A new report by the Partnership for Public Service said the federal government must move faster to embrace social media because it’s “not just a passing trend” but an important mechanism for advancing government effectiveness.

The report, to be officially released Wednesday, found pockets of excellence in agencies using social media and digital applications, but concluded that “use of digital platforms is by no means standard across government.”

“In fact, some federal employees are still prohibited from even accessing social media sites,” said the report, #connectedgov – Engaging Stakeholders in the Digital Age.

The power of social media must be evaluated to figure out how it can be used for agencies to carry out their work, fulfill their missions and engage with stakeholders, said the Partnership report with Booz Allen Hamilton.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership, said the report found some bright spots for social media in government, but added that agencies must do more to share what they have learned and build on their successes.

“There is going to be less money to do the work of government,” said Stier. “Technology offers a huge opportunity to improve the quality of government at less cost.”

Program managers, who have been lagging – clinging to the ways they’ve always done things, need to catch up with the nearly decade-old social media revolution, the report said.

“It is not enough to flip a switch and log on to social media,” the report said.

To be effective, program managers need to think strategically about how to use social media to support agency mission and achieve program outcomes. They need to get past the tactical hurdles that can stand in the way of meaningful implementation and be pre­pared to learn and adapt continuously so their initiatives can remain attractive to users as social media continues, the report said.

While government adoption and use of digital technologies remains uneven across federal agen­cies, the compelling value of social media to federal agen­cies has become clear, and it’s here to stay, it added.

“Social media is more than just another route for one-time, one-way dissemination of static information. Government agencies can receive information back from populations, communicate with them about next actions, and reach and organize groups that then communicate with each other,” the report said.

Social media can connect large populations and remote groups, and content can be customized and updated almost instantly, at relatively low cost, it said.

And, most significantly, an entire generation of voters and taxpayers now expects to communicate and conduct transactions through social media. Many citizens do not even remember life without such interaction. This is the new normal, it added.

The report looked closely at seven programs at different agencies to evaluate what’s working for them on social media.

In those cases, program managers used social media to achieve program goals, and offer lessons and examples that can be readily adopted and used in other agency programs. The program managers in all these cases engaged communities of interest using Facebook, Twit­ter, wikis and smartphone apps.

Among the programs highlighted:

  • The Department of Energy’s internal wiki for facilitating employee collaboration.
  • FEMA’s use of social media to provide disaster information in real time.
  • CDC’s reporting system for monitoring influenza nationwide.
  • NARA’s use of an existing wiki site to recruit volunteers with valuable expertise.
  • NASA’s crowd sourcing strategy for engaging knowledgeable people to help solve technical challenges

As the public demand for real-time, digital interaction grows, it always helps to use some ingenuity, the report said.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wanted to engage a younger audi­ence, the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response decided to run some posts featuring a “zom­bie apocalypse” on its blog.

The tongue-in-cheek posts about the Walking Dead and preparations for the zombie apoca­lypse brought the CDC 10 times its normal blog traffic.