Engaging Through Social Media - a guide for civil servants


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COI produced guide from civil servants in London. This is downloaded from the COI and is subject to Crown Copyright.

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Engaging Through Social Media - a guide for civil servants

  1. 1. Engaging through social mediaA guide for civil servants
  2. 2. About this guideDigital technology has revolutionised the way in which peoplecommunicate and share information – at local, national andinternational levels.Civil servants need to understand these changes so that they canoperate effectively in a dynamic media environment.The Government is making its services more convenient throughonline access, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This process is beingassisted by the Central Office of Information (COI), the governmentcentre of excellence for marketing and communications, whichhelps to ensure that online government services are effective andachieve the best they can for all concerned.This guide provides an overview of the guidance contained in UsingSocial Media, which is an introduction to how government officials canuse social media (available on CivilWiki at http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk).As well as providing guidance for communications and policy staff,this guide explains where to go for expert advice on using socialmedia in your work.ContentsWhat is social media? 2Expertise within government 4General guidance 6Guidance for press officers 7Guidance for marketers 8Guidance for internal communicators 9Guidance for policy officials 10Connecting civil servants through social media 11Background reading 12 1
  3. 3. What is social media?Social media is a term used to refer to online technologies and practices that areused to share opinions and information, promote discussion and build relationships.It is equally useful to communications staff and policy officials.Social media services and tools involve a combination of technology,telecommunications and some kind of social interaction. They can use a varietyof different formats, for example text, pictures, video and audio.The term ‘social media’ is applied to the tools in question, their applications andcollaboratively developed practices.What are the benefits?Good use of social media can help governmentto better understand, respond to and attractthe attention of specific audiences. It enablesreal two-way communication with people in the places where they are already engagingwith their interests.Social media can:• increase government’s access to • benefit from the credibility of non- audiences and improve the accessibility government channels; of government communication; • increase the speed of public feedback • enable government to be more active in and input; its relationships with citizens, partners • reach specific audiences on specific and stakeholders; issues; and• offer greater scope to adjust or refocus • reduce government’s dependence on communications quickly, where traditional media channels and counter necessary; inaccurate press coverage.• improve the long-term cost effectiveness of communication;2
  4. 4. Example initiatives The Communities and Local GovernmentThe use of social media in itself does not discussion forumsmake for good practice. In order to be (http://haveyoursay.communities.gov.uk/effective initiatives must form part of a wider forums/) enable users to debate issuescommunications strategy and bring at least that are relevant to their local communitysome of the tangible benefits listed above. through the Department’s own social media channels. They are a low-cost way of gathering public opinion and placing The New Opportunities online consultation the views of the public at the heart of (www.hmg.gov.uk/newopportunities.aspx) policy-making processes. provides access to the New Opportunities White Paper and seeks opinion on how the UK can draw on the opportunities offered by the global economy. The site is a primary source of information The Listening to Students blog that encourages users to engage in (http://talk.dius.gov.uk/blogs/studentlistening/) discussions in other locations before provides the Department for Innovation, submitting their comments. Universities and Skills (DIUS) with an opportunity to post information that will engage university students in government decisions. The Department’s dedicated The Sustainable Development social media unit creates technical Commission website solutions, policy and communications. The (www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/ student listening blog is a good example of sd-panel.html) The Sustainable the way in which DIUS creates dedicated Development Commission has recruited spaces for key stakeholders using low-cost a 500-strong panel of multi-discipline social media. stakeholders to which it can pose regular consultation questions. RAF careers promotion Number 10 webchats (www.bebo.com/theroyalairforce) (www.number10.gov.uk/news/webchats) has benefited from social media activity. allow the general public to direct Its Bebo page successfully exploits the questions at the people who make network effect by giving users highly decisions that affect their lives. They engaging content that they want to talk are a cost-effective and engaging way about and share with others. To do this of involving the public in government they allowed frontline staff to tell their processes, and embed good content. own stories using video and chat. 3
  5. 5. Expertise withingovernmentIn 2005 the Government’s Transformational Government strategy set out how theUK could harness technology in order to transform government services. Sincethen, digital engagement has played an increasingly vital role in changing the wayin which government communicates with its audiences.1 COI provides departmentswith expert advice, support, guidance and services for operating in a digital world.There are three broad government strategiesfor digital communication.Communicate where people are Enable non-governmental bodies topresent reuse information• Put information in the places where • Help non-governmental bodies to build people go. new services by structuring information so that they can combine public data with• Participate where people are present, private data. particularly through forums, wikis and blogging. • Avoid replicating what is already being undertaken by non-governmental bodies.• Deliver access to online services where people go. COI has an in-depth understanding of how Create better user experiences for citizens and businesses engage with digital technology. We are, therefore, uniquelygovernment services placed to develop strategies, policies,• Enable people to find the information and standards and guidance to improve public online services they require by having digital engagement. fewer communication channels and focusing them around audience needs.• Aggregate relevant information into one place on government sites rather than across several sites, saving users time and effort.• Create a consistent high-quality experience through a dedicated set of standards.1 The Strategy is available at www.cio.gov.uk/documents/pdf/transgov/transgov-strategy.pdf4
