A recent survey found digital public services are embracing social media, but only around 20% of local authorities have a policy in place. Customers expect to be able to contact you 24/7, but it’s important to balance delivery with risk.

Every day 13 million people in the UK scroll through Twitter, and 80% access it via their mobile. Social media is now so ingrained in modern life that customers have come to expect seamless delivery when it comes to digital public services.

At the heart of social media use is openness, as Camden Council recently declared:

“Let’s just turn government into one big crowd – open source stuff, share it; make it easier to get to.”

Digital Transformation – The Rewards

Public sector organisations are becoming increasingly strategic in their approach to the customer experience, as they realise social media can deliver valuable insights. 

According to a 2015 BDO local government survey:

  • 100% of councils now use Twitter
  • 90% have a Facebook account
  • 68% use YouTube
  • 38% use Instagram.

71% of public sector respondents believe there’s a financial benefit to using social media. Digital public services can deliver impressive savings, promote openness and identify customer trends:

  • Shropshire Council has introduced ‘WhatsApp a Shropshire Councillor’, where residents ask questions
  • Blackburn and Darwen Council uses Snapchat to share information, updates and voting reminders.

Get Smart

It helps to know where your customers are... and most of them are on the move. Smartphone trends suggest that despite fears about digital exclusion, all income groups are using mobile phones for internet access. The number of smartphone users in the UK is predicted to hit nearly 45m by 2017:

  • 79% of adults use social networks every day
  • 66% of UK adults own a smartphone, up from 39% in 2012
  • 23.6 million people use 4G mobile internet
  • In Britain, 90% of homes now have 4G access rising to 98% by 2017
  • 96% of 16-24-yr-olds access the internet “on the go”.

(ONS, 2015)

Riding the Transition – The Risks

It is widely accepted that social media is not without risk. If you don’t put in place robust and frequently updated policies for digital public services, you’re setting yourself up for embarrassing blunders. The threat of unauthorised posts, data breaches and reputational damage is harder to manage against a backdrop of budget cuts, legacy IT and information silos.

So how can you best respond to customers on social media, and protect your organisation?

The main steps to effective social media use, according to the Government Digital Service include:

Defining objectives: Know why you want to use social media. Uses may differ between departments so policy should reflect this.

Listening: Generate insights about audience profile by tracking online conversations across channels.

Gathering Insights: Include demographic data, location and interests – to see who is engaging with your content.

Influencer engagement: Build networks of key influencers with large followings on Twitter.

Content strategy: Align campaign or departmental priorities. Post content across chosen channels, and consult data analytics to measure performance of posts, tweets and blogs.

Risk management: Your social media policy should set out who covers what type of enquiry, at what level, and when issues need passing to Communications. All staff need social media training and access to policy.

Tone of voice: Single voice is important for consistency – both in terms of tone and messaging. An informal tone connects better with customers.

Social Media Success

Sometimes talent management requires creative thinking. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service launched a successful recruitment drive targeting women via Facebook. You can tailor campaigns on social media according to where under-represented groups can be found. This is what the Cambridgeshire service discovered. Responses doubled and of 38 female applicants, six became full-time firefighters.

The Way Forward

Customers expect attention across channels whatever the sector and whatever the issues. Balancing their changing expectations and behaviour with the costs of meeting these can be challenging.

The Digital by Default service standard and the G-Cloud digital marketplace are helping drive forward digital transformation in the public sector. At the centre should be a ‘single view’ of customers. This is crucial as interactions can be lost if a joined-up approach isn’t taken.

Social media – backed by robust policy, appropriately promoted and resourced  – should be part of an integrated multi-channel offer.

Put the right steps in place and you could be on the way to increased customer satisfaction.

Key Takeaways

  • Decide what you want social media to do for you.
  • Tailor content for mobile users.
  • Choose platforms carefully, based on research.
  • Use social media for polls and surveys.
  • Update your social media policy regularly.

Customer Experience