Navigating the Waters: Federal Public Affairs and Social Media

Naveen Krishnamurthy April 4, 2014 4
Navigating the Waters: Federal Public Affairs and Social Media

USDA FSISWhen I was starting out at the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service public affairs office, my supervisors’ preconceived notion went as follows – “You’re young, you must know social media!” And thus began my career trajectory as social media savant, blogger extraordinaire, tweeting tycoon, etc.…. OK, not 100% accurate but the former is certainly true. Federal government was finally taking a stab at the “new media” craze and public affairs’ offices needed able-bodies, fast.  What was not anticipated was what came next – we got GOOD at it! Facebook chats, Vine videos, Instagram feeds and others gained recognition as real players in the social media field. And the public was liking, sharing, and responding to it.  Now other agencies – with perhaps less resources – are playing catch-up in a whirlwind environment with no structure, no rules (well, some rules), high competition for attention and a sea of information to sift through. What’s an agency to do?

Is it newsworthy?

Is it newsworthy?

Lucky for the digital novices today social media has come full circle. The questions we [social media folks] ask ourselves today are much like those of public affairs professionals – is this newsworthy? What’s our message? Who is our target audience? To further demonstrate my point, the chart below highlights some of the similarities and differences between traditional and social media today:


Traditional Media

Social Media

Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendar

Editorial Calendar 🙂

Identify Media Message

Is it newsworthy?

Will it go viral?

Draft Media Message

Write a Press Release

Write a tweet/status on press release

Length of Content

500-700 Words

500-700 words blog, 140 character tweet, 100-250 character status updates


Add Links

Add images, video, audio, tags


Target Media Outlets

Share/Tweet at/Mention Influencers


Take Press Calls

Respond/Engage on network with Direct Messages, Retweets, and Pings

Amplifying Your Message

Post to website

Direct followers to website

How People Prefer to Receive News

50% of people access news online[1]

19% of people receive news from social media networks


Like a press release, social media content has to be customized to your agency’s mission. The only real differences are the nuances of the language and how we engage with the audience. Content is no longer captured in the one ->many model, it’s a two-way conversation expressed through statuses or tweets containing images, audio, and video.   According to a Pew Research Center study in 2013, 63% of Americans ages 30-49 “say the Internet is where they go to get most of their news, matching the percentage who say television is their top news source for the first time.” This is a significant shift in how we can communicate with our constituent base.

I was once told that the conversation is happening with or without you, so wouldn’t you rather be a part of it? Here are some resources to get started that I have conveniently filtered through.

Open Government, Transparency, and Social Media Presentation (skip to: “Blogs & Government;” “Multimedia and Government Video Sharing, Photo Sharing, Podcasting;” “Widgets, Gadgets, Pipes and Government;” “Micro-blogging Potential Uses”)

Engaging Audiences with Twitter (Webinar) Checklist (pay special attention to: Blog Startup Checklist; Collaboration; Design Templates)

Facebook for Government

How to Create a [Social Media] Editorial Calendar

[1] Caumont, Andrea.“12 trends shaping digital news.” Pew Research Center. Posted October 16, 2013.


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