Contractors Jump in, Feds Hold Back with Social Media

July 29, 2010
By Rachel Eisenhower

Social media use by federal employees and contractors increased dramatically in the last year, but many people still wonder if it is safe and business savvy to jump in to online networking, according to a recent survey.

Market Connections Incorporated presented the data at a breakfast and networking event titled "Social Media in the Federal Community" at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner. The survey reached out to federal employees, evenly divided between defense and civilian participants. Sixty-six percent of the group sampled said they expect to see an overall increase in social media usage in the next 12 to 18 months. With less than 1 percent of those surveyed expecting a drop in social media use, John Kagia, research director at Market Connections, concluded that it's no longer a question of if social media will be a major player, but rather when and how.

Despite this growing presence, roughly 35 percent of federal employees still reported not using social media at all. The reason: 73 percent cited major safety concerns, such as privacy issues associated with open networks. Other potential problems ranged from legal issues to a lack of resources to maintain an online presence.

When asked the same questions, just 13 percent of federal contractors reported not using social media. Kagia said the lower number could be influenced by the age of employees and the work culture of contractors compared with government workers. While 45 percent of federal contractors did reported safety as a concern, the dominant issue was measuring return on investment with 63 percent. Kagia explained that while new media initiatives currently might not lead to actual business transactions, they can provide a dialogue and a wealth of rich information.

A panel session followed Kagia's presentation with Michael Donovan, chief technologist, HP Enterprise Services; Bev Godwin, director, Center for New Media and Citizen Engagement, General Services Administration; and Doug Mashkuri, director of business development, GovLoop. They delivered several key take-home messages on success in social media:

  • Social media tools are free, but using them successfully is not.
  • Sustain content creation-don't just think about the first post. Have an overall goal for how you hope to use the tools.
  • Don't be afraid to take risks and implement new ideas. The social media realm is more likely to accept mistakes and embrace dynamic change.
  • Don't assume all your employees know how to use social media. Make training a priority and set guidelines for use.
  • Identify the channel, know the audience and use the right voice.
  • Remember: it's not just about who signs up, but also who is listening.
  • Monitor what is being said about your company in the social media space. Whether you like it or not, people are talking.
  • Check out for a detailed list of social media tools implemented by government agencies.
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It's quite hard to tell whether it is safe to get involved in social networking - after all, the risk also depends upon the security awareness of the user involved. If people are conscious of the risk, and if they are well-informed on the possible dangers on social networks this automatically reduces the chance that they will become a victim of phishing or other kinds of social network scams. Social networks might be safe for some, while being unsafe at the same time for others.

Very insightful comment--it definitely ties in with the idea of training employees on social media and not assuming that everyone knows how to properly and safely get involved with social networking. Thanks for sharing!

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