Effective public sector social media management on a tight budget

In my last blog post I wrote about the challenges associated with getting buy in for your social media activities, both from management and from staff. However getting buy in is only half the battle. The challenges don’t stop there.

Attendees at our recent event for public sector social media managers told us that another major issue for them is lack of resources. Many of the people I met at the event were either singlehandedly responsible for all the social media activities within their organisation, or else part of an extremely small team.

Certainly, while social media is still in the ‘proof of concept’ phase organisations don’t tend to allocate a lot of resource to it. Also, we’re operating in an environment of ever deeper cuts and comms teams throughout the public sector are feeling the pinch. This challenge isn’t helped by the common perception that social media is essentially free, or somehow runs itself.

Many of the event attendees were frustrated because they could see the potential of social media and wanted to be making much more extensive use of it, but were afraid to commit to communicating effectively with citizens through this channel until they were convinced that they had the resources to do a good job. Because of this their social media remained very much in broadcast mode rather than being used for two way communication.

So, what’s the answer? What’s the best way to get maximum bang for your social media buck? Here are some suggestions.

  • Consolidate all your accounts in one management tool – using one central management tool to run all your accounts can gain you much needed efficiency in lots of different ways. It saves you time logging in and logging of different places. It enables you to quickly and simply adapt the same content for different channels. You can bulk schedule posts in advance, and incoming messages can be immediately diverted so that the right person is alerted and can respond, reducing the time spent forwarding things around the organisation (as well as improving your speed of response). There are plenty of free tools available that can help you with this but in general you get what you pay for and its generally worth spending a little bit on functionality that can help you save a lot in the long run.
  • Establish a business case for further social media investment – ultimately money talks and the most effectively way to persuade the powers that be to allocate more resources to social media is to establish a clear case for the channel shift benefits. There’s plenty of external research showing how much lower the cost per transaction is for social media than either telephone or face to face communication, but it’s also important to be able to demonstrate that this means for the particular context of your organisation. That means keeping a meticulous track record of inbound and outbound communication, not only through your social channels but other channels too. Here a good social media management tool can make it much easier to keep track of what’s going on, generate clear and persuasive reports and give you access to performance statistics.
  • Harness all the social resource in your organisation – when we go into organisations to talk about social media management, one of the first questions that we ask people is whether they know everyone in the organisation that’s using social media in an official or semi-official capacity. The answer is invariably no. It may feel like you’re the only person doing any social media in your organisation but it’s almost certainly not the case. There may be frontline staff tweeting about their work, managers who blog, contractors who’re active. When you start to dig into it, you generally find that there are lots of people actively using social media in semi official or completely unofficial capacity. Often the instinct of top management is to want to shut these people down, but aside from the morale implications of such a decision, they’re also a resource that can be harnessed. Think about how you can establish a network of social media users within your organisation. In my experience, social works best not when it’s viewed as a distinct activity and treated with a silo mentality, but when it’s viewed as just another communication channel that everyone can use.
  • Manage expectations appropriately – one of the big benefits of social media from the point of view of your customers is that it enables them to contact you whenever they like, but with the best will in the world it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll be able to staff your social channels around the clock. From a consumer’s point of view there are few things more frustrating that firing off a message only to feel that it’s gone into a complete non-communication void. It’s the not knowing that’s the frustrating part. People generally don’t mind waiting for a response as long as their expectations are appropriately managed regarding how long the wait is likely to be. Make sure you have clear messages on all your social channels regarding the hours that they’re staffed, how long people should expect to wait for a response, and how they should contact you in an emergency outside of those hours. Similarly, if there are certain types of communication that are better not done via social media then say so up front. For example, police forces generally have a line in their Twitter bio making it clear that people shouldn’t use that channel for reporting crime.
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