I get plenty of emails each week asking about social media strategies for public sector organisations, especially councils and PCTs.
Having a specific strategy for social media seems to be almost a prerequisite for many such organisations. But I’ve been mulling over the appropriateness of this in my mind for a while now – and I can see some arguments for and against this.
So far I’ve always come at this from a communicator’s point of view – thinking about how social media is changing the way public sector organisations need to communicate. But recently I’m moving towards a broader perspective on social media and public sector organisations generally.
The main reason I can see for having social media strategy is around the fact that social media tools are still pretty new and unknown territory for many public sector communicators. My research last year showed that public sector communications are still grounded in the public information model of one-way communications, with the mix of tools dominated by traditional media relations and untargeted marketing.
Against this backdrop, communicators can use a dedicated social media strategy as a “way in” – a set of activities that can be understood and bought into by key players in the organisation that provides a drive for adoption of social media. There’s definitely value in a strategy that can be circulated, discussed and adopted as a way of gaining a wider consensus around a particular topic.
But my nagging doubt with this approach, especially in the communications field, is that social media shouldn’t be seen as a “special” set of tools that needs a dedicated strategy. Surely consideration to be given to social media tools alongside all other tools that communicators consider when planning a campaign? That requires a strategic approach to planning communications in general, something that I hold very important in delivering effective communications using any tools.
So I’m not convinced that communications teams in public sector organisations need a dedicated social media strategy as social media should really be a “business as usual” tool that forms part of every campaign strategy where it’s relevant to the objectives.
More recently though I’ve been coming around to the idea that a broader social media strategy for public sector organisations is important.
The impact of social media is being felt much more widely in public sector organisations, like councils, PCTs, universities, schools and police forces, than just in the communications team. For example I presented to all senior managers at Medway last week on social media – and everyone I talked to afterwards had started to think about what social media means for their respective areas – and without exception they had all appreciated that they had work to do to as a result.
The fact that the effects of social media are emerging in almost every aspect of such organisations’ businesses demands a joined-up response rather than individual parts of the organisation acting in an uncoordinated way.
And this is where I think the real value of a social media strategy is – the intensity of scrutiny and power of social media to demand organisational transparency and consistency means that organisations have got to get their approach to social media, both internally and externally, right and be consistent in their activities and behaviours around social media, wherever in the organisation that is coming from.
Without that joined-up approach to social media, the organisation will appear at best inconsistent and at worst incompetent – much as it would if it had a poorly delivered visual identity for example. It’s just that the risks around an approach that isn’t joined-up are far greater with social media because of the the speed and scale of response and its potential impact on the organisations reputation.
I guess I’m concluding that public sector organisations need to have a strategy, or at least a strategic approach, on social media, but that this should be organisation-wide. Its content should focus on key high-level actions that need taking to provide an environment where innovation in individual parts of the organisation is fostered, while providing a usable framework for managing consistency, policies and risks of social media in the organisation’s activities.
So has anyone got one of these then?!