Just like people, government agencies have different takes on Facebook and Twitter. Some jumped on early; others still haven't quite figured out social media; and a few just can't — or won't — be bothered with this newfangled stuff.
Denver wants to get all of its agencies on the same social-media page, and so the city is currently formulating a policy — due to be released this summer — that will incorporate tips, rules and good practices. "We did a big review of all the agency sites that exist to see how they are using social media," explains city spokeswoman Sabrina D'Agosta, who is writing the policy. "And it's all over the board. Some are scared, and others are way out ahead and have been using it for a long time."
But the city is also trying to avoid a pothole that the state has recently fallen into: liability concerns for government bodies.
In April, the Colorado Attorney General's Office advised state agencies that didn't already have Facebook pages that they might want to keep it that way — at least for a while. (There are already hundreds of Facebook pages dedicated to Colorado agencies and institutions, primarily connected with colleges and universities.) AG John Suthers was particularly concerned with the "indemnity clause" in Facebook's terms of service, which stipulates that Facebook can't be held responsible if one user initiates legal action against another user.
The state wants the clause removed when it comes to government Facebook pages and has been negotiating the issue for six months. But so far, nothing has changed, says Suthers spokesman Mike Saccone.
"Our hope is that Facebook will have resolved it before we issue our social-media policy," D'Agosta notes.
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In the meantime, Denver has also been discouraging agencies, mostly boards and commissions, from starting up Facebook pages — but not because of any indemnity concern, D'Agosta says: "We just want there to be some consistency across the board." For instance, not every commission may need its own page. "Some of them may only get fifteen or twenty fans, so it's not a good use of their time," she explains.
The move to create an official social-media policy — which will also include guidelines on Twitter and what city employees can do on their own pages — was prompted last summer, when the city decided to convert Mayor John Hickenlooper's personal Facebook page into a fan page. Personal pages are only allowed to have 5,000 or fewer friends, and the mayor had exceeded that mark. Since then, several other city departments have transitioned their presence on Facebook from personal pages to fan pages. "We realized then that we should share some of the lessons learned," D'Agosta says.
D'Agosta and members of the mayor's public-relations team had maintained that fan page, but that became sticky after Hickenlooper declared his candidacy for governor on January 12, since city employees can't campaign while they are on the job. City staffers recently ceded the page to Hickenlooper's campaign staff, D'Agosta says.
Scene and herd: BTW, John Suthers has a personal Facebook page, and with exciting updates like this one posted on March 24, who wouldn't want to be his friend? "It is my duty to protect the people of Colorado and continue to uphold the original framework that our founding fathers laid before us," he wrote of national health care reform. "If a bill is unconstitutional, Colorado will fight it."