Janine Marin - communications expert
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Government agencies around the world are becoming more confident in using social media and, in many instances, are leading the way over their private-industry counterparts with their innovative content and community engagement.

It’s obvious now that social media is an invaluable tool for government to promote their brand, connect with communities and customers, and engage in conversation. Understandably, too, social media presents a number of risks unique to government and this can hinder how creative they can be online.

However, there are some government departments dominating this space that are dishing up clever content that is perfect mix of entertaining, informative, valuable and engaging.

So without further-ado:

Here are five Australian government departments doing great work on social media.

Just a quick note: this selection is not based on the number of followers these departments have, but rather how they promote content that solidifies their brand, purpose and connections online.

WHONSWPolice
WHY: They cleverly inject humour into an otherwise non-humorous topic – law enforcement. Their posts are a well-balanced mix of topical news, crime updates, call-outs for citizen collaboration and entertaining posts that quintessentially reflect their role in society. Their standout work has even been picked up by the media with their ‘Meme Team’ being interviewed recently.

WHO:Tourism Australia
WHY: With more than 2.6 million followers on their Instagram, Tourism Australia uses breath-taking pics of Australia to fulfil its purpose – to promote (amazing) Australia. The ingenious part of their social media strategy is that the majority of their content is curated, which is not only great for their fan engagement but also economical.

WHOSA HEALTH
WHY: Promoting ‘health’ in a fun way is tough, however SA Health do a stellar job with their rich mix of content that includes informative memes, staff highlights, animated video and interviewing their local community on contemporary health topics. Note their exceptional work, especially if you’re in the health cluster.

WHO: Bureau of Meteorology
WHY: Weather will always be newsworthy currency – we’ll always need to know about it rain, hail or shine – and the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) have gone beyond just sharing bare-essential information. They make weather fun with their diverse and dynamic social media content. They promote fans’ weather-related images, have behind-the-scenes videos of their control rooms, post media releases, promote partnerships, volunteer profiles and more. They also don’t ‘spray and pray’ the same message across their social accounts – on LinkedIn, for example, they publish staff profiles, latest research papers and conference announcements.

WHO: Redland City Council
Why: Without a doubt, their content reflects their purpose – to serve the residents of Redland. They encourage residents to promote their Redland pics using #redlandsanyday, have ample videos on their Facebook page featuring staff interviews, events and more, and keep their residents up-to-date with city matters like planned works, closed sport fields, traffic disruptions etc. Again, their content differs across their social accounts with Twitter seemingly being used as a ‘media centre’ with a flow of  news tweets ranging from council meetings to road closures.

What government agencies do you follow for inspiration? Let us know below.

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Social media in government: the problem

“Budget” – this is the holy grail in government. I know, because I’ve worked in government and still do as a social media trainer for government departments. There’s such a need – and urgency – for government to connect with their constituents and social media is their vehicle of choice. The thing is, though, with social media being as saturated as it is, it’s hard to cut though the noise. Especially for government which has to compete with lack of resources and rationed budgets. A lot of the time government departments outsource a portion of their budget to agencies to run social media campaigns, create strategies and do ‘fancy stuff we can’t do ourselves’.

Herein lies the problem and opportunity: lack of resources and trained staff, little time and budget hinder government doing innovative things online. However, the social innovation that government organisations need isn’t bought – it’s cultivated through developing staff in social media.

I like to think of investing in staff is a bit like investment in a property –  invest now for the long-term gain. And there is a need to do this.

A 2017 Leaders Report showed that “Nearly half of government respondents say they lack an understanding of digital and social media.”  Adding to this, a Deloitte study found that only 34 percent of government organisations surveyed had sufficient skills to execute its digital strategy, and just 33 percent of government employees said they were provided the right resources or opportunities to obtain the digital skills they need. There is a skill shortage of social media in government, which is fair enough considering social media is a scary space to play in and some government employees had social media duties dumped on their lap loaded with expectations yet little support.

Social media in government: what needs to change 

The goal for government is community engagement, and a sustainable model to increase – and maintain – this is through staff. I see government spending on digital agencies to run a great campaign that garners attention, engagement and follower growth but once the show’s over and curtains are drawn the engagement that was built crumbles because there isn’t sufficient skills, support or resource to maintain it in-house. What needs to change is for government to focus on developing their staff in social media because the greater the investment in up-skilling staff, the greater community engagement Government Departments will have.

 

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The correlation between skill development, community engagement and social media maturity

One thing I often see when training staff, is the passion they have to make a difference to the community they serve. They love what they do and they see the impact they can achieve on social media. So, imagine what investing in staff who are passionate about their job can do for government organisations (and employee engagement).

