Time is one of the most precious resources in social media for government agencies.

Many government social media managers have small teams responsible for managing content and strategy across multiple platforms; others might be the only people focusing on social media at their agencies.

Either way, you must leverage tools and workflows to ensure maximum productivity.

To help you find them, we organized a panel discussion hosted by Thibault Chareton, Communications Manager at UN Global Compact, and featuring expert insights from:

  • Brittni Ehrhart-Gemmill, Digital Marketing and Social Media Coordinator at Colorado Parks and Wildlife
  • Emily Bonilla-Pieton, Social Media Strategist for the Transportation Security Administration’s Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs
  • Mary McGuire, Communications & Digital Media Coordinator for the City of Boca Raton, FL
  • Matt Hamada, Digital Engagement Manager for the City of Phoenix

Read on to learn how to do more with limited resources, set expectations among agency leadership, grow your social media footprint without expanding your team, and much more.

Finding Time for Strategy & Creativity

When it comes to representing the government on social media, a lot of time is spent putting out fires and generally “getting the work done.”

That doesn’t leave a lot of bandwidth for thinking about what comes next, whether planning future social media strategy or brainstorming creative ideas. So how can social media managers make time for that essential big-picture work?

Emily Bonilla-Pieton says her team at the TSA is spread across the country, so they spend a lot of time in video meetings.

As anyone who follows the TSA on Instagram will know, the agency’s social presence leans heavily on dad jokes and puns. “A lot of our personalities kind of adapted to that personality,” Emily admits.

As such, their meetings often focus on humor. “We’ve noticed that by having face-to-face time and just being ourselves and goofing off, we get our best creative work done.”

Emily has also tried to foster a positive environment where colleagues feel comfortable sharing their most out-there ideas. “Having a good attitude, being respectful of people and their ideas, and how to collectively and collaboratively evolve and adapt these ideas to create content for us seems to work best for us.”

Brittni Ehrhart-Gemmill at Colorado Parks and Wildlife also believes in consciously creating time and space for creativity.

This strategy doesn’t necessarily mean a formal, structured meeting. “Maybe it’s taking a walk outside, clearing your head,” she explains.

Brittni also maintains a running list of ideas. “[If] an inspiration strikes when you’re shampooing your hair or walking your dog, you can hopefully remember it and then talk about it later.”

Keeping Abreast of New Updates, Platforms & Content Ideas

As we all know, social media moves fast.

Keeping up with the latest algorithmic updates or checking out hot new platforms can feel like a full-time job. So how do our panelists fit it all in alongside their day-to-day tasks?

Mary McGuire at the City of Boca Raton, FL, relies on social media marketing thought leader Matt Navarra’s newsletter, The Geekout, to stay ahead of the curve.

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“He does a great job of summarizing the week, and then he also holds a Twitter Space on Fridays and has more of a conversation about what’s happening,” she explains.

“I used to try and follow all the different blogs and influencers — it’s too much. And I have found that Matt does a really great job of condensing all of it.”

For Emily at the TSA, keeping up with the pace of social media is about embracing the chaos rather than getting frustrated.

Take the Instagram algorithm as an example. “It seems like every time we figure out the algorithm, they change it up and just make it difficult for people to see our content,” Emily says.

“But our team loves it so much. We spend a lot of time on YouTube searching all the different professional marketers that are sharing their opinions, their two cents, and suggestions.”

They regularly test their findings — sometimes weekly, sometimes even daily. That might mean playing around with hashtags, trying different trending sounds, or experimenting with the latest platform features.

“You have to have fun with that,” Emily insists. “Be open to change because it’s part of the gig in order to get your content to be shared and seen.”

Boosting Efficiency With Social Media Tools

If you only have a small team to handle all your social media-related tasks, you can’t afford to spend a big chunk of time on low-value busy work.

That’s where social media management tools come in. Our panelists rely on many tools to drive efficiencies in social media listening, post-scheduling, graphic design, and more.

Matt Hamada at the City of Phoenix relies on several different tools.

One is Sprout Social, which the city uses for all its social media management.

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Given the City of Phoenix occupies a 20-story city hall building, Matt’s team is often physically far apart. So having Sprout Social as a central digital location for all the city’s social media content is helpful.

“It’s a rich platform that we’re able to connect all of our accounts to so we can see the big picture, which is really good for me and my team to see what all the departments in the city are up to, whether it’s what they’ve already posted or what they have scheduled,” he says.

