Social Media As A Vital Engagement Platform For Government Outreach

by Matt Anthes

Co-founder and CEO at SociallyMined, overseeing launch of Advocacy 2.0, a hybrid public relations-digital advocacy tool.

Social media has evolved into the preferred method to reach and engage with the masses, culminating in exponential amplification. Individuals, businesses and celebrities have harnessed its power, yet the government has been slow to maximize social media as an outreach tool. Why has the government been slow to adopt?

Over time, the federal government has been behind the curve as it pertains to effective use of social media. The government traditionally used its social platforms as a way to provide static information via direct hyperlinks or to provide applicable updates on agencies. As social media has evolved, the government is viewing it more as a tool rather than a mandated “e-government” initiative for public service delivery. These accounts provide for input (e.g. signing up for updates), which helps the agency identify and understand its followers and track their sentiment.

In the past, an agency’s social media account was a standalone tool, as there was no integration with other technology solutions. The Department of Homeland Security was an early adopter by rolling out the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which is a new approach to the nationwide alert and warning system coordinated via

Ultimately, the government is still behind on the perceived value of its social media accounts. For example, according to social analytics data from HYPR, the FEMA Twitter account had only 634,000 followers (0.2% of the U.S. population) in advance of hurricane season. By comparison, Kim Kardashian had 54.8 million followers – a stark difference that illustrates FEMA has not articulated with citizens the capabilities of its Twitter account. FEMA has incorporated an integrated sign-up via its social channels that provides critical information via Twitter alerts in a time of crisis.

Homeland Security Foundation of America Chairman Eric Brown recently stressed the importance of leveraging all available platforms for emergency communications.

“Our job is to help bridge the gap between the government and the public,” Brown said to me. “We have to do that on all fronts. Shifting our thinking to an ‘all devices’ approach is more than just a good idea. Communicating with the public via social media can be an effective way to disseminate safety information to keep people informed before, during and after emergencies.”

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