Staff will come to work excited, confident and full ideas, dramatically increasing their department’s capability to innovate and engage online.

How upskilling staff increases community engagement

There are three core areas to upskilling staff to increase engagement:

  1. Knowledge – theory, news and trends
  2. Skill – strategic, technical and relational
  3. Practice – implementation, experimentation and evaluation
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Investing in these three upskilling areas gives you these results:

  1. Growth – followers, awareness and trust
  2. Innovation – impact, influence and leadership
  3. Sustainability – control, collaboration and advocates

If governments want to halve spend, triple social media ROI and increase employee engagement they have to start on the inside and invest in the people that matter most to their organisation: their employees. Doing this will not only increase community engagement but also strengthen the relationship between organisations and the communities they serve not just for tomorrow but for the long-term.

Social media in government training days 2018

The next social media training day for government is in Sydney, February 15. It covers strategy, trends and practical advice. Find out more here

Custom social media training for teams, councillors and individuals available – click here or email Janine for more information.

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Marketing has evolved dramatically in the past few decades, but there is one thing that has always remained constant: the power of storytelling. As a communication tool, the humble story is unrivalled in its ability to connect with communities and boost engagement for government agencies.

In the paradigm of marketing, storytelling can be described as weaving your idea or information within a narrative. There are no limits to how you can tell your story, and social media in particular makes it easier than ever. Sharing updates, publishing videos, creating photo stories, live-streaming, building groups – new possibilities are emerging every day, and the results are consistently impressive.

Why is storytelling in government so successful?

We’ve become hyper-efficient at shutting out marketing messages, but tell us a great story and you’ll have our undivided attention.

There’s a scientific basis for this. Stories have been shown to light up the areas of the brain responsible for empathy, compassion and co-operation, controlled by the feel-good chemical oxytocin.

The effect is especially strong when they story resonates with us on a personal level. In other words, the best stories are the ones we can see ourselves in. When the characters resemble us in some way, we get a sympathetic high from seeing them succeed or benefit or overcome the odds. We also form a personal connection to the source of the high.

Messages delivered as stories can be up to 22x more memorable than just facts.

How can storytelling help government agencies?

As a government communications professional, you know the importance of engaging with your communities, service users or constituents. Engagement is usually based on a positive emotional relationship, so if your people don’t know the ‘human side’ of your Department or don’t trust you, they’re going to shut you out. Storytelling is the most powerful way to overcome this and create an emotional bond with your community.

Personal, Engaging and Humanising

In many cases, it’s rare for the community to get a glimpse of the real people behind government agencies. Nobody wants to engage with a faceless machine of an organisation, and the result is a disconnected community that doesn’t understand what you do, how it affects them, or why they should care.

Storytelling can completely transform how people view your department. Tales of good deeds, individual triumphs and real people going the extra mile for the community – the right story can help you to put relatable faces to your agency and inspire people to connect with your department on a personal level. And by telling people stories of others just like them, you’re illustrating the value you provide them and encouraging people to picture themselves as part of your community.

Simple, Accessible and Interesting

Topics like government budgeting, transport planning and healthcare provision can be poorly understood. Perhaps the subject matter is too complex, or it’s not interesting enough to cut through this information-rich state. Perhaps they just don’t see how it affects them. Whatever the reason, agencies in certain fields might find it difficult to connect with their service users.

Stories can help by simplifying complex topics, bringing serious subjects to life, and turning dry data into memorable messages. Their appeal spans all ages, cultures and abilities, which opens up communication to include traditionally hard-to-engage groups like young children, diverse communities and those with low literacy.

SA Health have done a stellar job storytelling their move from the old Royal Adelaide Hospital to the new hospital site. They social content includes personal stories about patients and staff, media coverage and their Facebook cover page video is a story about the new site.

How to tell your agency’s story

Develop a narrative

Stories follow a basic narrative structure with a beginning, middle and end. With your narratives, you need to establish an emotional connection, so make the character (or story subject) relevant to your audience, perhaps sharing the same characteristics, goals, dreams or fears of your community.

In the middle, you introduce a conflict, challenge or problem. This should be something your audience can relate to, and the conflict can be related to your Department or a problem that your community is facing.

In the end, your character should find a resolution, ideally helped by you. Your audience will be emotionally invested in the character’s success, and you want them to associate you with the positive outcome.

Appeal to emotions

Organisations often try to think big, but simple emotional appeals are the key to creating impactful stories. Some of the most popular viral videos have featured stories that made us feel intense joy, anger, excitement, fear, triumph, or a combination thereof.

Find members of your community who have overcome adversity, or champion those who are doing inspirational things. Share contagious moments of pure happiness and rally together against the darker moments of life. Whatever your story, tell it with authenticity, passion and enthusiasm and your audience will be rapt.