Matt is also a big fan of using text messaging to discuss content ideas. “It’s a huge tool for us because no matter where we are, we can all open our phones and reply to a text without too much effort.”

Brittni Ehrhart-Gemmill at Colorado Parks and Wildlife is another big fan of Sprout Social. Her team also uses Google Drive for collaboration and Canva for design.

Meanwhile, the TSA uses Clarabridge for various social media tasks, including customer service, social listening, and post-scheduling.

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Regarding content editing, the TSA uses Adobe Suites’ Lightroom and platform-specific tools.

“A lot of the editing for our Reels is done on the platform,” explains Emily Bonilla-Pieton. “Instagram seems to like that best. If you’ve done it, you know it’s not always the easiest. But we spend a lot of time editing on the actual platform.”

Mary McGuire at the City of Boca Raton also advocates for Canva. As her team’s only skilled graphic designer, she creates campaigns in Canva, allowing other team members to access and edit the required assets.

They also lean heavily on Monday.com for project management: “That has been a godsend in keeping us sane.”

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Setting Expectations With Leadership

The fact is, most government leaders aren’t social media specialists. They might have a limited understanding of what can be achieved with a small social media team and a limited budget. So how can you give them realistic expectations?

For Brittni at Colorado Parks and Wildlife, it’s all about one word: data. “Many of the components that we work through here are science-based. So sharing science-based data about our channels is highly effective for us.

“It’s also crucial to understanding the importance of social media and the use of social media across different age sets and regions.”

Mary at the City of Boca Raton agrees, and she relies on data from Monday.com to demonstrate how busy her team is.

Far from placing her team under greater scrutiny, this approach helped leadership understand how under-resourced they were. “We do a year-end report now for our leadership. And when we started doing that, it actually gave us leverage to add another person this fiscal year.”

Leveraging Trending Topics With a Small Team

Jumping on trends and social media holidays can be a highly effective way to drive engagement. But it can be a struggle for small social media teams to stay on top of current events.

Fortunately, there are a few shortcuts and best practices you can use to make life easier.

Emily at the TSA uses a simple Google Calendar to plan for key dates. “Getting a look ahead for the entire year helps us schedule ahead of time,” she explains. “Especially since we’re very pun-infused, it’s a way to adapt and evolve in a punny way.”

She’s also a big believer in leveraging trending sounds on Instagram — but admits this requires a lot of research and due diligence.

Emily says trending sounds only work when paired with relevant content. “If there’s a trending sound that’s associated with the trend and you do not do the trend, that content most likely will not do well.”

She recommends double-checking the music to ensure it’s appropriate for a government agency. “Do some background on who sang the song. Is it a Kanye West song? Does it mean something in a different language? We’re mindful because we’re still government.”

Matt at the City of Phoenix agrees that trends are something to capitalize on — although he accepts that small social media teams won’t have the bandwidth to leverage every trend.

When resources are tight, it’s important to hone in on trends likely to yield the best results. “We really have to look for those opportunities and just wake up each day and see what we’ve all watched last night. If several of us are talking about the same trend then we know there’s something there,” Matt explains.

At the same time, he reminds government social media managers that a trend is only worth referencing if you can tie it back to what you do. “We find a way to wrap it back to city services because that is always going to be our goal for us here in Phoenix. Otherwise, what are we doing on social media?”

Conversely, Brittni at Colorado Parks and Wildlife points out that trends aren’t for everyone.

“I think what’s most important is understanding how your audience responds to trends,” she says. “If you’re consistently doing trends and your followers are not interacting with that, I think that’s a clue that isn’t working for your channel.”

Advocating for Social Media

Advocating for government on social media can be challenging because social media is often perceived as a nice-to-have rather than an essential element of an agency’s marketing and communications strategy.

Matt at the City of Phoenix says the coronavirus pandemic has made it easier to advocate for social media as government leaders increasingly realize that social platforms are many people’s go-to sources of information.

“We have advocated for our team as we need more people to be able to provide this information and work together with our departments to be one group instead of siloed,” he explains.

At the same time, Matt points out that just because social media is fun doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

“If we’re not having fun doing this, then we’re doing it wrong,” he insists. “While maybe the topics aren’t necessarily the most fun, our work in going out and shooting video and coming up with creative ways to tell maybe a boring government story should be fun.”

Featured image by Freepik.

Want more tips on humanizing your agency and boosting engagement through social media? Register for our upcoming virtual government social media conference!