Ask Ellie & Jill: Your Social Media Footprint

Posted on April 19, 2018

In the series, ELGL members can anonymously send their questions, difficulties or scenarios to and receive a response from the ghost writing response team. Your name, organization and other details will not be shared in the posting or subsequent response.

Dear Ellie & Jill,
What advice can you provide on how to manage your local government social media footprint vs. your personal social media image? Can you recommend any do’s and don’ts around online image management for state and local officials?
Not a PR Guy

Hey there Not a PR Guy. Thanks for your questions!
Balancing your personal and work-related social media presence is a super relevant topic! This week ELGL members @OHJenniferTeal and @SWSchweikhart are participating in a panel on this topic at the National Forum for Black Public Administrators FORUM 2018 this week in Cleveland, so we sent your questions over to them for their input. Here’s a recap of what they had to say:
When it comes to your personal social media presence, remember that nothing is truly private. We’re all for maintaining an active personal social media presence but know that, no matter how locked down your privacy might be, anything and everything that you or your friends have posted could come back to haunt you some day. We’ve seen local government political campaigns and job searches go off the rails when a savvy internet user found unflattering social media content about a candidate.
Those rants about a tough day at work, political memes or party photos from back in the day may need to be culled from your accounts. The Facebook feature that reminds you what happened “On This Day” is great, because you can decide daily if that post or photo is something that you don’t want following you around in your work life.  And if you have friends that are always tagging you, consider changing your settings so that this can’t be done without your approval.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t speak your mind, support the candidates and causes that you care about, or photo-document your life, but know that doing so online can have consequences.
It’s also important to think about balance and perception when it comes to your online presence. Make sure that your #humblebrag posts don’t make it look like you’re claiming sole credit for your organization’s accomplishments. You don’t have to build your resume on Twitter. If you’re proud of a recent accomplishment in your community, say so, but don’t make it all about you. For example,

  • DO say “So proud of Community X for being recognized by GFOA for Excellence in Financial Reporting!” 
  • DON’T say “All my late nights writing that CAFR paid off! Community X was recognized by GFOA for Excellence in Financial Reporting”

When it comes to your organization’s official social media presence, here are a few DO’s and DON’Ts to keep your online engagement positive and productive:

  • DO develop and adopt a strong social media policy outlining who is authorized to communicate on behalf of the community, authorized accounts and social media platforms, guidelines for social media engagement, and stylistic guidance. There are several ELGL members that have done this successfully and could share examples.
  • DO be authentic, creative and playful on social media. These platforms give your organization the opportunity to really engage with your constituents. Make the most of them with photos, contests, and polls. You’ll create a wider base of followers by polling your residents on their favorite picnic spot than you will if you only post meeting notices and boil advisories.
  • DO empower your elected officials, boards & commissions and others to be your organization’s online ambassadors by keeping them in-the-know on projects and ongoing issues.
  • DO promote 2-way communication. If a constituent has a question, answer it! if you don’t have the answer right away, a response post that says “That’s a great question! We’re going to check with Public Works and we’ll follow up” shows your constituents that you are responsive.
  • DON’T try to fight the trolls. When someone is bent on slamming a project or public official, fighting back will get you nowhere. Oftentimes, the community will either ignore them or self-police. This is when those well informed online ambassadors can hop in and provide an assist.

While ELGL’s members are amazing at most things, one of the areas where they shine is their social media presence. Before you hop into the ring either personally or professionally, take some time to follow a few members and see how they’re doing things. There is so much we can learn from each other.
We hope this helps, and we look forward to continuing this conversation on social media. Tweet your own #localgov social media DO’s and DON’Ts to @ELGL50 or start a conversation on Facebook in the ELGL50 Members Only group.
Your friends,
Ellie & Jill

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