A video by consultant Kristi Fifelski offers up great tips for elected officials (or candidates, for that matter) using social media. Most of the rules she offers up are pretty conventional, but one rule at the end was clever and worth extra notice. For one thing, the tip is a shoutout to a great line in the movie Ghostbusters: “Don’t cross the streams.”
What this means in practical terms to someone in government is, don’t let your personal social media stream touch your government social media stream. Government officials are likely to have both personal and private social media accounts. It is much easier than you’d think to accidentally share a personal message on your social media account, or a government message on your personal account. As Fifelski notes in the video, a tool like Tweetdeck, where you manage multiple accounts side by side, makes it very easy for you to send a message from the wrong account. That can be very bad if your personal message doesn’t belong on a government account.
On my phone, where I use Hootsuite, small icons indicate whether a Tweet is going to come from my work accounts or personal account. Whenever I share anything from that phone, I look three times to make sure I have the right icon. You would be amazed how often a Tweet coming from my work account suddenly magically jumps to a work account, and vice versa. It is very important to get into the habit of checking at least twice to make sure you’re sharing from the right account. The definition of an accident is that it’s something you didn’t plan. And accidents happen.
Besides the risk of embarrassment that Fifelski explains, there is another reason to avoid crossing the streams. That reason has to do with public records laws. Let’s talk Facebook. A lot of politicians still use their personal Facebook accounts to share government information and talk to people about public policy. In many states, that means the personal Facebook account has now become a public document, and people can request access to it. For many politicians, this could be a disaster. For others, it could be an embarrassment. For others, it might just be the cost of doing business as a politician in 2012. Wherever you come down on the topic, this is something to be aware of.
In Washington state, the public has every right to be confused about how politicians cross streams or don’t cross streams. That’s because different rules apply to different politicians. If you are a city council member, your social media account becomes a public document if you use it for government purposes. But if you are a state legislator, exempt from the public records act, the rules does not apply. So I often had to explain to people why I as a city councilman worked vigorously to have a separate government social media account, and keep public business off my personal account, while my state lawmaker friends posted all sorts of government news from their personal accounts.
Here’s the full video: