The Department of Energy is committed to expanding the conversation on energy issues and upholding open government principles of transparency, participation and collaboration. One of the key ways we seek to accomplish this is through the use of social media.
"Social media" is a broad term for a wide spectrum of interactive and user-driven content technologies, including social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Like many government agencies, the Department is exploring how best to use social media to accomplish our mission, engage the public in discussion and include the public in the governing process. The Office of Digital Strategy and Communications (Digital Office) in the Office of Public Affairs leads the Department's social media efforts.
The following information defines the broad Department of Energy strategy for social media use; details the means by which program and staff offices may contribute to the Department's social media presence; and shares best practices for various social media tools.
The Department is considered a leader among federal agencies in digital innovation and engagement through social media. We are continually exploring how best to use social media platforms to engage the public in open discussion about energy issues and how they benefit from the Department’s work.
The entire Department benefits from a strong enterprise brand, embodied by Energy.gov. Social media helps to extend this brand online and further into the public sphere, using a two-tiered approach:
ENERGY.GOV-BRANDED ENTERPRISE ACCOUNTS. A strong, well-developed enterprise social media brand is the primary tier of the Department's social media strategy. This tier includes any official Energy Department presence on a social media platform that is managed by staff in the Office of Digital Strategy and Communications. Offices and labs across the Department are encouraged to contribute content and ideas to these accounts by contacting our staff with suggestions.
OFFICE-SPECIFIC SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS. On a limited, case-by-case basis, The Digital Office approves formal requests from program and staff offices for their own social media accounts. Requests are typically approved when (1) there is a clear benefit of external office-specific stakeholder outreach that is not already being met by Energy.gov’s tier-one social media efforts; and (2) the office making the request has developed an effective strategy to develop and maintain a stakeholder audience on social media.
Like any externally facing communications activity, proper management of social media accounts is a commitment of time and resources. We urge offices to think carefully about whether their social media goals could be adequately met by working with us to promote their content and programs on the Department's pre-existing enterprise social media accounts, whose posts regularly reach audiences of hundreds of thousands -- sometimes millions -- of users.
Contributing to the Energy Department’s Enterprise Social Media Accounts
Offices and labs are enthusiastically encouraged to contribute to our tier-one enterprise social media accounts.
The Department has a presence on the following social media platforms (this is an evolving list):
If your office has a blog post or other piece of content that you’d like amplified via the Department’s social media accounts, we encourage you to pitch it to the Digital Communications staff for consideration at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will evaluate submitted content on a case-by-case basis and make a determination about its audience appropriateness before deciding to approve and schedule a social media post.
More information about content pitches and submissions to Energy.gov can be found on our Article Guidance page.
Requesting a New Official DOE Social Media Account
The Digital Office approves all tier-two social media accounts at the Energy Department, and will assist as needed with implementation and compliance. To request a new account, or request to have your current account recognized as official by the Department, submit an online social media request form. The Digital Office will assess and respond to requests within a reasonable time period.
Before submitting a social media request form, think about the following questions:
Is there is a clear benefit of external office-specific stakeholder outreach associated with your proposed account that is not already being met by Energy.gov’s tier-one social media efforts?
Have you developed an effective strategy to build a stakeholder audience on social media, and/or exhausted existing tools to do so?
Has your office or program tried engaging stakeholders via social media before? If so, was it successful? If not, why?
Remember: All social media sites require active oversight to ensure proper management. Take these commitments into account when weighing whether to create a new social media presence.
Before requesting an account, personnel should consult with the appropriate actors within their program office or lab to ensure that the proper authorizations and procedures are in place. This includes reaching out to supervisors and the point of contact for records management, privacy, communications/new media and the program's representative from General Counsel.
The following information is required for requests:
For all requests
- Name of the person submitting the request
- Title and office of the person submitting the request
- Contact email
- Contact phone number
- Are you authorized to make this request?
- Social media application(s) you want to utilize
- Existing account? (y/n)
- Justification for needing an account
- Proposed or current account username/URL
- Proposed or current account bio
- Criteria for following others, friending others, etc.
- Content and feedback strategy
- Staff management plan, including post frequency
- Sample post(s), if applicable
For new accounts only
- Desired launch date
- Rollout plan
For existing accounts only
- Length of existence
- Have you completed a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA)?
- Are you currently covered under DOE's amended terms of service?
- What is your current records process?
Accounts that are approved yet consistently fail to meet the best practices outlined in this document are subject to review by the Digital Office, which will work with supervisors in program offices and labs to determine appropriate next steps.
Should you determine that you would like to forgo the account creation process and simply have your content featured as part of the larger enterprise presence, you can contact the Digital Office to discuss options for assisting with outreach and amplifying your message.
You may also use the online social media request form to request that the Department pursue a terms of service agreement with a social media tool or application that is offered by apps.gov but is not currently part of our portfolio.
The Digital Office provides detailed best practices guidance for four specific social media platforms:
The following general guidance applies across all platforms:
- DO develop a comprehensive social media strategy and plan, including identifying your audience, developing a posting schedule and designating staff members to take responsibility for drafting and approving posts.
- DO write conversationally, but take care to be accurate and avoid grammatical and spelling errors.
- DO treat other users -- both internal and external -- with courtesy and respect. To do otherwise reflects poorly on the Department.
- DO link to appropriate external content that complies with the Energy Department’s linking policy (available on our Web Policies page). For content from federal government websites, use the go.usa.gov link-shortening tool.
- DO correct misinformation in a polite, professional manner.
- DON’T speak on behalf of the Department unless you are authorized to do so. Energy Department social media content is considered official in nature, meaning it is meant to represent official messaging, policy and objectives of the Energy Department.
