By Frank Byrt
The IRS is reaching out to taxpayers with a growing array of social media platforms in order to deliver more timely information to filers and preparers. Its latest is Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform that lets web browsers, smartphones, tablets, or desktops, access and share text, photos, videos, and podcasts on tax tips and recent tax law changes.
In addition to Tumblr, the IRS's media platforms include: Twitter, Facebook, the mobile phone application IRS2Go, YouTube, audio files for podcasts on iTunes, and widgets for posting on a third-party website or other social media to direct readers to the IRS.gov website offerings.
There are also several free e-news subscriptions available on various tax topics.
Terry Lemons, national communications director for the IRS, told AccountingWEB in an interview that the agency has been adopting various types of social media as a communications tool since 2008, when it began posting instructional videos to YouTube. "Our goal is to be relevant and helpful to people.
"We've all seen the communications landscape shift in the past few years, and we still need to get information to taxpayers, particularly in an era when there are a lot of tax law changes", he said. "We need to keep people up to date and try to share that information as best we can. We have very limited resources, so we have to pick our shots, and we use the social media platforms that work best for us."
Twitter, also a relatively recent addition to the IRS' media offerings, is seeing particularly rapid growth, Lemons said, and now has about 61,000 followers. IRS Twitter feeds include:
- @IRSnews – news and guidance for the public, the press, and practitioners.
- @ IRSenEspanol – news and information in Spanish.
- @RecruitmentIRS – official IRS Recruitment account.
- @YourVoiceAtIRS – Taxpayer Advocate Service
- @IRStaxpros – news specifically aimed at tax professionals; has about 28,000 IRS Twitter followers.
"The nice thing about Twitter", Lemons said",is that a lot of people in the tax community follow it for breaking news or legal guidance, and we see a lot of them and our partners re-tweeting that, so it has a snowball effect" in getting information to a wider audience.
IRS2Go, the mobile communication app for Apple and Android, is in its third year and has had "hundreds of thousands of downloads", Lemons said.
The IRS offers more than 100 YouTube videos, which have been viewed more than 3.1 million times. They're offered in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language.
To protect taxpayer privacy, the IRS only uses social media tools to share public information, not to answer personal tax or account questions. It advises taxpayers to never post confidential information, such as a Social Security number, on social media sites.