Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

Social media in the public sector

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The other day I attended a conference on social media in the public sector, moderated by Erik Sellström (@eriksellstrom). A very rewarding conference showing that the Swedish public sector is starting to take social media seriously. (search #smios, for comments in Swedish)

Excellent talks were given by authorities and municipalities, and above all there was a willingness to share experiences, good and bad. Also, several questions were raised by the audience showing concerns that might grow into obstacles in the process of implementing social media, for those who are standing on the doorstep.

Some of these questions I meet when talking to colleagues in the cultural heritage sector. And one of the benefits of the conference was a great step forward in solving these issues:

How do we reach through to the audiences (don’t we need viral campaigns etc.)?
The Municipality of Borås have implemented social media in several areas of the organization. One surprising result was that by live casting budget discussions, the interest among the public for this raised several 100 %! It’s not always about creating entertainment but making things that are relevant to people available in a simple way.

Social media? I don’t have the time!
There was a time when e-mail was new. De-dramatize the use of social media. Focus on the easy parts, for example answering questions that would otherwise come by e-mail or through phone-calls. Introduce social media step by step, and show the benefits (and what happens if we aren’t really present online). One interesting example of inadequate online presence is the Twitter account of @polisen_uppsala. Very easily mistaken for a Twitter account from the police department of the town of Uppsala. However it is not an official account. It provides accurate information, from the website of the police department, but it is run by someone else, probably a private person with special interest in police work.

Above: A Twitter account that is easily mistaken for an official account, but is run by a private individual.

What if we get serious negative critique?
Deal with the problems when they come (a constant reminder from communications consultant Brit Stakston, @britstakston, who participated in a discussion panel). Using social media requires a readiness for unexpected problems. Learn by others. Many companies and organizations have already been there and dealt with the issues (as many speakers generously showed by sharing mistakes and how to deal with problems).

Should we use one Twitter account or Facebook page for the whole organization?
No. Both speakers and the audience agreed on that segmenting the communication is vital. Not only is it easier to speak with a proper voice, but also to listen and engage in a relevant dialogue.

But, communication is for the Marketing department!?
Again, both speakers and the audience agreed: Social media provide tools for everyone to communicate, just as everone has a phone or an e-mail account. This is an opportunity for the organization to reach out in a more efficient way, and to learn more about the target audiences. The tricky part is to distinguish pure marketing from everyday communication – they might use the same channels. (Or do we face a development towards a deeper integration of the Marketing department with the rest of the organization?). In any case segmenting communicative efforts is essential.

But what about legal issues? Can we do this?
In Sweden the e-Government Delegation is adressing the use of social media within the public sector. There will be a report, very helpful to the cultural heritage sector (and everyone else) in avoiding breaking laws and to further develop the use of social media. As for cultural heritage institutions, Lars Lundqvist, @arkland_swe, at the Swedish National Heritage Board, showed several examples of dealing with legal issues, for example hosting a community, www.platsr.se.

What if we make a mistake? Then it’s there for everyone to see?
As with negative critique, prepare for mistakes and problems. One of the most important things when implementing social media is to be there online, participating. It’s all about learning by doing. Also, by being present online there are several ways of building a positive web presence that will make up for mistakes in the long run. Show a willingness to solve problems and listen. There is no manual for social media, each company and organization must create their own strategy.

Can a leader and executive be personal in social media?
The head of the municipality of Katrineholm, Mattias Jansson (@kommunchef) showed that yes it is possible. He is present in several social media channels (blog, FB, Twitter etc.). And with common sense and drawing a line between his professional role and private life, though still sharing personal experiences, it’s possible to build a closer relationship with the target audiences. The conference moderator Erik Sellström asked the very interesting question: How many people in the audience have a blogging CEO? 10 % answered yes. The following question was: How many would like a blogging boss? Almost everyone answered yes. (Does this really mean that all CEO:s should blog? Or is it a sign of a need for greater transparency within the public sector?)

Everyone is talking about web presence these days. Don’t we need a website anymore?
To emphasize the importance of a broad presence online Joakim Jardenberg (@jocke) even stated ”it’s not a website”, the web presence of tomorrow. This does however not mean we shouldn’t make company websites anymore. Anders Kihl (@kihlanders) from Borås Municipality explained how the municipality website has 900 000 unique visitors per year. They are now using the website as a hub for their web presence, driving traffic to and from other channels.

Above: The website of Borås Municipality

Where do we start?
Almost all of the speakers mentioned in one way or the other that letting early adopters of social media take part in the implementation process can be rewarding. By showing the way, that it’s not dangerous, difficult or time consuming, it’s way easier to implement social media in the entire organization.

Summary
By analysing the benefits of social media (and having a strategy), you can easier implement new tools for communication, but also deal with issues and problems. During the conference there were a couple of statements made that it’s difficult to measure success within social media. But there are tools that can and must be used to show benefits. In the end, to motivate further allocation of resources towards the use of social media, measurable success matters.

It is only a year ago that many authorities, organizations and municipalities were just talking about social media: What is it? Why should we use it? This year many started to take action: This is how can we use social media! And next year perhaps we’ll see the evaluations. What excatly did we gain from embracing social media? And last but not least, I would like to see social media strategies that have been implemented, shared by the public sector.

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