5 ways social media helps public sector comms

Social media is now a natural part of how we all communicate.

The public sector is unfairly sometimes seen as slow to adapt to changing landscapes, and the overwhelming majority of NHS organisations, councils or central government agencies have developed really engaging social media channels that reach new people and tell their ongoing stories in innovative new ways.

But if your organisation is still a bit slow on the uptake, firstly, please do take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. However, please also be aware that there is a big public conversation already happening about you, whether you’re involved or not.

So it’s long past the time to take the plunge. And for those of you that need help convincing the powers that be, here’s a few reasons to dive right in:

It’s a window on your community

It’s actually very easy to see by a quick search on Facebook, how many people living in the direct vicinity of your organisation are active users. Try it out, you may be very surprised.

The point is, all of these people will have opinions. If you’re an organisation that impacts on their lives in someway, through providing life-saving health services, or through emptying their bins, chances are, they’ve probably expressed an opinion about you online at some point.

You, surely, as a listening organisation would want to know what those opinions are. By doing a quick Twitter or Facebook search, you’ll be able to see, in seconds, what thousands of your local residents think of you. Some of it may be bad. But a lot of it will be good

Being aware of the bad helps you fix things. Being aware of the good helps you make things even better.

It’s simple, and it’s crucial insight that’s available in seconds at your fingertips.

It’ll give your organisational brand a real personality

What does your organisational brand say about you? Do you consider it just to be your visual identity? Or is it something more than that, something more fundamental? Does it govern how you and any frontline staff interact with your customers?

If not, it should do.

And this is where good use of social media can really be useful.

Think of social media as an extension of your brand experience. If you work in the public sector, you will work for a people business. Social media allows you to speak directly, in a very human way, to these people, and to demonstrate, in real time the brand values that make you a trusted part of your community.

It allows you to go a bit beyond the corporate-speak of annual reports and consultation documents to speak more informally, and to present yourselves as a “human” organisation. The more open you are with your language, the more trusted you’ll be with your public.

It gives employees a space to evangelise

The best organisations have an empowering, and even liberal, approach to allowing employees to discuss their work on social media.

Though this may raise alarm bells, and may need some controlling parameters (like a policy for example), this really is the sign of a healthy organisational culture.

It can offer your Chief Exec the chance to really forge a name for him or herself by championing an open, empowered culture, through having their own blog, Twitter feed or LinkedIn profile, for instance.

Even better, if you can encourage them to share a bit about their lives outside of work, it makes their work-based tweets even more credible. This says that, right from the top of your organisation, you have a human, friendly approach to communicating and involving your community. And by encouraging other employees to tweet or share their (positive) work experiences online, alongside detail about their personal lives, you can encourage a truly grassroots, and genuine, image of an organisation comfortable in its own skin, confidently delivering great services, with its heart in the right place.

It’ll help you act effectively in a crisis

What happens to comms in your organisation when a crisis of major incident happens?

Do you still have a key to a filing cabinet with a couple of emergency fax machines in? Or are you more tuned-in to how local people will seek information on a fast developing situation?

Look at any recent major incident in the news over the past 12 months or so (and there are, sadly, many to choose from), and you’ll see that in most cases the first bit of information will come through on social media. Rumours will become facts, questions will be posed and answered by credible sources. Often before the next scheduled TV or radio bulletin, and very often after the print-presses on the next day’s papers have finished rolling, the whole world can have a very detailed picture of what’s happening.

This poses massive challenges for organisations, at the eye of a particular storm.

As a comms person, you may find yourself having to answer false rumours, you may have to reassure worried people, and you may be fighting to keep your head above water with all the many enquiries and competing messages that fly around.

This is where being a master of social media is of such critical importance, and this is where Musterpoint comes in so handy for many organisations.

The ability to see, on screen, what media organisation is saying what, to take the temperature of your community and to answer any unfounded rumours directly is a huge benefit to help you calmly and professionally reassure your community.

This is what the tool gives you, and the many emergency and public services that use it.

In addition, the recently introduced Twitter emergency alerts functionality is being used up and down the UK to help emergency services to provide critical updates to their followers as smartphone notifications, rather than just tweets in a timeline among others.

So social media is evolving as its users utilise it communicate during emergencies. As a public body, you can’t afford not to evolve with it.

It’s cheap, easy, and there’s loads of help out there!

Doing new things within public sector organisations often requires a costed paper to be presented for approval.

Well, let’s make that a bit easier. You can use most social media for absolutely no cost whatsoever. It may cost a bit to do certain things (like sponsored posts on Twitter or Facebook for example) but getting started will cost your organisation precisely zero, zilch, nada, nichts.

Yes, it takes some management, which takes time, but to have such an invaluable resource that your community is already using at your fingertips, represents absolutely stunning value for money.

You don’t need any training (though there is plenty out there if you’d like it). This is precisely why social media has become so popular: it’s easy!

And if you are ever struggling, there’s tons of really supportive people and organisations out there happy to give you some advice, of which Musterpoint is one!

There’s a whole world out there on your doorstep waiting to be discovered.

Can you really afford not to be involved?