more than one social account, right? As a result, you should consider cross-posting your content across multiple platforms to ensure it receives maximum reach.

That’s where Sprout Social’s scheduling and publishing tools can help. With our tools, you can queue up your content and tailor each post based on whichever platform you’re publishing to.

sprout social scheduling and publishing calendar

Speaking of posting, note that most government social accounts tend to post something on a daily basis. That’s why it’s important to have a variety of content queued up on a regular basis. If you aren’t already, make sure you’re familiar with the best times to post on social media. Having these times handy can help you reach your followers when they’re most active.

And with that, we wrap up our guide!

How do you make social media and government work for you?

Social media has become integral to how government officials and agencies interact with the public.

And so if you’re looking to improve your presence and engage more citizens, your head is in the right place.

Want to take a deeper, data-driven approach to social media and increase your interactions? We can help with that! Check out our social media toolkit for resources and ideas to translate your social data into more engagement.