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“Did you see what he tweeted?”

For nearly two years now, that one question has been asked in every single morning meeting that I’ve been in with federal contractors or employees. It’s on everyone’s mind when they start their day – what did the President tweet today?

Regardless of your political views, the fact that this question is always asked – and the answer always anticipated – reveals how Trump has shattered several myths about the way the federal government can or should communicate. Most importantly, the notion that social media doesn’t impact the government’s day-to-day activities has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Moving forward, it’s important for agencies and industry alike to recalibrate how they use social media to navigate this landscape.

Surprise, Surprise: The Feds Use Social Media

When I started at Merritt Group in 2015, the common refrain from our clients – supported by federal decision-makers at the time – was that government does not focus on social media. When we were putting together marketing and media strategies to reach those decision-makers, social media rarely played a role. Why would it? Why spend time and resources on an avenue that won’t matter?

That myth started to crumble during the 2016 Presidential election as the candidates, most obviously Trump, started using social media in new ways to reach potential voters. Social media had existed during previous elections but this was a different approach. This wasn’t a politician using a Twitter account to give a bigger megaphone to their press releases – this was a politician circumventing the media to get their message out to everyone.

It started a shift in the media landscape that has continued unabated since, with more reporters and publications using their social media platforms to distribute news, at times breaking stories on Twitter before on the publication’s homepage. Even sites like Axios have completely revamped how stories are presented to mimic the quick-hit nature of social media, such as this recent piece by Axios’ founder Mike Allen on Trump’s reaction to Saudi Arabia boiled down to less than 300 words.

Furthermore, it has provided definitive proof that federal employees and agency leaders are not only using social media to push information – they are relying on it to inform them of trends and what is really concerning citizens.

Using Social Media to Your Advantage

Now that we know federal leaders are using social media, it’s time to figure out how to reach them with your message. If you’re a contractor or tech company trying to get in front of decision-makers, here are a couple best practices to keep in mind:

  • Clear, Concise Messaging: You need to get across what you want to federal decision-makers in an instant. Ensure that anything you post on social media gets your ideas across clearly and concisely. Just because Twitter gives you 280 characters doesn’t mean you need to use them all. The @GreatGovTweets account provides a nice overview of quality tweets from agencies.

  • Use Dynamic Content: One of our clients wanted to reinvigorate their social media presence and our path forward was to include more images, whether from events or meetings, to put a “personal” face on the company. Within the first month of focusing on images, the number of likes increased 209 percent (!!) compared to the month prior, and social shares increased by 90 percent. Whether it’s pictures, graphics, gifs or videos – visually appealing content will drive engagement.

  • Engagement Is Telling: The ultimate goal of social media marketing is to begin a conversation with your audience, whether that’s a decision-maker at a specific agency, an industry partner or the public at large. In addition to dynamic content, use big moments like a trending topic or a big event to drive people to engage with your content. A like, a share, a follow – that’s how the conversation starts.

  • You Never Know Who’s Reading: Some companies get frustrated when their follower count fails to grow. In Federal IT, sometimes it only takes *one* important person to read to make everything worthwhile. One Merritt Group client posted an article they wrote for FCW across their social channels and within two days, a leader at the U.S. Coast Guard reached out directly because of the article. The leader wasn’t following the company – the article had been shared into his network.

  • Be Bold, Take Chances: This may ultimately be the most important to consider when posting on social media. Of course, not every post needs to be a head-turner with the potential to go viral. But if you have something to say, do not be afraid to say it. If the era of Trump has taught us anything about social media, it’s that the American people are looking to those who say what’s on their mind and take the initiative.

Want to learn more about federal marketing and communications in this era? Download this interesting study to read more!

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