Selling the idea of a Social Media Strategy

I agree with Jeremiah Owyang when he wrote How to Overcome Social Media Scare Tactics. You can not scare conservative organisation like government agencies into adopting social media and radical change by using fear of missing out next big thing. It must be more subtle and less dramatic than that. Though that does not mean you can not use fear as tool to get an agency moving along the path to social media.

The one question I would ask what happens when you find:

  • a blog post critical about the agency or one of its’ policies,
  • a series of critical blog posts, with a number of comments supporting the authors view,
  • a facebook group, critical about the agency or one of it’s policies, or
  • a social networking site which is solely about your agency, and most of the content critical?

And would your action be different if was brought to your attention by:

  • a junior staff member,
  • senior management,
  • the minister, or
  • traditional media like the doyen of current affairs shows Today, Tonight?

These scenarios are what all could happen to your agency in the near future. If you need some examples do a Google Blog Search on your agency and have a look at the results. The results for TransPerth Complaint returns a dozen results. 12 hours in a WA Emergency Department is the fourth great article by the same author on the inner workings of a Perth hospital over at Perth Norg. Over 7000 Western Australians have joined the Facebook group Perth people who love Day Light Saving. And to pick on TransPerth again there is Dumb Rider.

How should your agency react in these situations and what can be done to reduce the risk, should be enough to get any Government Department thinking about a Social Media Strategy.

Social Media Strategy and Social Media Policy in Government

I have spent over ten years in various Policy and Communications units in the Government and while trying to not sound like an extra from the Hollowmen, there is a subtle difference between strategy and policy. Strategies set the targets, policies are methods for getting there.

Communications Strategy

Most Government Departments have a Communications Strategy, which should be a high level document which broad terms define the communication aims of the agency. With statements like to increase awareness amongst the most disadvantages clients: youth, indigenous, homeless and the elderly of their right and responsibilities in regard to ….

Unfortunately most Communications Strategies are based on previous strategies and are from the time of mass media as the only channel, very much a talk to ideology rather than communicate with.

Most communication strategies are only reviewed every three years or so, which unfortunately in this time of rapidly changing communications technology and practices, is far too long. The maximum time should be 12 to 18 months.

Online Communications Strategy

An Online Communications Strategy should be the aims of what the agency wants to achieve in online communications in the next 12 months, it should directly relate to their Communications Strategy. Any longer is an unrealistic time span, given the rapid changes in online communications technology.

An example would be use social media, paticularly user generated material to inform young people about their rights

Social Media Strategy

A Social Media Strategy is what the agency wants to achieve in the near future using social media. IT should directly relate to the Online Communications Strategy and be far more specific. For example in conjuction with partners, run a competition/s inviting youth to create videos, about their rights with …

As social media technology and behaviour is rapidly changing, only a brave soul, will let a Social Media Strategy last more than 6 months without a review.

Campaign Strategy

This is the strategy for a single social media campaign, it should be directly related to the Social Media Policy, it should run the life of the campaign. Though it needs to be review if the campaign runs more than 3 months. Particularly evaluating how successful a campaign is.

A typical Campaign Strategy is very detailed, with targets and methods of achieving these aims. For example “In conjunction with X, run a competition for young people to upload video to YouTube that informs people about the rights when renting, the prizes will be …”

Social Media Policy

A Social Media Policies should be the rules on engagement. What an agency or employee should and should not do. Before even starting a campaign used in our example, there needs to be policies about User Generate Content, covering such things as user rights, objectionable material etc.

Unfortunately the only Social Media Policy most government departments have is access to all/most social media site is restricted. This is an unproductive policy of the lot, as when the agency needs people with social media expertise where do they find them.

Another reason for even creating some low level Social Media Policies about use and abuse of social media, is to avoid situations like who owns your online networking contacts. A social media policy on contacts would of resolve this questions, quickly. No policies or even worse a No Social Media policy would of left all the contacts in the hands of the ex-employee.

So Many Strategies

You do not need neccarily need four levels strategies, you could get away with a Communications Strategy and either Online Communications Strategy or a Social Media Strategy. Provided each level contains enough details.

However, four levels if strategy is a far more agile approach, allowing for rapid iteration, regular review and quick changes if aims are not being met.

Who writes the Strategy and Policies?

The Communications Strategy, should be written by senior management with communications staff input. The senior management set the goals, the communications staff make sure it is achievable.

The Online Communications Strategy, should be written by the communications staff using the Communications Strategy as a guide. The only input from the IT section should be is the strategy achievable in the time frame. This is all about communications not technology.

Social Media Strategy and Social Media Policies need to be written by people who understand socila media, if you have not got anybody in the agency will these skills then import the talent. There are people out there with the expertise to help you, so hire them to get the basics right first time. It will make all future steps much easier.

