Based on our discussions with around one hundred public sector employees over the last 12 months it has become apparent that too many senior people in this sector are approaching social media as a distraction or even worse as a nuisance. The result is that the public sector is at risk of falling into a social media time pit where staff are spending hours and hours working on social media tasks with no clear objectives in mind nor any chance of being successful.
Without a decent strategy these organisations will end up in a place where:
- Everyone knows they need a social media presence (of some kind)
- Some managers support it but some don’t
- Leaders and executives are suspicious of it (because they don’t get it)
- Staff who just want to get on with it end up disorientated and paralysed into inaction (meanwhile the world moves on)
This is no good! Social media is making massive changes to the way people run their lives, find information and form relationships. The British public are spending more time on Facebook every day than they are watching TV (2.5hrs vs 2hrs) for heaven’s sake. Unless public bodies adopt a sound strategy for getting stuck into this, dare we say, revolution then they will be left behind as influencers and unable to shape change.
We don’t need to provide a list of social media facts here to support our argument that this is an important issue. Day to day news is telling us that social media matters. Any Council leader, NHS Executive, Communications Manager (and the list goes on) who thinks that social media does not (or as one Councillor said recently “we don’t do social media [here]”) is choosing to live in a bubble of blissful digital ignorance; only willing to hear messages from media they know and understand.
The Way Forward
Most organisations need to take a step back. Most will already have launched into Facebook and Twitter and sadly not have many friends 😦 (in a social way) or followers: struggling to make any impact. The answer is that they need to start with a social media strategy that includes much of the following:
1. Agree Your Objectives
What are you after?
- 10,000 likes? 100,000 followers? 100 key influencers?
- Do you want to influence behaviour? And/or influence the perception of your brand?
- Do you need to engage and consult with citizens and customers?
- Capturing feedback about local issues (in real time)?
- Driving traffic to websites where people can get help or do good?
- Reaching new audiences?
- Socialising your customer/citizen relationship management (dealing with a query on your Facebook page for help costs a fraction of a call to your customer contact centre)?
2. Define audiences
Audiences come in many guises in social media
- Social networks
- Loss of control over your organisation’s brand and marketing messages
- Dealing with negative comments (yes ignoring them is not an option)
- Addressing personality versus organisational voice
- Intransigents who think this is a waste of time
- Avoiding fatigue and the social media time pit
- Capacity to respond to emergencies and crisis management
- Network size
- Visitors and sources of traffic
- Quantity and quality of commentary about your organisation/programmes/projects
- Conversions (e.g. more people recycling properly)
- Activity ratio
- What has worked? What has not?
- Can we see the ROI from all this effort?
- What will we change going forward?
Taking the Strategy Forward
Once the strategy is set it then it has to be executed. Some organisations think that this can be done organically. This is another express-way to the social media time pit. Organisations that are serious about social media need a plan. This plan will include:
1. Initial Goal Setting
Quality time spent defining your organisational goals to be achieved through your social media strategy. This will include process goals, coaching goals and documenting your measurable achievements.
2. Assemble Your Social Media Team
The best way to integrate social media technology is to take a team approach. This team will build your social media infrastructure and take forward pilot projects.
3.Build Your Social Media Infrastructure
There are many tools to choose from. You will need to introduce a standards system to ensure only the right tools are used in your organisation.
4.Set Up Governance and Security Protocols
You should ensure that your strategy for using social tools is safe for staff and safe for the organisation. For more about this www.staysocialsafe.com. This part of the process also involves having in place an empowering social media policy.
What is said about your organisation online and its staff matters. During this task you will need to audit your current online presence, have an agreed engagement culture and start to measure your online reputation.
You will need systems in place for dealing with the volume of information your social media tactics generate.
7.Stakeholder Relationship Management
This part of the process will help to determine how social tech tools can help to improve your stakeholder engagement. It will help to enhance your reputation, how you engage interested parties, create a desire to support your initiatives (or get behind your passion) and get key influencers on board.
You will need to implement a process for measuring your achievements. Committing resources to social media because it is topical and exciting has a limited shelf life. Ultimately your social media strategy will need an demonstrable ROI.
What Happens Without A Strategy?
A lack of strategy will mean that public bodies will miss out on the amazing benefits that social media technology can bring to citizen relationship management. Things like the:
- Ability to engage directly with service users (day to day, hour by hour)
- Opportunity to listen to and respond to the raw and unfiltered concerns of residents
- Chance to breakdown corporate silos and democratise local services
- Possibility of saving money by socialising customer relations (a tweet is much cheaper to deal with than an inbound call)
- Ability to hear what people think of local amenities and to respond accordingly
- Chance to nudge people’s behaviour towards doing things for the greater good
- Possibility that people can be more involved in local services and understand them better
Without a strategy public bodies also leave themselves open to many threats like:
- Difficult decisions about local spending priorities being at the mercy of the vocal minority, who are well versed in social media tactics and able to mobilise quickly
- Stagnation in the planning system caused by local campaigning groups who will seize control of social media to get their messages across at the expense of any other voice
- Losing the agenda to third parties on local issues
- Accusations that you were not listening and just let bad things go by through selective ignorance
Of course it is not all bad out there. Indeed we have come across some pioneering public sector bodies already, the police in some areas seem to be rocking on at a good pace, but this is still around the fringes and our argument is that social media needs to become a core part of business transformation for a new era of social communications and the democratisation of public services.
We want to hear what you think of all this. And if anyone knows of any good practice out there then we’d be delighted to spread the word. We want to hear about organisations in the public sector who are seriously embracing social tech to make a difference to their business and to their stakeholders.
For more detail on how Participate can help your organisation get better at social media please contact @participateuk or email firstname.lastname@example.org.