  6. 6. How have we helped so far? Contact the teamIn recent months, COI has: As the Government’s centre of expertise • issued guidance for civil servants on how to for communication, COI can develop participate in forums and blogs and how strategies, policies, standards and to form partnerships with social media guidance to improve public digital organisations; engagement.• produced strategy for archiving online public records, so that they don’t just Contact vanish; david.pullinger@coi.gsi.gov.uk Head of Digital Policy• developed a pan-government search strategy, including the monitoring of use nick.jones@coi.gsi.gov.uk of XML sitemaps, which makes it easier Head of Interactive Services for search engines such as Google and Yahoo! to find government content for users looking for specific information;• set a standard for all websites to be AA Web Accessibility compliant so that everybody has equal access to public information;• introduced a process to ensure that links to official documents on government websites always work, including navigable PDFs – thus improving user experience;• initiated a new standard for all public sector job ads so that they can be gathered in one place on Directgov;• project managed the web rationalisation programme, reducing the number of government websites and re-purposing relevant content for Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk;• administered the issuing of ‘gov.uk’ domain names to exercise control on the number of new websites;• produced strategies to encourage the re-use of information; and• researched ways in which government has undertaken consultation and engagement activity for future planning. 5
  7. 7. General guidance There are some common principles shared across all forms of social media. Knowingthese basic ‘rules of engagement’ will help you whether you are running an onlinecommunity or simply contributing. The basic principles Disclose your position as a representative of your Department or Agency unless there Be credible. Be accurate, fair, thorough are exceptional circumstances, such as a and transparent. potential threat to personal security. Never give out personal details such as your home Be consistent. Encourage constructive address or phone numbers. criticism and deliberation. Be cordial, honest and professional at all times. Always remember that participation online results in your comments being permanently Be responsive. When you gain insight, available and open to being re-published in share it where appropriate. other media. Stay within the legal framework and be aware that libel, defamation, Be integrated. Wherever possible, align copyright and data protection laws apply. online participation with other offline communications. This means that you should not disclose information, make commitments or Be a civil servant. Remember that you engage in activity on behalf of government are an ambassador for your organisation. unless you are authorised to do so. This Wherever possible, disclose your position authority may already be delegated or may as a representative of your Department be explicitly granted, depending on your or Agency. organisation. Also be aware that this may attract mediaCivil Service Code interest in you as an individual, so proceedAs a civil servant, you must also operate with care whether you are participating inwithin the Civil Service Code when engaging an official or a personal capacity. If you havewith social media (http://beta.civilservice. any doubts, you should take advice fromgov.uk/about/work/cscode/index.asp). This your line manager.applies to your participation online as acivil servant or when discussing governmentbusiness. You should participate in the sameway as you would with other media or publicforums, such as speaking at conferences.6
  8. 8. Guidance for press officersAs well as adhering to the general guidance set out on page 6 and following theCivil Service Code, press officers should evaluate departmental initiatives discussedon social media applications and participate in debate about their organisation’sdecisions.Monitoring and evaluating other Engaging with social mediainitiatives • Before engaging with a specific social • Identify relevant sites and use media channel, ensure you understand its them regularly in order to gain an specific benefits and risks. understanding of users’ online behaviours • When using blogs, forums or wikis, and their opinions. correct any factual inaccuracies you find• Gauge how effectively other sites engage relating to government policy. your target audiences. • Where users ask questions about policy or • Gain experience of how stories can jump published information with which you are from digital channels to other media. familiar, provide answers to the queries.• Map key channels that opinion-formers • Refer people to government sites, where use so that you can use them early in the appropriate. news planning process. • Media-sharing sites offer a good opportunity to promote events and news in video, picture or data formats. More comprehensive guidance is available in Using Social Media, which is available on CivilWiki (http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk). 7
  9. 9. Guidance for marketersAs well as adhering to the general guidance set out on page 6 and following the CivilService Code, marketers should evaluate departmental initiatives discussed on socialmedia applications and participate in debate about their organisation’s decisions.• Make the most of social media • Create video, audio or data content that opportunities to gain insight into your can be published simultaneously across audience, identifying them and the diverse channels. channels they use before determining • Create useful tools and applications that how they use them. users can incorporate into their site, for• Engage creatively with user-led online example, an online body mass index communities (by becoming strategic calculator to support a branded health partners, for example) in order to inform campaign. users, generate insight or use these • Be transparent and evidence-based when communities as regular forums for setting up partnerships. campaign planning.• Monitor social media for discussion about your organisation, its proposals, More comprehensive guidance is available campaigns or the services it delivers. in Using Social Media, which is available on• Track influential brands or voices that CivilWiki (http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk). may compete for your audience time.• Set up groups on social media channels or start discussion threads in communities. Remember to inform your press office of groups or discussions that you are initiating.8
