What are Social Networks?
Social networking sites are websites that connect people. In these online communities, people can join (for free) and at a minimum, establish a page with their profile.
The most popular, MySpace and Facebook, also have groups, which are feature–rich chat boards for members. A popular professional social networking site, LinkedIn, offers sections for jobs, service provider recommendations, and questions. All allow users to find people they know among the members, or look for other members with similar interests or affiliations. These sites make it easy to establish networks of contacts. Other Web 2.0 technologies, such as Wiki products (e.g., WikiMedia) and photo–sharing sites (e.g., Flickr), also have social networking aspects to them.
Potential Uses of Social Networks by Government
Public social networking sites can be used to further promote government information and services. This could include setting up a LinkedIn group, a Facebook group, or a Ning community. By setting up a group in Facebook, for example, government can bring people together who are employees with those who are interested in a facet of an agency’s work and information. Doing so expands the government’s outreach capabilities and ability to interact.
Public social networking sites can also be used for recruitment. Agencies could advertise jobs and answer questions about jobs on sites such as LinkedIn to attract students and professionals, provided they have already listed their federal jobs on the federal government’s official jobs site USAjobs.gov.
Public social networking sites are a great way to announce events. The Columbus, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce worked with students at Ohio State University to use Facebook to announce the opening event of a new restaurant, leading to long lines of students waiting outside in cold weather until the restaurant opened. The restaurant had the biggest opening day ever for the restaurant chain.
Social networking sites with government partners can help achieve a government’s mission. See the NASA example discussed below.
Interagency and intergovernmental social networking sites can promote cooperation across government. Internal social networking sites can establish connections across traditionally stovepiped and geographically dispersed organizations. Employees could form groups on social networking sites to overcome stovepipes within organizations.
Examples of Government Using Social Networks
NASA built its own community building, collaborative workspace site. NASA’s CoLab program develops and supports online and offline communities collaborating with NASA. With the involvement of many NASA centers, CoLab provides frameworks for partnership projects between the nation’s space program and talented, creative, tech-savvy communities. In addition to getting people more interested and involved with the space program, CoLab provides a way for individuals to actually contribute to NASA.
Many government agency networks and groups have sprung up on sites like Facebook. EPA’s facebook network, for example, has over 750 members—anyone with an EPA email address can become a member of the group. There are similar examples for most agencies.
USA.gov started a Facebook USAgov page in March 2008, for RSS feeds, videos, photos, and other news. The public is invited to become a “fan” of that page.
The CIA has used Facebook to invite students to apply to work at the agency.
The Library of Congress’ Photostream in Flickr is a good example of posting the government’s public domain photos on a social networking site where the public can comment on the photos.
Some agencies have blocked use of social networking sites from government workplaces, citing concerns of proper use, bandwidth, and security. An agencywide ban, without waivers, prevents web managers, communications professionals, and others in the organizations from using these tools to help market and achieve the agency’s mission.
There is nothing to prevent individuals from participating on social networking sites as individuals. However, it may not be clear in some agencies what official interaction agency employees can have on social networking sites.
Additional Resources on Social Networks
- Wikipedia’s Definition of Social Networks
- List of Social Networking Websites, on Wikipidia