Public Sector Guidelines for Social Media– How to Empower Employees to Use Online Channels to Improve Public Sentiment

By Stacey Tomasoni

Given the growth of social media, particularly amongst Australian citizens, no time is better than now for public sector to integrate guidelines for social media at local and national levels. Consumers and businesses are taking to these channels to voice political beliefs, handle customer service requests and job hunt on the platforms of their choosing — from Twitter and Facebook to LinkedIn, Tumblr and Instagram. As evidenced through Adelaide’s 2010 local Lord Mayoral election, social media even has the power to influence voters and win a candidacy — something now-Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood successfully proved with his Twitter and Facebook-heavy campaign.

Before engaging online, each council and department should be prepared with guidelines for social media use. By following the guidelines for social media below, public sector agencies will be better prepared to take advantage of these online tools and spark widespread improvement in public sentiment.

Remember the primary goals of social media

  • Share: Although each government agency has unique responsibilities and goals, the public sector’s main obligation is to best serve its constituents. Therefore, it should be in the interest of any given department to publicise and notify its audience of new proposals, issues and policies in ways that are relevant and timely to their audience. A few years ago, the South Australia government, through its “YourSAy” initiative, sparked mass citizen engagement when it asked the public to offer feedback on the state’s 2010 Strategic Plan — collecting most of these opinions online via social media.
  • ListenWithout listening to your constituents, it’s impossible to know what relevant info to share or how to appropriately engage the right people. Take the time to monitor other blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and trending topics to see what issues matter the most and where they are being discussed. Keep in mind that, typically, around half of the conversations that might relate to your brand or issues on which you want to remain informed of the public pulse will actually occur outside of your managed pages, so stepping outside of this space can give you a broader, more complete perspective.
  • Engage: After monitoring relevant sites, determine which notable topics are critical to your audience and who your key spokespeople are. Take the time to drive conversation both on and offline. This will allow you to create an active and informed community through which you can collaborate and improve public service.

Strategy is key with guidelines for social media

When considering whether or not to initiate a social media campaign, it’s vital to first consider the behind-the-scenes planning and resources required. A poorly executed campaign will only work against you and weaken your cause.

  • Maintain a social media calendar with content that’s of interest to your audience. Before kick-starting your social efforts, you should have up to three months of material to choose from. Building a reserve of this “evergreen content” in advance will make it easier to stay active on social media during slower news periods. This content should focus more on human-interest campaigns and advice for navigating a given government program or branch. For example, the Australian Taxation Office posts regular “tax tips” to help constituents better manage their refunds and deductions.
  • Although you want your policies and professional persona to shine through the social media channel, direct interaction on Twitter, Facebook and forums offers the opportunity to engage your constituents in a more casual manner than they may expect — so make the most of these venues. Develop an individual tone and use it to be transparent about issues and causes that are on your agenda.

  • The biggest social media benefit is the ability to communicate with constituents in real time. In your guidelines for social media, you must explicitly define if and how to react to users when they post a negative or potentially harmful comment. This should include do’s and don’ts for language, tone and when to take a conversation offline.

Social behaviour sticks

Any interaction that you or your department has on social media should be handled with the same ethics as it would have been in real-life. Your responsibilities as a public servant still apply on social media channels. Although the level of formality varies, your actions within social channels (in the form of comments, blog posts, “likes” or tweets) become much more visible and subject to scrutiny. Codes of conduct and guidelines for social media like those mentioned above should dictate how and when to use social media to promote your cause, address issues and interact with constituents.

Social media offers the public sector a huge opportunity to connect with the public and form relationships that are not otherwise possible. By investing in the right resources and educating yourself about the best guidelines for social media, the public sector can both better engage audiences and directly encourage social change.

Stacey Tomasoni has worked with Datacom for four years in a number of critical executive roles across the business. Her current role as General Manager, Australia has seen her lead large-scale operations across multiple sites, driving a number of positive business outcomes for both Datacom and its clients.

Stacey specialises in a number of areas, including rapid deployment of resources to respond to unexpected events, adoption of multi-channel resources, with a focus on self-help and call elimination, and using social media to listen, react and engage.

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