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how to improve public sector social media impact

by John Fellows

I recently wrote about the use of social media by local authorities, which painted at best a patchy picture of how councils in Scotland are utilising social media tools in their communications work.

The truth is, however, that there is some excellent practice out there for organisations to examine and adopt, but for this to happen, some things need to change.

So here are my top tips for public bodies to begin to  improve the impact of their social media work.

  1. Just do it. I know your senior management team is concerned, and your teams are petrified at the prospect of writing for public consumption without 20 people having sign-off of the press release. But you should start to incorporate social media in your work now. You’ll make mistakes, and not everything will be perfect, but without trying it out you’ll never work out how this will work for you.
  2. Trust your staff. Your staff talk directly with the public and your stakeholders every day already, on the phone, in person and by letter. Trust them to do sensibly through social media.
  3. Open social media up to all staff. My recent research showed that only a very small proportion of council staff- typically only the communications team – have access to social media at work. Only by opening up access to all staff with public facing responsibilities to develop local plans for incorporating the use of social media in their work can councils become truly innovative in their use of new technologies. Everyone understands the potential for over enthusiastic Facebook use to impinge on personal productivity, by why not use existing IT monitoring solutions and HR policies to police this, rather than a blanket social media ban?

The reach of traditional media is fading, and the cost of distributing hard copies of publications by direct mail is increasing. Social media isn’t yet a perfect medium, but a significant and growing number of the public are using it to communicate. Public bodies who fail to keep up will be left behind.

John Fellows is a senior communications professional for a large NDPB.


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Reader Comments (2)

Hi John, you've neatly captured here for me how we should be using social media in the public sector - I would add a little context about how we get organisations and people to the point where they are ready to press 'send'.

I think if people's social media behaviours were profiled it will be shown that some staff, depending on the nature of their work, will need varying levels of support in developing their confidence and understanding their boundaries - professional and personal. So I think Comms teams, or whoever leads on this (doesn't matter who but someone has to take central ownership and be point of support), need be prepared for that and have structure in place, rather than be reactively responding to requests or indeed emergencies...

Issues like: how to deal with a corporate account hacked out of hours; manage correspondence when on annual leave; how to manage cyber-bullying; standards around grammar (with 140 characters on Twitter would it be corporately acceptable for staff to start using slang and poor grammar - will they be thinking of the audiences?); and training needs and twitequette.

You clearly know much more about this than I, and my finer detail certainly shouldn't inhibit your three points above; but I do think, corporately, a better balance needs sought between simply opening it up to all and keeping the gates locked.

Interesting reading though, food for thought. I definitely agree that once staff get going and appreciate the value and witness the results then they will wonder why it took them so long to get going in the first place!


May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKenny

Thanks for you thoughts Kenny - they are absolutely spot on in my opinion and ripe for resolving right now as we continue on this ever evolving journey.

Best wishes


May 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterDarren Caveney

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