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Show 3 – Social Media in Government Communications

In Show 3, Russell Goldsmith interviewed Betony Kelly, acting Head of Digital Communications at the Department of Business, Innovations & Skills (BIS) and Elayne Phillips, Head of Strategic Analytics and Evaluation in the Communications Group at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The podcast also featured a contribution from Alex Aiken, the executive Director for Government Communications, who explained how all government departments are evaluating their campaigns.

Betony, kicked off the interview explaining how it was vitally important to get that direct connection with the very people her department is trying to reach with their communications and so Social Media allows them to be really reactive, immediate and reach people wherever they are to help answer the questions they want to ask, when they want to ask them, on the channels they choose.  BIS have experimented across lots of channels including Twitter, flickrYouTube, Pinterest and Instagram, in each case using the channels to the best effect.  She believes is a fantastic time to work in Government as there is a real passion behind digital as a powerful channel for Government communications and interestingly, having previously worked for HSBC, she has not found a lot of difference between the private and public sectors in terms of regulations and what you can and can’t say through social channels.

Elayne agreed that using some of the low cost channels is a great way for Government to test and communicate with the audience in real time.

Similar to BIS, where responsibilities include apprenticeships, minimum wage, science funding, zero hours contracts and exporting amongst many other areas and issues, Defra also has a broad remit, including air quality, food safety, water quality, waste, recycling and flooding.  This means that their large followings present a challenge as there is therefore naturally quite a diverse audience to talk to, hence they have such a large number of specialist social media accounts.  However, they need to update them regularly to keep the engagement high and to achieve that, they don’t just post Government announcements, but will talk about articles of interest and ask people what they think about them to encourage them to get involved in debates.  What’s important, however, is to focus on business objective and be effective, so they constantly use social analytics to check where the engagements are taking place.

Alex Aiken talked about how each Government team has a performance hub, which works as a communications centre for planning and evaluation, and how he expects every department to track its performance against their department’s business objectives.  Elayne then explained how they use communications plan templates like ‘OASIS’ – Objective, Audience Insight, Strategy, Implementation and Scoring – and Betony added that one of the major achievements of the performance hub is it has allowed her department to stop doing things!  She said that they often get requests to do things because someone thinks it’s a great idea, but now they can show the data as to why it may not actually resonate with the audience and so can avoid wasting tax payers’ money and the team’s time doing those things that don’t provide real value.

Elayne then discussed how she uses AMEC’s Social Media Measurement Framework in Defra’s ‘Chip my Dog’ campaign, and you can see a video of her explaining the full case study below:

This showed how to map results from exposure and engagement right across to impact and advocacy, the latter of which saves tax payers money as Defra ended up getting seeing user generated content about the campaign being shared through social media, meaning positive word was spreading without them having to do extra work.

Betony went on to explain that if you wanted to find out what Civil Servants can and can’t do on social media, you can go to the Government Communications Service website to see the Civil Servants guidance to social media, which in summary, she said basically says “Don’t be an idiot”! She said that she knows what it is to understand propriety and the boundaries they are expected to conduct themselves within including the fact that they are expected to be ambassadors for their departments and the UK Government and she feels this is exactly transferable into brands and organisations.  Betony understands the blurring between personal and professional and said that if you are trusting your press office to go down the pub and have a conversation with a journalist, you need to trust them with a twitter account.  The challenge is making sure your senior team are keeping an eye on the channels and knowing what is being communicated by whom and whom.  She summarised this topic by saying that best practice is about being human and not being a robot – people want faces, they want people and want opinion.

Elayne then talked about Open Policy Making and how it improves policy as the various departments are consulting the public earlier and in very innovative ways to gather comments early on, which she thinks is very effective.  She added that this is a lesson that everyone and not just government can learn from in terms of getting closer to their audience.

The podcast finished with the guests focusing on how Government can ensure we get the best impact and value for the tax payer from the communications teams of the various departments, which Elayne said is all about focussing on the outcomes, targeting communications, and making sure the messaging that people need to hear is what they are receiving, through the channels they want to hear it on, at the right time, when they can respond and take the action they are seeking to achieve, using actionable insight to improve the results on the next campaign.

To continue the discussion on twitter, please use #csuitepodcast

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