Social software matches system capabilities against peoples’ natural ability to collaborate and act fast. The White House sees the benefit. The Digital Government strategy, issued this past spring, included the following provision:

"The public expects to be able to interact with government anytime, anywhere and on any device, so agencies must ensure they can live up to these ever-increasing customer demands."

So social media on mobile platforms will become more widely used across agencies, both to communicate with the government, and to improve processes in agencies.

Government administrators need to consider whether their agencies need a simple enterprise social media platform, or what’s becoming known as “worksocial” — an approach that brings together business process management and social media to improve enterprise value for internal and external users alike. 

Here are some ideas for implementing social media in government.

Pick the right technology for the job. Do your system users just need external social media like Twitter or Facebook? Or do they need to do real work, like assigning and completing tasks and accessing enterprise data, in a collaborative social environment?

If it is the latter, government administrators will need a social interface that lets systems and people interact and collaborate. The software can’t lock you into limited integrations. It has to work with middleware and enterprise systems such as enterprise resource planning, financial management and customer relationship management through a robust service-oriented architecture. Social media that integrates with other systems creates engaging social feeds through the automatic posting of relevant systems events and data.

Government managers need to listen to their end-users. Users (typically peers and staffers) already have email, IM, discussion boards, and more. What do they need from social media – and what don’t they need? Enterprise social platforms offer lots of options. If the tool is too big, with too many features already turned on, your users may become confused and adoption will be low. Actively seek end-user input during development, and keep listening after rollout to make sure you are delivering what business users need.

Scope out a straw man project. Pick a high-visibility business process that’s not particularly complex but requires a lot of interactivity. One possibility might be financial or budgetary, where a number of people need to weigh in. This straw man project will demonstrate how well social technology may work for you. It’s hard to ignore a social feed that provides critical financial and customer-oriented events for collaboration and rapid action. It also can reduce or eliminate endless e-mails, replies, forwards and wait times.

Choose the right partners for implementation. Pick vendors or value-added reseller and integrator teams that have both technical and business expertise. Lack of technical know-how will delay the project. Lack of business expertise will create a solution that doesn’t fully meet your need. Government is increasingly using agile methodology for development, so insist on a program that allows you to continuously improve existing implementations and continuously add value by adding new processes to the system. 

Balance security versus openness. Cloud computing has already changed how government thinks about security. Social media has that same type of effect. What can be exposed in a social feed? To whom? Your solution must allow for tight control of groups and roles  — but remember that a "lock it all down" mindset can rob social media of its value. Bureaucracy limits adoption.

Medhat Galal is vice president of enablement at Reston, Va.-based Appian, a supplier of business process management (BPM) software. Increasingly, the company is intertwining its BPM products with enterprise social media.

Editor’s note: Some government agencies are already applying social media and business process management together for better organizational productivity and to make a connection to their constituencies. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, General Services Administration and Defense Information Systems Agency are among federal government groups that are seeing the benefit of blending business process and social media for better, more streamlined operations.

View a step-by-step guide to creating processes in the Appian BPM Suite.