- DON’T start using a social media platform on behalf of the Department until you have submitted an official social media request to the Digital Office, and received confirmation from us that your request has been approved.
- DON’T use your personal social media accounts for official Energy Department business.
- DON’T post Personally Identifiable Information (PII), information that has not been publicly released, or is otherwise sensitive, classified or “Official Use Only.”
- DON’T post information that is political in nature, or implies endorsement of non-federal government products, organizations or services.
From the Privacy Act of 1974 to the Office of Management and Budget policies on third party sites and multi-session cookies, federal agencies have specific requirements regarding privacy and Personal Identifiable Information (PII). These policies require the Department to file Privacy Impact Assessments (PIA) in order to utilize social media platforms like Facebook, Uservoice or Twitter for official business. The Digital Office has filed several PIAs for the Department as a whole in order to empower others to take advantage of these communication tools. They include the following:
- Google Analytics
Personnel seeking to verify existing social media presences or establish new ones on the platforms above must consult the existing PIA for that platform to make sure that presence is compliant. If you're interested in using a social media platform that's not on this list, or have questions about any of the PIAs above, contact the Digital Office for assistance.
If you have questions about federal privacy requirements, contact the privacy officer assigned to your office.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, provides a right of access to federal agency records, including any information created or maintained by the Department. Voluntary disclosure of information through a social media platform outside the federal government may waive the application of statutory privileges under federal law and compromise the Department's ability to withhold such information in the future.
If you are concerned about making information publicly available through social media or have any questions regarding federal information law, contact the Office of General Counsel or the Office of Public Affairs.
The Department of Energy respects different opinions and hopes to foster conversation within our online presence. To that end, the Department does not pre-moderate users' comments on our enterprise accounts. This means that users' comments are automatically published, but they may be removed by a Department of Energy official if they violate our comment policy.
Comments may be removed from Department of Energy blogs or social media accounts if they:
- Contain obscene, indecent or profane language;
- Contain threats or defamatory statements;
- Contain hate speech directed at race, color, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ethnicity, age, religion or disability;
- Contain sensitive or personally identifiable information; and/or
- Promote or endorse specific commercial services or products.
All content generated by the Department of Energy is subject to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for retention, storage and publication. Federal records management policies regarding social media are still evolving.
The CIO has issued interim guidance for the Department of Energy regarding the management of social media records. We can expect additional updates to these policies as our work continues to evolve in the social media sphere. For specific questions regarding records management, contact the records management officer assigned to your office.
Access to and Use of Social Media
The Department of Energy encourages the responsible use of social media consistent with current laws, policies and guidance that govern information and information technology. Department organizations will not arbitrarily ban access or the use of social media.
Department of Energy personnel are encouraged to access and contribute content on social media sites in their official capacity. However, personnel should obtain supervisory approval prior to creating or contributing significant content to external social media sites or to engaging in recurring exchanges with the public.
Employees are subject to the applicable Standards of Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch (5 C.F.R. Part 2635) and the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-7326), which governs partisan political activity of Executive Branch employees. Personnel are encouraged to review the Office of Special Counsel's "Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Social Media and the Hatch Act" for further guidance or contact the Office of the Assistant General Counsel for General Law (GC-77).
Non-public, sensitive, Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and classified information should not be disclosed on public social media platforms.
Personal use of social media while on government time is subject to DOE Order 203.1, Limited Personal Use of Office Equipment Including Information Technology, which provides guidance on "appropriate and inappropriate" use of Government resources. If you have questions about this section, please contact GC-77.
Security Requirements and Risk Management
The Federal CIO Council's Guidelines for Secure Use of Social Media by Federal Departments and Agencies outlines recommendations for using social media technologies in a manner that minimizes risk while also embracing the opportunities these technologies provide. Federal government information systems are targeted by persistent, pervasive, aggressive threats.
In order to defend against rapidly evolving social media threats, Department of Energy program offices, laboratories and sites should include a defense-in-depth, multi-layered risk management approach, addressing risks to the user, risks to the Department and risks to the federal infrastructure. Organizations should incorporate risk mitigation strategies such as (1) controlled access to social media, (2) user awareness and training, (3) user rules of behavior, (4) host and/or network controls, and (5) secure configuration of social media software to determine overall risk tolerance for use of social media technologies.
Cybersecurity personnel should be consulted before the implementation of any social media technology to provide the opportunity for incorporation of the new technology into current risk management framework. In addition, cybersecurity should help determine secure technical configurations and monitor published vulnerabilities in social media software. For questions regarding cybersecurity, contact your security officer.
In the event of an emergency, social media tools should be utilized in accordance with the Emergency Public Affairs Plan, which calls for a coordinated messaging effort between the Headquarters Office of Public Affairs and any programs, sites or facilities that may be involved: "When Department of Energy headquarters or a DOE site/facility declares an emergency, it is expected to meet the public information obligations of the Department of Energy orders, guidance and requirements and the comprehensive emergency management plans developed by each site.”
This guidance and requirement includes the timely provision of media informational materials to the Public Affairs staff at Department headquarters. Every effort should be made by the designated public affairs officers at the site level to consult with the Headquarters Public Affairs Office on the initial dissemination of information to the public and media.
From the DOE O 151.1C "Comprehensive Emergency Management System":
"Initial news releases or public statements must be approved by the Cognizant Field Element official responsible for emergency public information review and dissemination. Following initial news releases and public statements, updates must be coordinated with the DOE/NNSA (as appropriate) Director of Public Affairs and the Headquarters Emergency Manager."
For more information on emergency communication protocols, reference the Emergency Public Affairs Plan or contact your public affairs representative.