Social media has often been completely dismissed by councils, either because staff members are unsure of how it works, or there aren’t enough of them to spend time monitoring numerous social media accounts. But times are changing and nowadays almost all local councils have their very own Twitter feed or Facebook page.
One of the most popular tools within social media for the public sector is Twitter. Providing councils with the ability to post regular updates about important issues and reminders about upcoming events, Twitter also allows public sector bodies to engage with their constituencies on a more personal level than before its adoption. With a limit of 140 characters per ‘Tweet’, Twitter allows for quick posts and responses.
Similarly to Twitter, Facebook allows councils to post regular updates and interact more easily with the public. As Facebook isn’t limited in terms of how many characters statuses and replies can contain, this social media network can be costly in terms of time.
Back in January 2013, West Midlands Council made full use of Facebook during a period of bad winter weather known as ‘snowmageddon’. Within a week the council’s Facebook page went from having a few thousand likes to over 10,000. The Guardian recommend that “if your council isn’t using Facebook, test the water. It’s a great way of getting information out to people. Used well, it can cut calls to your contact centre.”.
Despite LinkedIn being the ‘professional’ social media network, a recent study has found 50% of public sector personnel heads don’t check their LinkedIn profiles. The study also showed 44% of public sector employers don’t use LinkedIn during their recruitment process.
The study went on to say “even if they aren’t using these capabilities themselves, public sector organisations should ensure that their executive recruitment firms are deploying the latest LinkedIn know-how and techniques on their behalf”.
Whatsapp is a mobile messaging app which allows users to send text, picture, voice and video messages to other Whatsapp users. Unlike traditional SMS and MMS messaging, Whatsapp is a free messaging platform which only requires users to have one another’s mobile telephone number. With 62% of adults using a smartphone (Ofcom), now is the time for social media for the public sector to shift towards mobile.
Back in November 2014, Shropshire Council controversially implemented a Whatsapp trial. Although results were few and far between, the council are now considering using the messaging provider in a more strategic way e.g. using it across departments who’s main audiences are young people.
The council’s experiment also highlights how Whatsapp is great for public sector workers who have work mobile numbers that are already public and available, however it isn’t recommended to use your private mobile number.
The use of Whatsapp within the public sector could reduce spends, increase engagement and improve efficiency. Sending mass messages for free to users who can easily respond to receive almost instant responses could be the way forwards, especially when sending messages such as warnings of local traffic jams. Having said that there are a number of risks involved, so Shropshire’s “what’s the worst that can happen?” approach seems the best one to have.
As business success is becoming more reliant on social and personable interactions, more and more professional brands are creating online presence’s via social media sites. We believe it’s only a matter of time before all businesses are online. In terms of social media for the public sector, we’d advise researching social media sites before trialling one or more of the networks and monitoring how successful and popular they are. Do keep in mind your target audience, as there’s no point setting up a social media account if none of your customers use social media!
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