Janine Marin - communications expert
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Social media in the public sector: why it matters

Social media presents an incredible opportunity for local government and public sector agencies to connect with their communities. Organisations can reach out like never before and engage in conversations on everything from policy development and service provision, to social issues and emergency management.

Yet despite the benefits, agencies are still wary of social media, favouring traditional channels instead. The Leaders’ Report – The Future of Government Communications found that print, radio and TV still accounts for as much as 97% of marketing spend.
Why are we scared of social?

Two reasons – resources and risk.

According to The Leaders’ Report, 40% of participants feel they lack the necessary understanding of social media management and unfortunately, teams often don’t have the time, money or capacity to train them.

Social media also presents a number of risks unique to government and the public sector, and so government agencies often favour ‘safer’ traditional methods instead.

What are the risks of using social media in the public sector?

Opening up a platform to the community provides a valuable opportunity to discuss ideas, seek feedback, conduct research and build relationships. However, this can backfire if you don’t have the resources to manage conversations or respond to feedback, especially criticism and complaints.

Open communication, while overwhelmingly positive, leaves your agency vulnerable to liability. You’re ultimately responsible for your social media content, and if you fail to moderate misleading, obscene, defamatory or illegal content posted by a third party, this could present a public relations situation at best and a legal issue at worst.

Social media communications to or from government or public sector employees are deemed to be public records and legally must be preserved as such. However, manually copying large volumes of data is unfeasible, the platforms themselves can’t be relied upon for storage, and third parties can delete their content at will.

Allowing sub-groups of an organisation to control their own social media presence is risky. While it humanises the agency and allows for greater connection, staff lacking proper training can dilute the voice and message of the ‘brand’ or worse, open you up to public relations issues. For this reason, central communications teams are often reluctant to hand over the reins.

Social media is blurring the line between professional and personal life. For a government agency, this poses numerous security threats. It’s not difficult for those with malicious intentions to glean information from unsecured personal profiles, and both government and personal accounts could be vulnerable to hacking.

How do we manage the risks?

All of these risks can be mitigated with a comprehensive social media policy, providing clear, consistent guidelines on everything from branding to security.

Here are eight areas to consider when designing your own policy.

1. If you decide to participate in conversations, set out guidelines for how you’ll monitor discussions, who will respond, how quickly you’ll respond, and how you’ll address or refer issues.

2. Set out when it’s appropriate to respond. It’s not always necessary, but if an issue is unfolding based on incorrect information, for example, it’s absolutely appropriate to step in quickly and set the record straight.

3. Internally, establish which content should be prohibited and how you’ll respond. Publish this prominently on your social media platforms as part of your Terms of Use, so that users know exactly what constitutes acceptable behaviour.

4. You can opt to pre-approve posts, giving you the opportunity to filter out problematic content in advance. Alternatively, you can examine posts retrospectively and remove anything that violates guidelines. Whichever you decide, have a clearly defined process in place.

5. NSW’s Future Proof Strategy offers guidance on protecting and managing government records and is widely considered the gold standard in digital record keeping. You may also consider an external service that automatically captures and archives large volumes of social media content for you.

6. To maintain a consistent voice and message, establish clear brand guidelines to which your staff can refer and provide training if necessary. This can cover stylistic factors such as tone (professional vs casual), content factors such as company stances on particular issues, and procedural factors, such as your complaint management policy.

7. Define who has access to your social media accounts and in what capacity. You can add additional layers of security, such as requiring password encryption and restricting access to approved, protected and monitored devices.

8. Encourage total separation of work and personal accounts. Even apparently benign information can be used for malicious purposes, so advise your employees to refrain from sharing work-related information on personal pages altogether.

Need help creating an effective, risk-free social media policy?

Social media is revolutionising community engagement and there’s no reason for you to miss out. With a strong social media policy, you can reap the benefits for your community while minimising the risk to your organisation.

If you need support in developing your policy, or if you and your team could benefit from social media training, Digital Honey can help. Visit our Training page now to find out more about our bespoke public sector and government social media training, or contact us to discuss your policy needs today.


Our guide to social media strategy success for the public sector

Why a fresh approach can increase success

Social media is becoming increasingly well-used across the public sector for everything from public notices to community announcements to event updates and reminders. When used well, social media can be one of the most efficient and effective marketing tools for your organisation. 

[click_to_tweet tweet=”When used well, social media can be one of the most efficient and effective marketing tools for your organisation.” quote=”When used well, social media can be one of the most efficient and effective marketing tools for your organisation.”]

Take a holistic approach

While one department is often responsible for the development and implementation of a social media strategy within an organisation, to gain a better outcome, a more holistic approach should be taken across the board.

The responsibility usually falls with the marketing and communications department to develop, ‘own’ and almost certainly implement the strategy, but involving teams from across the organisation will help achieve the best outcomes. Most teams will be affected in some way by the strategy, so their input is essential. After all – they know the ins and outs of their department and are best-placed to advise on what needs to be conveyed, rather than leaving it up to assumption.


One solution to make the process more holistic is to form a cross-functional team or hold a workshop with representatives from each department that may be involved in social media or who will feel the impact. It’s important to get all colleagues on the same page when it comes to implementing the strategy so they’re already advocates. One key to developing a successful strategy is to find champions who are interested in experimenting with social media and include them in the process from the beginning.

No cookie cutter solution

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to a social media strategy. What may suit one organisation may not suit another. Your service output and brand status may dictate where you need to place your efforts with social media. While one local government may be dedicated to attracting tourism and promoting events via visual mediums, another may need social media purely from a functional perspective – i.e. to inform residents of ‘business as usual’ occurrences, such as waste collections and Council meetings.

What may work for your neighbours may not work for you and vice versa. This should all be assessed as part of your research when producing your social media strategy.


Look at your current social media data to discover who your ‘followers’ are and which channels have the most interaction. Stick to two or three channels and do them well. It’s better to concentrate on your output from a couple of sources versus spreading yourself and your resources too thin trying to maintain multiple social media accounts. Remember, you don’t just post content – you have to interact with your followers and develop relationships. This can become overwhelming if you have too many to keep track of.

Enhance, don’t replace

Your social media strategy should complement your existing communication channels, not replace them. As a service provider, your website is still an essential vehicle to convey information to the public, along with other traditional methods of communication, but you need to go where your audience is, and these days that’s on social media.


Keep all your channels of communication up to date and relevant and use social media as a way to drive people to find more information. Used effectively, social media’s reach is above and beyond other forms of communications such as your website or an ad in the local paper and it allows a running dialogue, but it needs to be backed up with a solid foundation of good, up-to-date information.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Companies should focus more on how to BE social, and less on how to DO social media.” quote=”Companies should focus more on how to BE social, and less on how to DO social media.”]


Keeping social media up-to-date and posting relevant information can be labour-intensive and time consuming, particularly if you want to pump out a few posts a day.


Using a social media scheduling tool such as Hootsuite helps automate your content and means you can schedule your posts in batches. This not only saves time and keeps things in order, it also means you can get other teams in the organisation involved by showing them the schedule of posts before they go live and sending out data feedback to teams to indicate what’s working and what’s not.

Forever evolving

Remember that your social media strategy is not static – it is a living, breathing document that’s meant to create an intended outcome, which will evolve over time.

Once you’ve developed the strategy, don’t file it away. Your social media strategy should be a guide that grows to accommodate your changing needs. Use it, shape it and let it develop into something that’s of great value to you and your organisation.

How have you implemented a social media strategy into your organisation?

Are you currently working on a strategy or do you have some tips of your own you can share? Let us know. We’d love to hear from you.