The NCSL Blog


By Kevin Frazzini

Sometimes, it seems trouble is just a tweet away.

Other times, say, during a weather crisis, a timely post can let constituents know you’re on top of things and are ready to help.

“Social media can crush you in an instant, or help you in 30 seconds,” as public relations expert Maura Devine put it.

Avoiding the “crushing” and maximizing the “helping” were the subjects of the two-part presentation “Media Workshop: Top Tactics, Thoughtful Strategies and Legal Considerations for Your Social Media Life,” at NCSL’s annual Legislative Summit on Monday.

Devine, a managing director of the Chicago office of the communications company Kivvit, handled part one, on public affairs; Julie Tappendorf, an equity partner with the Chicago law office Ancil Glink, covered part two, on the legal aspects of social media use.

Instead of frightening legislators and staffers about the career-ending dangers of social media blunders, both took a practical approach, which begins by establishing a clear social media policy.

Everyone on your team needs to know your expectations when it comes to using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and the ever-increasing variety of social media tools. A good policy also defines for visitors to your official website what type of comments are not permitted and might be subject to removal.

Both presenters offered several tips for public officials on social media. Here are a few, starting with Devine’s:

• Use pictures and videos. Graphics generate 313 percent more user engagement, Devine said. Infographics, for example, are three times more likely than text messages to be shared on social media.

• Promote your events as they happen. Take advantage of the real-time value of social media with tools like Twitter, Facebook Live and Periscope.

• When a crisis occurs, use all of your social media channels. Many of your constituents are on several social platforms; you should be, too.

• Interact! Use your social media tools as an efficient way to create a dialogue with your constituents.

Tappendorf added a few reminders from a legal perspective:

• Government social media posts are probably public record. That means they can be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.

• Don’t censor public comments on your posts. It’s OK to monitor, but, generally, critical remarks that aren’t threatening and don’t contain hate speech should not be deleted.

• Don’t put the intern in charge of social media. Exceptions include interns hired to run your social media; generally, however, social media activity is part of your public outreach. Treat it seriously.

• Create your own content. Some material images, graphics, articles, etc.on the web is in the public domain; much of it is not. Don’t risk a copyright violation by using someone else’s work, unless you have permission.

Kevin Frazzini is the assistant editor of State Legislatures magazine.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.