  10. 10. Guidance for internal communicatorsAs well as adhering to the general guidance set out on page 6 and following theCivil Service Code, internal communicators should evaluate departmental initiativesdiscussed on social media applications and participate in debate about theirorganisation’s decisions.• Cross-cutting policy initiatives are driving Using wikis for internal changes in organisational structure and communications culture and in staff behaviour. Internal communicators need to exploit the new The Department for Culture, Media and opportunities offered by social media in Sport has set up an internal wiki to order to engage staff across departments. manage corporate information around briefings, lines to take and frequently• Take advantage of social media tools asked policy questions. The content of the and channels for collaborative working. wiki is available to all staff but is primarily Strengthen delivery of, and encourage designed for the Information and Briefing two-way commentary on, key messages Unit. The system is heavily used. The wiki regarding the initiatives affecting staff. has greatly improved the efficiency and Remember to inform your press office quality of briefings. of groups or discussions that you are initiating.• See page 11 for examples of social media initiatives that are already encouraging More comprehensive guidance is available interaction between civil servants. in Using Social Media, which is available on CivilWiki (http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk).More comprehensive guidance on Using SocialMedia is available on CivilWiki(http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk) 9
  11. 11. Guidance for policyofficialsAs well as adhering to the general guidance set out on page 6 and following theCivil Service Code, policy officials should evaluate departmental initiativesdiscussed on social media applications and participate in debate about theirorganisation’s decisions.• Policy officials should be aware of the new and exciting ways in which social media initiatives can help them engage with and consult the public, stakeholders and peers in government.• Effective monitoring and use of social media channels can, for example, give policy officials and delivery teams an inroad into networks of consumers, citizens and service users – vastly increasing the quality and quantity of data gathered.• There is evidence to suggest that using online engagement techniques encourages participation by those who do not normally interact with government or respond to consultations.• Policy leads should actively seek out opportunities to engage with existing stakeholders online and seriously consider the value of initiating involvement with other relevant communities.• Policy officials can intervene to correct inaccuracies on social media sites, but remember to inform your press office if you do so. More comprehensive guidance is available in Using Social Media, which is available on CivilWiki (http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk).10
  12. 12. Connecting civil servants through social mediaUse of social media techniques is not restricted to government interaction withcitizens or business. There is already a range of tools dedicated to encouragingdiscussion and sharing knowledge and best practice among civil servants.Tools for civil servants Civil Pages (https://pages.civilservice.gov.uk) CivilBlogs (http://blogs.gsi.gov.uk) is a is a networking directory of around 3,000 personal publishing tool to enable sharing users and 28 communities. It allows users of work experience, knowledge and thinking to find colleagues, showcase skills, share across GSI through the setting up of blogs. and comment on documents and create communities of interest. Communities of Practice Civil Wiki (http://wiki.gsi.gov.uk) is a (www.communities.idea.gov.uk) is a knowledge-sharing and collaboration tool community platform to encourage for civil servants. As it is hosted on the knowledge sharing across local Government Secure Intranet (GSI), it can government and the public sector. only be viewed by those working within It provides a secure environment for users government. All content is generated and to set up or join communities wanting moderated by users, of which there are to develop or share knowledge around currently around 900. specific issues. 11
  13. 13. Background readingSocial media is part of the wider picture of political engagement and use of onlinecommunications. The following cover some of these broader issues. A Review of Government’s Use of Social Media The Communications Market Report 2008 (Government Communications Network) (Ofcom) Available via www.comms.gov.uk www.ofcom.org.uk/research/cm/cmr08 A comprehensive view of government’s The most comprehensive appraisal of use of social media in 2007 for technology ownership and its use by communications. the public. The Power of Information Digital Dialogues (Cabinet Office) (Hansard Society) www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/ www.digitaldialogues.org.uk cabinetoffice/strategy/assets/power_ A series of reports commissioned by the information.pdf government from the Hansard Society The Review in 2007 and Task containing case studies. These deal with Force Review 2009 cover ways in the use of social media to support policy- which government shares data and making process. The Phase Two Report, in communications in the digital space, particular, has some interesting detail. including use of social media. An Audit of Political Engagement 5 (2008) Contact the team (Electoral Commission and Hansard As the Government’s centre of expertise for Society) communication, COI can develop strategies, www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blogs/ policies, standards and guidance to improve downloads/pages/Audit-Series.aspx public digital engagement. Useful for understanding the wider question about if and how citizens wish to Contact engage with government, covering efficacy, david.pullinger@coi.gsi.gov.uk awareness and participation, based on Head of Digital Policy representative sampling of UK citizens. nick.jones@coi.gsi.gov.uk Head of Interactive Services12
  14. 14. COIHercules HouseHercules RoadLondonSE1 7DU020 7928 2345Publication date: March 2009© Crown copyright 2009The text in this document may be reproducedfree of charge in any format or mediawithout requiring specific permission. Thisis subject to the material not being used in a derogatory manner or in a misleadingcontext. The source of the material must beacknowledged as Crown copyright and thetitle of the document must be included whenreproduced as part of another publication orservice. The material used in this publicationis constituted from 50% post-consumer waste and 50% virgin fibre.Ref: 293955/0309