Is it better for an agency or an agency head to be on Facebook?

In gov’t web management circles, a common assumption is that there isn’t much interest in agency heads.  Rather, people come to us for information or to do things like get their driver’s licenses.  I discuss this idea with my friend Candi Harrison on a regular basis, and she’s blogged about how much she dislikes making a big deal out of agency heads.

I agree with the point that our Web sites should be about primarily about serving citizens. But I’m starting to wonder whether,  in the world of social media, we’re missing an opportunity.

At EPA, we’re trying out a few different approaches on Facebook. Comparing Administrator Lisa P. Jackson’s page to the main EPA Facebook page, we’re getting some good data that suggests the personal approach works really well in this venue.

EPA has 2660 fans. Administrator Jackson has 1391 fans, but is growing faster.

On Facebook, fans can click a button saying they like something and they can also comment.  Let’s look at what happened with a recent post on each page about an op-ed by Administrator Jackson on selling environmentalism.

On the main EPA page, 4 people clicked they liked it and 4 commented.  On the Administrator’s page, 33 clicked they liked it and 20 commented.

This result is typical when we post things to both pages.

My takeaway is that for items focused specifically on Administrator Jackson, her page’s fans react much more.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens as we make efforts to have the main page be more interactive and personal, and as we focus on a few specific topics.

And while we’re looking at personal vs. organizational, here’s a related question: is it possible to have a Facebook fan base heavily engage with a page that covers a broad variety of topics, or is it better to focus it much more narrowly?  I’m guessing the latter is better in terms of measuring engagement.

Stay tuned.

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7 Responses to “Is it better for an agency or an agency head to be on Facebook?”


  1. 1 Kevin Lanahan September 4, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    That’s an interesting question.

    I think most people would rather become fans of a person rather than an organization, even if the person is a “front” for the organization.

    EPA has an engaging Administrator who has really reached out to show a new face of EPA. She’s obviously ok with being a very public face to an agency in transition. You have made a compelling case in your agency to devote resources to social media and are able to develop content for multiple facebook pages.

    I’m trying to imagine officials from the previous administration trying to understand social media. I can’t visualize Henry Paulson’s Facebook page.

    It will come down to agencies embracing social media and devoting staff time to it. That may take a few years to become the norm, perhaps as boomers retire and millennials rise in the ranks.

    One administrative question: When the Administrator leaves, does the Page disappear and get replaced with the new Administrator? What happens to all those fans?

    • 2 Jeffrey September 4, 2009 at 2:04 pm

      Thanks. I agree with your points. When she leaves, I think she can do what she likes with her page, and we’ll start a new one for the new person. We discussed whether the URL should be facebook.com/epaadministrator, but decided to make it more directly hers.

  2. 3 Michael Hessling September 4, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Part of it is that Administrator Jackson is really personable. You *matter* when you’re talking to her. That helps a ton. Plus, it’s easier to be a fan of a person than of a faceless, monolithic agency.

    The only drawback might be the short lifespan of an agency head’s political career.

    For your other question, what if EPA had separate FB pages for major issues? The same person who managed the topic page at epa.gov could manage the FB page. The main FB page could then link to those separate pages….

    • 4 Jeffrey September 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Mike. Yep, the same person could manage both, provided time and energy was there. I’m also thinking of having FB pages for specific communities. Not “every” community, but a few trial cases.

  3. 5 Cindy Findley September 4, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Jeffrey, interesting results. I don’t disagree with your theories.

    I recognize Lisa’s name from EPA press releases. As a matter of fact, I am going to make her my friend on Facebook because I will look more important by having HER as my friend. Is Lisa on LinkedIn as well?

    Cindy Findley
    Marketing Director for CyberRegs

  4. 6 Carolyn Barranca September 8, 2009 at 7:47 am

    My concern is that while facebook, linkedin are great, they really still only reach small numbers of “fans.” I think we have to go back to the marketing maxims of reaching the most people with the most effective media and sending the best information. Pushing information to only 2660 people out of the total U.S. population is not very impressive. And we need to know WHO those people are. Are they policy makers, stakeholders…?

    As with any marketing plan, you must look at the return on investment for every marketing avenue. While the social media’s are free, staff time is not and neither is the time to craft the messages, etc.

    I’m fascinated with the new media too, but don’t want to give up on all the other media for a total approach.

  5. 7 media buyers March 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm

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I’m on Twitter @levyj413

  • @MeghanJG Wow! Yep, I called into Science Friday when they had Tim O'Reilly on to discuss social media and gov't. 3 weeks ago
  • Just realized I've been doing social media for the gov't for 10 years! 3 weeks ago
  • @ariherzog Hi Ari. I've been pretty quiet on Twitter for a while now. Just focused elsewhere. 1 month ago

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