Show 3 – Social Media in Government Communications

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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 contribution from Alex Aiken, Executive Director for Government Communications, who explained how all Government departments are evaluating their campaigns.

Betony said that it’s vitally important to get a direct connection with the very people her department is trying to reach with their communications.  Social Media allows them to be really reactive, immediate and to 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.  She believes it is a fantastic time to work in Government as there is a real passion behind digital as a powerful channel for Government communications.  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.

BIS 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.  They therefore have a large number of specialist social media accounts.  However, they need to update them regularly to keep the engagement high.  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.  They therefore constantly use social analytics to check where the engagements are taking place.

Alex Aiken talked about how each Government team has a performance hub.  These work as communications centres for planning and evaluation.  He expects every department to track its performance against their department’s business objectives.  Elayne said that they use communications plan templates like ‘OASIS’ – Objective, Audience Insight, Strategy, Implementation and Scoring.  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.  This avoids wasting tax payers’ money and the team’s time doing those things that don’t provide real value.

Elayne used AMEC’s Social Media Measurement Framework in Defra’s ‘Chip my Dog’ campaign – see video below of her explaining the full case study:

This showed how to map results from exposure and engagement right across to impact and advocacy, the latter of which saves tax payers money.  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 explained that if you wanted to find out what Civil Servants can and can’t do on social media, you can visit the Government Communications Service website.  The Civil Servants guidance to social media basically says “Don’t be an idiot”! She said that she knows what it is to understand propriety.  The boundaries they are expected to conduct themselves within include the fact that they are expected to be ambassadors for their departments and the UK Government.  She feels this is exactly transferable into brands and organisations.  Betony understands the blurring between personal and professional.  She 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 said the Open Policy Making improves policy as the various departments are consulting the public earlier and in very innovative ways to gather comments early on.  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.

Finally, the guests focused on how Government can ensure we get the best impact and value for the tax payer from the communications teams of the various departments.  Elayne said it is all about focusing on the outcomes, targeting communications, and making sure the messaging that people need to hear is what they are receiving.  This needs to be 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.

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