Putting Social Media into Practice – What You Need to Do First

Welsh Assembly Government 28.03.2011

Government Technology Today acknowledges that local governments participating in social media is one of the biggest trends in government technology for 2013.  More and more local governments are finding that utilizing social media for public outreach is not only effective in getting the word out, it also leads to positive interaction between government and constituents.

A note of caution, however: deciding to put social media into practice without thoughtful planning and execution can alter the outcome.

Opening up the channels of communication between government and constituents can be a little scary, time consuming, and overwhelming if the appropriate amount of planning isn’t done prior to implementing your social media efforts.  Here are a few things your organization should think about before opening social media accounts on behalf of your city, county, or agency.

First and foremost, clearly define your city’s/county’s objectives.  What kinds of conversation are happening without your involvement, and what kinds of conversations would you like to have?  What messages are most important to cover, and how will these topics be approached?  It is also a good idea to set goals at this time that clearly define what types of engagement you would like and how often communications should be sent out.

Accurately assess the time, resources, and money available to launch and execute a social media program.  If you have limited time, resources, and money, determine which of your goals are most important to reach, and select a platform, team members, and budget that are most likely to yield the best result based on those resources.

Decide who should respond, how they should respond, and within what time frame. Decide what topics are welcomed, what topics are off-limits, and what would you like the overall tone of your social media communications to sound like: casual and friendly, or formal and informative?  There should also be an assigned person(s) to respond to inquiries, a point of contact if things need to be escalated, and timeframes in which all parties are expected to post and respond.

Evaluate social media platforms and applications.  Gaining a good understanding of the social media platforms and third-party applications available will help reduce the amount of time and effort required to meet your social media objectives.  For example, choosing a main platform to focus on–such as Facebook or LinkedIn–can help you build an interactive, focused community and is a better tactic than posting everything to everyone, without any way to monitor engagement.  Third-party applications such as Sprout Social, Hootsuite, and plug-ins, can reduce the amount of time checking on your accounts, reviewing analytics, and posting to multiple platforms.

Learn from others. Extend your reach to peer cities to find out what processes and platforms they are using, as well as how they attract businesses and constituents to interact via social media. They may have tips, tricks, and new technology to share that could be used in your city, county, or agency.

Develop a plan for Rules of Engagement.  Before you launch, determine what kind of conduct you expect from all involved parties by creating a Social Media Engagement and Code of Conduct plan.  Items that may outlined in this document include: security and confidentiality, do’s and don’ts, reputation management, quality and quantity of messaging, allotted time to be spent on social media, and privacy issues/settings.

There’s no doubt about it: with the rise in use of mobile devices, iPads, notebooks, and the Internet, the way governments participate with constituents is changing. Connecting with constituents via social media can be extremely rewarding and beneficial when appropriate time and resources are allotted in the planning stages.

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