State and local government agencies want to be your friend on Facebook and broadcast their latest tweets via Twitter, but existing state laws can limit their effectiveness.
State agencies also are trying to figure out the best way to retain and archive records created on social media platforms.
Facebook status updates or tweets from Twitter can be viewed online, but the companies allow searching for limited periods of time. That could pose problems if agencies receive open records requests for updates or content that goes back two or three years.
Douglas Doe, Web manager with the Office of State Finance, said his agency is negotiating with archiving services and working with the state Libraries Department to update existing records retention schedules and definitions.
"We’re trying to decide if we need to draft new record types or use existing record types that things in the Web 2.0 arena would map to,” Doe said.
"It’s incumbent in state government that we try to identify as many content types as we possibly can.”
The Internet’s "Wild West” mentality of anything goes also has given some government agencies pause when it comes to social media.
The automatic ad placement on Facebook pages can be embarrassing or inappropriate for a general audience. Monitoring the comments or messages from such accounts also can turn into a full-time job for already busy employees. Another pitfall can be whom to "follow” on Twitter and whether it constitutes an official endorsement by that agency or government.
Agencies are leery of using social media
Zach Nash, creative services manager for the city of Oklahoma City, said he’s careful to limit whom the city follows on Twitter to other agencies or nonprofits. That account has more than 3,000 followers but follows just 12 others.
"We’re constantly updating or answering questions, but at the same time, we try not to neglect our flagship Web site, whose traffic dwarfs our Twitter or Facebook accounts,” Nash said.
The city has had success using frequent Twitter updates during weather emergencies to convey information about closings, shelters or snow routes to users and the media, Nash said. During normal times, the city tries not to overdo its updates.
"It’s a way to start the conversation,” Nash said of Twitter.
"We deal in facts or answer specific questions about city services.
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