Appendix B. Advice for Engaging in Online Conversations
Engage Regularly and Respond Quickly
In social media, conversations take place over minutes or hours, not weeks or months. If you decide to engage in conversation using social media, be sure you can respond quickly and with all the facts. Even if your reaction is “we can’t provide an answer yet,” providing some response quickly is part of the excellent customer service everyone should receive when talking to you. If you host a blog, be sure you dedicate resources to provide new content regularly.
Ask for Input When You Need It
It’s great to involve citizens in the governing process by asking for ideas or input. Before you do, make sure you’re asking about an issue to which you can actually respond. For example, you may want to ask whether your visitors would find a new website feature helpful, but you would avoid asking whether another agency’s website should be redesigned. The public expects us to operate government effectively, and part of doing that is asking for feedback when appropriate.
It’s great to share as much useful information as you reasonably can, so that citizens understand what their government is doing and why. However, every day, we're trusted with information that isn’t appropriate for sharing with the public, such as the status of an ongoing procurement or negotiations over a building lease. If you’re unsure whether something can be shared, talk to your supervisor, security manager or send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Engage for Accuracy, not Argument
Because of the many important issues GSA handles, there’s a lot of conversation about us online. For example, head to Twitter.com and search for “General Services Administration” to see what people are saying about us right now. If you see misrepresentations made about us in social media, you can certainly use your social media site or someone else’s to point out the error and provide correct facts. Make sure your position is factual, and your tone is not disparaging or argumentative.
Admit Mistakes Quickly
Part of honestly engaging with citizens is admitting when you’ve made an error. If you make an error, be upfront and correct it quickly. If you choose to modify something you said earlier, make clear what you're modifying, and make it clear that you've done so (for example, by using
strikethru strikethrough text). Nobody expects you to never make a mistake, but they do expect you to be honest about it.
Remember This Rule of Thumb
Say to citizens on social media only what you would say on the phone or in other official communications. There are always consequences to what you write. If you’re unsure about something, discuss your proposed post with your supervisor.