Sunday, March 8, 2009

Social Media and Local Government

Local Government Focus is a trade publication serving the needs of senior decision makers in councils and shires throughout Australia.

It recently published our thoughts on the current state of play of how Local Governments are embracing social media.

Here is the article.

Five Steps To Introducing Social Media

Australians are increasingly interested in social media.

Maybe it was President Obama's social media efforts during the recent US Presidential election campaign that has stirred our interest. Maybe after hovering on the fringes of mainstream communications for the past two or three years, social media has moved beyond something for teenagers in bedrooms to a point where it has emerged as a legitimate player in the PR and marketing mix. Or with the economy in poor shape, decision makers may be finding the low cost of digital media channels is simply too appealing to ignore.

So if you work for a government agency, a large organisation or a not for profit, now is the time to decide if your organisation will move into the social media space and to scope out how to do this in a disciplined and sustained way. Here are some considerations to make that transition as effective and as least disruptive as possible:

  • Decide Firstly make a strategic decision about whether using social media platforms will actually improve communications with the people you need to reach. If they will, take conscious steps to slowly blend the new digital tools into your promotional mix. If for whatever reason you decide against moving into the new media space (eg your audiences may not be on-line) at least take steps to monitor the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook and similar sites to learn what is being said about your organisation and its issues. And if necessary be prepared to act quickly to protect your organisation's reputation on-line.
  • Policy Develop a social media policy. This will not only provide guidance to staff but it will become a necessary security blanket for managers and others still nervous about venturing into the online world. A simple document should clearly spell out what is to be gained by using social media, under what circumstances it will be used, by whom, legal, copyright, privacy and other considerations and how to respond to online criticism.
  • Competence Build digital competence within your team. Make one person responsible for managing online conversations. Ensure they know the core business and the communications intent of those on the top floor as well as the issues faced by those on the factory floor. Start out using one platform (such as blogging) and then bring other social media platforms into play as your organisation becomes more and more comfortable.
  • Integrate Integrate your online and other efforts. Avoid a worst case scenario where staff responsible for online engagement do not talk to those responsible for traditional outreach such as media relations, events etc. These types of barriers lead to mangled messages and missed opportunities.
  • Measurement As with other marketing and PR efforts, measure your digital program as thoroughly as you can. Some social media applications suit some circumstances but are not effective in others. You can waste a lot of time, money and effort if you select the wrong tool.
My sense is that social media will be the "flavour of the mouth and flavour of the month" among Australia's communicators and corporates within 12 months. Everybody will be talking about it as it moves from today's early adopters in the Twitter stream to government agencies, not for profits and businesses in the mainstream.

So now is the time to start thinking through these and other issues.