Government agencies are always looking for better ways to connect with their audiences while making more effective use of existing (or shrinking) resources. To that end, many agencies—including ours, the National Cancer Institute—have begun to use social media platforms to help serve the communications mission. As these tools have become more widely used, NCI’s Contact Center has become an essential partner in our social media efforts.
For those who don’t know us, NCI is the largest of the 27 Institutes and Centers within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). We are the lead federal agency for cancer research. Our headquarters are in Bethesda, Maryland, but most of the work funded by NCI takes place across the country and internationally. Collecting and disseminating information about cancer is one of NCI’s core responsibilities. NCI’s Cancer Information Service program has been around for 37 years, and responds to public queries by email, phone, live online chat and, most recently, our enterprise social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s how our social media channels work: federal staff create and manage new posts and tweets according to agency priorities and the needs of our audiences, while our contact center staff (with federal review) monitor and respond to user comments and questions related to the posts and Tweets. The contact center’s experience handling public inquiries from other NCI channels (phone, email) transfers beautifully to social media, with some tweaking in the style and timeliness of their responses. This approach helps NCI maintain consistency and accuracy in its messages across all public-facing channels and leverages the skill of contact center staff when helping the public.
NCI and its parent agencies were among the first federal agencies to develop policies by which government social media platforms should be managed, including guidance on how to moderate and manage user posts and tweets. These policies guide the contact center staff on a daily basis. But as any contact center knows, not every public interaction is black and white. And it’s exactly that experience that we have incorporated into NCI’s approach to social media so that both agency and constituent needs are met.
If you’d like more information about our social media policies and procedures, or how our contact center plays a starring role, feel free to contact me.
Candace Maynard is the Senior Program Manager in NCI’s Cancer Information Service.