Focus on people

While it may be tempting to talk about your agency, the truth is that people want to hear about other people. It sounds counterintuitive not to talk about yourself – after all, how will people know about you if you don’t tell them? But it’s the human element that sticks with your audience long after they hear your story. If you get that right, awareness and engagement will follow naturally.

Share creatively

There are so many ways to share your story. Infographics are great for distilling complex information into bite-sized facts and figures, while videos are wonderful tools for sharing human interest stories. Memes inject humour into a story, while live streams help people to feel like they’re part of the action.

Sharing doesn’t have to be complicated, either. You can split several simple Facebook updates into chapters of a story to keep your audience coming back for more. You can even encourage users to generate the content themselves by submitting photos, quotes, testimonials or short stories. The only limit is your creativity!

Everybody has a story to tell. Janine can help you tell it.

If your agency has staff, you have a story. If your agency deals with people, you have a story. If your agency has ever helped somebody in any meaningful way, you have a story, and your community is waiting to hear it!

Communications in government expert Janine Marin specialises in helping the public sector to boost community engagement via digital media storytelling. If you have a tale waiting to be told, contact Janine now to bring your story to life.

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Does your department use social media to its full potential?
Do you find they don’t invest in it as a substantial communication channel?
Do you feel like your agency is avoiding social media?

Well, if there isn’t a structured social media strategy with the appropriate policies and procedures in place, you can understand why they may want to pretend it doesn’t exist! Interaction and communication is the core of what social media is all about, so simple disagreeable, unpleasant, or downright inappropriate comments can quickly draw unwanted attention far and wide from the very audience you are working to engage more often with. Which is why your department – not needs – but should invest time and resource into a solid social media strategy, and most importantly, training your ‘social media’ frontline staff.

To minimise the risk of those unwanted – potentially viral – comments, posts, tweets, etc, we have established our ‘top 5 HELLL NO’ list for government agencies on social. If you are considering doing these on your social media – you need to stop and think: HELLLL no…you’ve been warned.

Five things government agencies should never do on social media

1. Create a social media account…just because

Just because the adjacent county or council is going gangbusters on Snapchat, doesn’t mean your agency needs to follow suit. Often, social media accounts are created without a clear purpose. Don’t fall into this trap. Before launching a new social media profile, do your research and make sure you’re choosing the platform that’s fit for (your) purpose, suits your content and is used by your target audience.

2. Wit is good, sarcasm not so much

It’s always entertaining to generate a few laughs amongst your audience, but you are potentially entering dangerous territory if your joke backfires or your message is interpreted as arrogant or rude by your community. A simple miscommunication like this can cause a massive Social Media Storm (SMS) and may take a lot of work to restore your organisation’s image amongst your audience.

3. Allow free access to your social media account amongst your team

Limit your account access to a select few team members. Only those that have thorough training and experience should have the ability to control your social media accounts. Remember these select individuals are on the front line between your organisation and your audience, and are required to make professional and educated decisions that reflect your organistation 24/7.

Further to our last point, you should never have only one person acting as the gatekeeper

Always have a back up plan. Everyone eventually needs to take a sick day, a holiday, or eventually moves on from the organisation. Having multiple administrators across all of your social media platforms will ensure that you will always have secure and seamless access to your accounts.

4. Engage with negative comments – the wrong way

Okay, so as a government agency there’s more red tape when it comes to engaging online. However, that doesn’t mean your agency can’t have an opinion, especially when it comes to correcting misinformed negative comments. Your image is not only reflected in the positive and encouraging messages that you share on social media, but also in how you address and resolve the negative ones. Taking ownership of a problem or correcting misinformed comments/information will show that your agency is proactive –  and not reactive – on social media and this will resound with your audience. The only exception to this rule is when the  comments are offensive or threatening, this is when you need to escalate the issue and resolve it offline.

5. Failing to plan is planning to fail

one of the biggest pitfalls for social media management is being so focussed on the ‘doing’…uploading content, community management, moderation etc. and not on the strategy. It’s easy to get bogged down in the daily tasks with managing your agency’s social media but doing so without a plan means your agency’s social media maturity becomes stagnant. Plan your content, plan your moderation in and outside business, plan your goals….plan, plan, plan! Without a plan work can easily become like groundhog day.

Social media is revolutionising community engagement and there’s no reason for you to miss out.

Do you find yourself wanting to do more with your agency’s social but don’t know where to start? Can’t find experts to train your staff in social media?

Discover the benefits of working with Digital Honey.  

Find out how our training and workshops will save your agency money, time and resource. 

Contact us here today.

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