If I asked you to tell me about social media marketing, you’d probably describe an e-commerce brand promoting its products. Or maybe a B2B company using social platforms to generate leads.
But those aren’t the only use cases for social – far from it.
Social media for government agencies can be a key tool for educating their audience, explaining the work they do and the value it provides.
The challenge for these public bodies is to communicate in a way that’s creative, engaging, and exciting, without falling short of the standards people expect from taxpayer-funded organizations.
That can be a tough brief to fulfill, but here are 10 examples of local, state, and federal government agencies that do it extremely well.
1. FBI Little Rock
Think about the FBI and it’s hard not to picture a Will-Smith-in-Men-in-Black type figure, dressed in shades and a dark suit, with a no-nonsense expression.
Unsurprisingly, the reality is a little different. The FBI employs about 35,000 people who perform a wide range of roles – often without wearing sunglasses!
Clearly, there’s a lot of confusion around what the bureau actually does. Look up the FBI on Answer the Public, a tool that uses autocomplete data to identify what people are searching for on any given topic, and you’ll find an array of questions related to the organization’s role and responsibilities:
As such, the FBI’s numerous social platforms have an important part to play in lifting the lid on the bureau’s inner workings.
The FBI Little Rock Twitter account is a great example of government social media. Using the hashtag #DayintheFBI, it regularly showcases some of the lesser-known tasks performed by its employees, such as maintaining radio towers and communications equipment:
What’s more, it frequently deep-dives into specific topics, using its Twitter presence as a hub of valuable information on issues such as human trafficking.
When it comes to crafting engaging social content, NASA clearly has an advantage. Space exploration is exciting, and people naturally want to know about it.
However, that’s still no guarantee of a high-quality social presence. Without a well-planned social strategy and a creative approach to communicating often complex topics, NASA’s Twitter feed could be as dry as the surface of Mars.
The agency uses a range of tactics to keep its audience engaged.
Firstly, it publishes content you can’t find anywhere else. When NASA makes a new breakthrough or hits a key project milestone, its Twitter feed is the place to look.
Secondly, it makes use of a wide range of content types, from gifs and videos to photos and links, to share further information.
And that’s not all.
NASA isn’t afraid to jump in on relevant topics that aren’t unique to the work it’s doing, helping the organization put itself at the heart of wider conversations.
Its social media team is clearly always looking out for these sorts of opportunities, as demonstrated by this tweet on National Pi Day:
3. Department of Defense
The Department of Defense (DoD) Facebook profile is a prime example of government and social media. The team does a great job of humanizing the agency on its platforms.
The DoD is America’s largest government agency. The department’s stated aim is to “provide the military forces needed to deter war and ensure our nation’s security”, but what specifically do all those people do on a daily basis?
Using the hashtag #KnowYourMil, the agency showcases some of the more exciting, unusual, and unexpected projects it’s involved in across the world, such as supporting scientific research in the Antarctic:
4. Federal Emergency Management Agency
Social media isn’t all about getting engagement for the sake of engagement. At times of crisis, it plays a key role in ensuring crucial information can be distributed effectively and at scale.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency clearly recognizes this. During major incidents, its social profiles provide a constant stream of information, including the important task of disproving potentially damaging rumors.
What’s more, it often does this through visual content like infographics, which are highly shareable and help the agency to communicate its points in a way that’s easily understandable.
5. Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Anyone working in social media has heard the phrase “don’t feed the trolls”. It essentially means: “Don’t get involved in conversations on social media, because it’ll just end badly.”
That might be a safe approach to social, but if you follow that self-imposed rule to the letter, you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities to engage your audience and build a real community around your work. After all, it’s called “social” for a reason.
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources understands this, and isn’t afraid to join in with discussions and respond to questions:
The lesson here? Always have someone monitoring your social notifications to look out for instances where you can join in with the conversation in the comments section – it’s such a simple opportunity to engage your community and win some positive sentiment.
6. Transportation Security Administration
If NASA is a prime example of a social media team making the most of an already-interesting subject matter, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) demonstrates that with a bit of creative thinking, your social presence can be way more engaging than it probably should be.
Over the years, the TSA has racked up close to one million followers on Instagram – the spiritual home of aspirational lifestyle influencers and envy-inducing travel bloggers.
How does it do this? By demonstrating its sense of humor.
It turns out that a lot – and I mean a lot – of passengers try to sneak some pretty bizarre stuff through airport security. The TSA knows this and has made it the basis of its whole presence on the image-sharing site.
As Bob Burns, the agency’s former public affairs specialist and social media lead explained: “When people come to our account, they’re kind of taken aback by the tone we use – in a good way. ‘Is this really a government agency having fun and talking to me like I’m a human?’ Which makes them want to follow us.”
7. City of San Diego
As a local government account, the City of San Diego’s Twitter profile has a duty to inform its followers, the majority of whom presumably live in the Californian city.
Fulfilling this task naturally involves keeping tabs on the news agenda, responding to media reports on San Diego, and – when relevant – putting its own spin on events.
Because it’s not afraid of demonstrating a little emotion on the timeline, the city’s social media team demonstrates that the local authority is at the heart of its community and genuinely cares about what’s going on in the area.
It’s a far cry from the sort of dry and overly professional content you might expect a local government agency to adopt.
8. Department of Health & Human Services
As we’ve seen throughout this article, part of running a successful social feed – as a government agency, or in any other sector – boils down to identifying the most effective content type for communicating your message.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) understands this and makes use of a wide range of visual content formats, including static imagery and short-form video.
Clearly, the department is well aware of the value of video content on social platforms. Indeed, on Facebook, videos generate more engagement than any other content type, with an average engagement rate of 6.09%.
With those sorts of numbers, it’s absolutely worth investing a little time in building simple, slideshow-style video content, like the DHHS has done here:
9. Maryland Center for School Safety
One of the biggest social media challenges facing government agencies is the need to create accessible content, communicating often complex messaging in a way that’s immediately understandable.
To do this, Maryland Center for School Safety utilizes a wide range of content formats to get its points across in the most meaningful and impactful ways.
For instance, rather than simply writing a text post incorporating statistics on cyberbullying, the agency has put in a little extra effort and created a simple but effective visual post instead.
Why go to this trouble? It’s simple: social posts accompanied by visual elements perform better. In fact, according to BuzzSumo, Twitter posts with images generate 2.3 times the engagement of posts without images.
10. Lexington County Sheriff’s Department
It’s all well and good marveling at the incredible social content being produced by the likes of NASA and the DoD, but most government agencies just aren’t on the same scale.
Small agencies have small teams and small budgets. They might only have a single person responsible for handling a whole range of social platforms – and that person might also have other responsibilities, like writing blogs, creating visual content, and responding to media inquiries.
How can a tiny team possibly find the time to post creatively?
One way is to let technology do some of the hard work for you. Tools like Canva allow you to take a standard, uninspiring post and polish it up into something that has the power to stop people in their tracks as they scroll through a crowded timeline.
This is exactly what Lexington County Sheriff’s Department does, brightening up a simple public service announcement with a slideshow that makes the post far more engaging.
When done well, government social media can shine a light on the great work our government agencies are doing, dispelling the notion that all government information has to be buttoned up and stuffy. Do you have a government agency whose work you’re impressed with on social? Share in the comments below.
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