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Eight Essential Elements

By considering each of these eight essential elements, governments can largely address many of the current concerns surrounding social media use:

1. Employee Access

Governments have discretion, through Web site filtering tools, to restrict access to areas of the Internet deemed non-work related, such as personal email or leisure Web sites. Up until the last two years, social media sites have tended to fall under the non-work related umbrella. However, increasingly social media sites are blurring the line between personal, professional, and official agency use, raising new questions of which employees may access social media sites and what should be the process for gaining access.

Government agencies are managing access in two ways: 1) by controlling the number or types of employees who are allowed access to social media sites or 2) by limiting the types of sites that are approved for employee access. Most of the agencies we interviewed limited employee access to social media, allowing access for only a handful of designated individuals or functions (e.g., leadership or public information officers). Only one of the interviewed agencies allowed all employees unrestricted access to all social media sites.

Other agencies managed access by allowing all employees access to pre-approved social media sites. According to one interviewee, “Our agency allowed viewing access to YouTube after a risk assessment determined there is a business need for it and that the benefits outweighed the risks. All other sites are being blocked. If there is a need or request, it will be evaluated on a case by case basis by the director.”

In agencies with formal policies, some outline required procedures for gaining access to social media sites. Of the 26 policies and guidelines reviewed, five addressed procedures for access. Of those five, most required employees or departments to submit an official business case justification in order to access and use social media sites.

Based on our interviews, the balance between unrestricted and controlled access remains a dilemma for many agencies. While some agencies may value the potential opportunities for professional development when employees are engaged in educational, collaborative, or knowledge sharing activities fostered by open access to social media sites, many still are fearful of the perceived legal and security risks. In addition, once access policy is determined, questions of account management and acceptable use inevitably arise.

Sample language for requesting access

“All social media requests must be submitted in the form of a business case to the Deputy County Executive for Information, who will then consult with the E-Government Steering Committee. If approved, agencies must fill out and have an agency director sign the Procedural Memorandum 70-05 Revised: Request for Waiver/Exemption Form and return it to the Information Security Office in the Department of Information Technology”

~Fairfax County, VA