It is all Bureaucracy with a capital B

I totally disagree, having a number of short concise strategies makes life easier. A single one page strategy is much easier to see how successful you are at meeting your targets. It makes it much easier to get meaningful KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and are faster to review the strategy and refine it.

Why government agencies need a social media strategy

This is the first in a series of posts about government agencies and social media strategies.

Recently, I had a bad experience with Transperth, so I blogged about my experience. I was wondering how Transperth should respond, when I found I was invited to contribute to the Office of eGovernments’s updating of the Guidelines for State Government Websites and the second item on the agenda was Web 2.0, blogs, wikis, RSS, etc.. I realised guidelines are not the complete solutions, There needs to be a encompassing strategy in any agency before guidelines are employed.

The internet is now a major communication channel. In the last two government departments I worked, more people where getting information from their websites than all other communications channels combined.

While the web has given government agencies a inexpensive channel to communicate their message. The internet and particularly social media have also given others an equal inexpensive and effective channel to communicate their alternative message. It is far easier to communicate online, for example, with my bad experience with Transperth, I told 5 people offline and over 100 people online about my experience. Significantly the research (Corporate Social Responsibility Survey 07) shows that people are more than twice as likely to trust a friend than a corporate website.

If you look at results of the Demographic Profiling of Victorian Government Website Visitors 2007 it shows close to 30% of all internet visitors to Victorian Government websites read blogs and 10% contribute to blogs. That is a large number of customers who are capable of providing or listening to alternative views about you. That does not include the over 2.2 million FaceBook members or users of other social networking sites or services.

If the 30% of your website visitors that are blog readers is not enough, social media has an impact well beyond that. Do a Google search on Transperth the results are interesting, the Transperth site is the first result the second is Transperth Dumb Rider System which is critical of Transperth, as are two more of the top ten results. This is because Google appears to be biased towards social media sites, in ranking the results it returns. As a large number of visitors arrive at your site through Google, the appearance of critical web pages highly in search results has damaged your reputation in the eyes of clients even before they arrive at your site.

The issues as I see them with the rise of social media and it’s impact on government agencies to communicate their message are:

  • The number of alternative voices and a good proportion of your clients are willing to listen.
  • People are more likely to trust other people, particularly ones they have pre-exisiting relationships with than your website or other communication channel.
  • Even if you web based clients do not use social media, they results of others using social media can have an effect on your relationship with them.

Giving your blog a human face

Transportation Security Administration blog

Evolution of Security is the blog of the Transportation Security Administration and the most popular Government blog I have seen, with most recent posts averaging over a 100 comments.

One of the most interesting differences between this and most Government blogs, is the effort that has been made to put a human face on the the TSA. The closest most people get to the TSA is brief conversations with faceless personnel at security checks in airports. So the TSA has made a serious attempt to show the human side of the TSA, all the contributors to the blog have their first name and a bio on the blog. It works, a large number of comments begin, hi name.

The blog has been so successful that one of the regular authors, Bob has moved from his regular job at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport to be a full time blogger at TSA headquarters.

So why has the Evolution of Security been so successful in such a short time, it was only launched in January this year. I believe it is a combination of factors, airport security affects a large number of Americans and therefore a large number of people are interested in the subject matter, a well developed and executed a social media strategy which include putting human face on the TSA and this human interaction has lead people to constantly return and regularly comment.

The lesson for anybody about to create a government blog or other social media, make it with real people and let them interact, you will have the public interacting in return.

LAFD gets web 2.0

Los Angles Fire Department blog

I was exploring SocialMedian beta when I can across a clip from Hyperkinesis on a post on the Los Angles Times blog about the Los Angles Fire Department’s use of twitter. The post was very interesting not only does the LAFD use Twitter, they blog and use YouTube, Flickr, Gabcast and Jaiku.

If you have a look at the LAFD web presence via their blog,YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and other social media services. You see that the LAFD are using social media to get the latest information to their citizens and promoting other information such as their Earthquake Preparedness Handbook. Their handbook may be an old school PDF, but more people are likely to be aware of the handbook and download it, because what the LAFD are doing with their use of web 2.0.

A great uses of social media by people who know their stuff, promoting information that will save lives. And a path I hope our local emergency services will follow.

Site demographics

Google Analytics, is a great tool for analysing site usage and find out a little about your visitors. Like almost 85% of traffic to the State Library website is from Australia, and the great majority from Perth. With a few exceptions, for example the visitors to the music library pages are more likely to be Americans than Australians. But Google Analytics can only go so far, what happens when you want more detailed demographic information about your online clients than the location of their ISP.

