Building trust in the federal government: Using social media to engage youth
Back to Blog

Building trust in the federal government: Using social media to engage youth

November 28, 2023 | Updated on December 4, 2023

Recent Partnership polling suggests that an effective use of social media may help build trust in government among young people, a key to recruiting the next generation of public servants to solve our nation’s pressing challenges. 

Today, just 30% of Americans between the ages of 18-34 trust our federal government and less than one-half hold favorable views of public servants. Conversely, 42% and 75% of those 65 and over trust the government and hold positive views of public servants, respectively. This trust deficit may be a factor in why employees under 30 compose just 7% of the federal workforce but 20% of the overall U.S. workforce. 

While bridging this alarming gap in trust and representation requires a comprehensive systemic approach, one effective strategy involves improving the ways in which federal agencies share information with the public, particularly by delivering relevant messages through appropriate channels. 

Survey insights: Social media’s influence on youth perceptions

In September 2023, the Partnership for Public Service conducted an online survey that among other things, sought to examine how different groups of people interact with government-related stories.  

Perhaps expectedly, the data suggested that social media plays a bigger role in shaping the opinions of youth as compared to older demographic groups. When asked to select the most trusted source for positive stories about the federal government, only 8% of respondents chose social media. However, among those 18–24, this number jumped to 18%.  

In addition, 56% of those aged 18-24 found it either very or somewhat important for agencies to have a social media presence, while only 38% of all our respondents did. This data illustrates the critical role that platforms like Facebook, Instagram and X/Twitter play in reaching and engaging young adults.

Effective communication to build trust 

It goes without saying that our government needs to deliver reliable, responsive and equitable services to build trust. However, transparent communication and effective storytelling are also critical in reaching this goal.  

If used effectively, social media is perfectly suited to forge this type of communication, enabling clear and concise messaging through regular updates, infographics, short videos and accessible language that resonates with young people.  

Social media can also be leveraged for two-way communication, going beyond simply sharing information to actively engage an audience by hosting live Q&A sessions, using short polls and surveys, responding to comments and direct messages, and showing behind-the-scenes content to humanize our government.  

Notable examples of federal agencies using these tools include the Instagram accounts of the Transportation Security Administration and the National Park Service. Hopefully, more agencies and offices will follow their lead.   

These communication strategies will help to build a more positive image of our federal institutions. By showcasing the human side of our government and delivering messages in an authentic and accessible way, federal agencies will engage—and gain the trust of—the public.  

Visit our website to learn more about our work to build trust in government 

Leave a Reply