Social media is used by citizens all around the world; however, government social media isn’t being used to its full potential.
This is all the more surprising given that social media is the ideal tool for government departments to reach their audience – citizens. This is something big businesses and brands have been doing for over half a decade and there’s a lot we can learn from their activity online that applies to government.
According to the Sensis Social Media Report 2020, In Australia, almost eight in ten people now use social media. Also, over 40% of large businesses use social media to advertise and communicate with their audience.
In Australia, Facebook continues to be the most popular social media platform by far for businesses of all sizes, followed by LinkedIn and Twitter, and for medium-sized businesses, Instagram and YouTube are also common.
While many businesses are reaping the benefits of social media, decision-makers within government departments and agencies are still trying to figure out the best way to approach citizens with the available social tools.
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN GOVERNMENT
Today, more people are online than ever. The SSMR found that an average Australian accesses social media more than five times a day. Over the past two years, the use of platforms like Twitter and Instagram have rapidly grown among all age groups.
This should be a wake-up call for government departments that aren’t active on social media or not using social media effectivley to have conversations with the citizens. This is where citizens are, and this is how you can reach them; government social media will help departments directly connect with citizens.
Thus, it is inevitable that government departments, to achieve their desired policy objectives, should start using social media channels to better communicate with the public in a valuable and meaningful way
However, for this to occur, there needs to be an acceptance that social media channels have changed the way the public communicates. Communication is now immediate in forging relationships and addressing complaints at speeds never seen before. With COVID-19, accelerating the need for crisis communication channels, social media serves as the go-to platform when relaying messages driectly and quickly.
Social media is now the dominant digital avenue for two-way communication as it gives the sender the ability to receive feedback and monitor sentiment. According to the SSMR, 9% of Australians now turn to social media for customer service rather than email or call. This number will continue to rise yearly.
While some government departments are still debating their views about social media, there are others who have a strong government social media presence. Some key examples from the past, the Australian Federal Government’s Department of Human Services received complaints from the public who were upset with the process of claiming social security payments. In response to this, the department launched the Facebook page Family Update to provide further assistance to families who rely on Child Support payments, Centrelink and Medicare.
There has also been the implementation of social media channels through the Australian local government. For example, Connecting with Communities research found Brisbane City Council created history when they used social media during the Brisbane floods in the summer of 2010/11. In an effort to share vital information and engage with residents and businesses that needed to evacuate, the use of social media connected residents with life-saving information.
Government social media channels shouldn’t be ignored, especially as a tool to build trust. Without the audience’s trust, your message will never be heard.
THE NEED FOR A CULTURAL SHIFT
A stiffness resides in government where traditional media is deep-rooted in public relations. With changing times, there needs to be a balance of traditional media and digital communications and some departments have adapted to the shift. As reflected in the WPP Leaders Report; communications departments that are investing in digital comms are reducing their funding in traditional outlets.
In the private sector, many large businesses and big brands use social media as an effective way to solve problems in real-time, monitor sentiment, manage brand reputation and increase loyalty.
There is a need for the government to be courageous and embrace social media like many global businesses do, for example, to respond to customers’ complaints immediately or seek their opinion, giving them the opportunity to resolve the issue and mitigate damage to their brand.
THE RISKS FOR GOVERNMENT
We understand there are inherent risks for government social media, including (but not limited to):
- Liability from Third-Party Content;
- Freedom of Information Act Requests and Public Records Compliance; and
- No centralised control of the outgoing message.
However, it is time for governments to learn to adapt and embrace social media if they wish to productively communicate with their communities.
Social media should be treated as an opportunity, not a threat, for the government to effectively engage with its citizens and help society progress.
Dan Pfeiffer, the Senior Advisor to former President of the United States Barak Obama, said “anything that breaks down barriers and brings the public and politicians closer together is a good thing.”
Social media allows engagement with the public simple yet powerful, provides a useful tool to build audience trust and gives useful insights on public sentiment to help inform government decisions and public policy.
What’s your favourite government social media page?