Well, the Victorian Government carried out an online survey to find out more about the visitors to sites in .vic.gov.au domain. I know the survey was on a number of different sites, I remember completing it when chasing some information on the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The survey had over 250,000 responses and the results make interesting reading, for anybody involved in a government agency website particularly in other Australian states. Because unlike Craig, who looked from a federal level, I believe the information can be extrapolated to other states. The demographics of Victorians using a Victorian Government websites, will be very similar to those of West Australians using a West Australian Government site or any resident of their state using one of their State Government websites. I know the limited demographics, I have seen for Western Australian Government websites are very similar to the Victorian Government website demographics.

In my opinion the interesting statistics are:

Online Activities

  • 29% of visitors read RSS feeds
  • 29% of visitors read blogs
  • 10% of visitors maintain their own blog
  • 23% of visitors contribute to online communities or forums
  • 54% of visitors watch video on the web
  • 14% of visitors access the internet through their mobile phone

This shows that visitors to government websites are sophisticated internet users. The numbers surprised me, I had expected about half that.

Government Services

  • 64% of visitor would like to be able to comment on government policies and initiatives
  • 61% of visitors want information relevant to their street, suburb or region
  • 12% of visitors would like to be able to carry out transactions with government on their mobile

This indicates just how sophisticated and experienced internet users, visitors to government sites are. They have high expectations of government sites from experiences with other sites, regionalisation and the ability to comment are what they expect.

Only 14% of participants use their mobile device to visit websites, but over 80% of those want to use their mobile device to transact with government. As the number of people using mobile devices to visit websites increase and remember this survey was carried out late last year and early this year, before the current crop of web saavy phones like the iPhone arrive in Australia.

If I take one thing away from the results of the survey is that visitors to government websites have experienced internet users and have high expectations of what government sites should do.

The joy of letting go

I am not your typical IT person, I am definitely think of myself as part of the communication in ICT. Providing assistance in the technological side of communicating over the internet. Yet I behaved like your typical IT person when asked to find a blogging solution a year ago. I wanted a local install of WordPress, because:

  • I knew how it worked;
  • in my opinion the best blogging software out there;
  • a local install gave us more configuration and contro options.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, a typical IT territorial dispute. No local server was available, so the WordPress.com alternative was used. At the time I thought it was far from the perfect solution, but it was the best available at the time.

A year down the track and I now realised that WordPress.com was the best solution. I provide technical advice, a little help but I am not involve in the running the blog, like I would of done with a local install. Instead, the people who wanted the blog, set it up, own it and regularly contribute to it. And to me that makes the blog a success, not whether we have the best set up, the best configuration or control.

Are US politicians scared of social media?

Technosailor has just posted US Congress trying to stop Representatives from using social media. Apparently the Franking Commission, created to govern how Congress used their right to mail letters to constituents for free, does not like online communications from Congress from any other source than a House.gov space.

While the original letter (which is available in full on Technosailor) from Michael Capuano a Democrat Congressman on the Franking Commission appears to be aimed at video and YouTube. Any restrictions will impact on a wide range of social media sites, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and any other social media services. A number of twitterers have started a campaign Let Our Congress Tweet, so that the current twittering Congressmen John Culberson and Tim Ryan can remain twittering and hopefully others both in the Congress and Senate will join them.

What Michael Capuano and others fail to realise is:

  1. The time, cost and effort to create these services inside the House.gov space is a waste of resources, when it can be done for next to nothing, right now using external services.
  2. Using existing services comes with a ready made audience, creating a new service means having to attracting an audience.

What impact will restricting social media in the US Congress and Senate have in Australia. It will probably slow the adoption of social media by our politicians. With the loss of Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett there is nobody in the Australian Parliament how understands social media enough to makeuse of it. With fewer examples of effective use of social media by politicians overseas, our politicians are unlikely to adopt social media or expect government agencies to make good use of social media.

A few good blogs about eGov

One of the reasons I started this blog, there was very few blogs in the eGov space. I recently discovered three blogs covering the .gov.uk space and if you are interest I highly recommend you subscribed to their feeds.

However, my favourite recent discovery is eGov AU, the work of prolific Craig Tholmer. I would would be happy if I could post in week what Craig posted each day. As well as being Australian, the posts are usually quality articles that make me think.

If you know any other blogs covering eGov or the .gov space please let me know in the comments.

Victorian Premier has a YouTube channel

I was following a link from the Victorian eGovernment Resource Centre feeds (highly recommend, you will find the links on the home page), to the online forum about a report into Melbourne’s east-west transport needs. I was a little disappointed to the find that the forum appears to be a glorified IRC chat session. However, tucked in the right hand corner of that page was a link to the Premier’s You Tube channel.

It is good to finally see a second Australian politician (or a media advisor), see the web and YouTube as a good way to get their message across. The 70 videos are short, most around two minutes and not all feature the Premier. Like this short second life version of Melbourne laneways.

For those non-Australian, the Premier of Victoria is the leader of the ruling party in the Victorian Parliament, the second most populated state in Australia. Roughly equivalent to a Governor of American state.