Social media in government and recordkeeping #socialmediagov December 21, 2011

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Marc_Smith

Last week I spoke at the Social Media in Government Conference organised by Informa in Canberra.

I was there to talk about the role of recordkeeping in the Web 2.0, social media world but really enjoyed the range of other presentations that highlighted the active and innovative use of social media in the Government environment.

In this post I will give a quick overview of some of the key themes that, to me, emerged through the conference (note I was only there for part of day 1 of the conference) and a quick summary of the specific recordkeeping issues I discussed, particularly the risks and proactive decisions that have to be made in order to manage records of business performed in web 2.0/social media environments.

Social media is here to stay

The key theme to emerge through the conference is that Government needs to get on board with Web 2.0/social media because it is emerging as the dominant platform in both personal and corporate environments.

Tenille Bentley, the Managing Director of Socialite Media provided a range of statistics on the rapid growth of social media in recent years across Australia. Nearly 42% of consumers now access information via social media instead of conventional media. Tenille shared other recent survey results which showed that 73% of consumers want to engage first with both products and services online. She argued that in all industries, social media strategies now need to be incorporated into all communication and advertising plans because ‘you need to go where the people are’.

Tenille also argued that communication strategies in the social media environment need to be tailored and multi-channel, that is configured differently and applied across different social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.

She commented that Government in particular may need to change how it operates in these more dynamic environments, where fast responses to issues are expected. Tenille did say that good and effective use of social media in organisations does become a resourcing issue. A significant proportion of time each week can be taken up in managing social media output and responses and integrating information received back into business directions and operations. The balance however does need to be right – she stated that 44% of people say that they ‘unlike’ a page because its owner posts to it too much.

So much is being said on social media, Government really can’t afford to miss out

All the speakers emphasised that the information that is being disseminated via social media and the conversations that are being held here hold critical business intelligence for any business organisation. Organisations need to listen, engage and utilise the business intelligence generated via social media and integrate it across their business operations.

Greg Daniel of SR7 spoke of recent trends in the US where high level analysts are being employed to listen to the information being provided by social media channels, ‘sort the wheat from the chaff’ and utilise this information effectively across the organisation.

Brian Giesen of Oglivy 360 Digital Influence spoke about why government needs to more actively ‘listen’ to what is being said on social media. He said that by more actively listening and using this information to feed back into business operations government organisations could:

  • identify and engage influencers
  • gain improved insight about their clients and business
  • improve their communications
  • better manage issues and crisis management
  • improve customer service
  • optimise their information accessibility
  • measure the return on investment and value to the organisation before and after a social media project

Stephen Collins from the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence, provided great examples of how social media can help Government to engage with itself and how it has helped his organisation to communicate across Government and with related international organisations, with significant benefits for his organisation’s business operations.

But CEOs are scared of social media

Darren Whitelaw from 360m discussed the three biggest fears expressed by CEOs in relation to their organisation’s use of social media.

1. CEOs fear that a loss of control may occur if their organisations embrace social media.

2. CEOs are fearful that their organisations will not be able to respond fast enough to issues received via social media or that it will be too hard for their organisations to undertake the changes necessary to adopt an effective social media strategy.

3. CEOs believe that staff will waste organisational time and resources if they have access to social media sites.

Speakers generally expressed the view that the use of social media by all forms of business was an inevitability and that sooner or later, all forms of business would need to move to this environment. It was also felt that in this era of smartphones and other personal forms web-enabled technology, applying blanket IT solutions such as a global social media ban was a poor solution that could cause demonstrable corporate harm to what is instead an HR management issue.

Darren also said that organisations are scared of negative feedback. He said that if people are going to say bad things, they are going to say them whether or not you are part of the conversation. Therefore avoiding the conversation is not a solution. Darren’s advice was that it people use social media to say negative things 1) get over it and 2) use it as an opportunity to engage with your audience to both acknowledge their concerns and to educate any misconceptions. He said that generally negativity could be smothered quite quickly and generally positive sentiments far outweigh the negative.

Make sure you have good frameworks to support your social media strategies

Darren Whitelaw was very entertaining as he talked through the issues in developing a policy framework around social media strategies. He stated that good policy frameworks are effective ways to mitigate fears around social media usage and to make the most of social media engagement.

Darren cited new research from the University of Technology which found that 2/3 of organisations using social media don’t have a social media policy. 46% of those surveyed do not do regular monitoring of their social media strategies. Of those who do monitor, 51% do no analysis of their monitoring. 31% do quantitative analysis such as counting ‘likes’ or comments but only 18% do qualitative research to look at how and why or to utilise the data as business improvement information. Darren argued that it is critical to link everything back to corporate strategy and objectives because this is the point of engagement.

Darren’s ‘six steps to a awesome social media policy’ are:

  • listen to what is being said and do some monitoring – what use does your organisation want to make of social media?
  • ask around to see what others have done. Don’t reinvent the wheel but look at others’ social media policies and see what you can use from theirs. 1000s of policies are available online.
  • supplement your existing policies – use your social media policy to align with and reinforce your existing policies on related issues
  • engage with staff and engage with organisational strategy when developing your policy. Make staff part of the process and make sure your social media approach at its core supports your organisational objectives
  • ratify your policy – have it signed off by all relevant people – HR, lawyers, the executive etc
  • share it with staff – don’t bury it on the intranet, put it on your website. Having it on the website can also give you the ability to track whether each staff member has read it which in turn will help achieve compliance with its objectives.

Some nice examples of good Government use of social media

Mia Garlick the Manager of Communications and Policy at Facebook discussed the increasing Government use of Facebook. She discussed how the South Australian government used Facebook to promote and seek public feedback on their draft strategic plan for South Australia. They broke the plan down into bite-sized chunks and focussed on extracting individual issues, ideas and questions out of the plan. They posted these at regular intervals on Facebook. The community response was fantastic, with over 500,000 South Australians viewing the strategic plan, and 10,000 actively commenting on it.

Michelle Howe, the Director of Census Public Relations from the Australian Bureau of Statistics provided some examples of the ABS’s fantastic use of Twitter to promote the 2011 national census and talked through how their great Twitter campaign was achieved. Social media allowed the ABS to communicate very effectively with a diverse range of the population when promoting the 2011 census. Their humorous use of Twitter meant the census was promoted extensively through a very wide range of media outlets. Their use of social media was just one component of a coordinated, broader communication strategy but it was highly effective and cost effective.

And critically, the role of recordkeeping in all of this

The day highlighted that social media and other web 2.0 technologies are rapidly becoming new government business systems.

We have previously discussed recordkeeping issues associated with social media on Future Proof  but the key points I wanted to highlight in my presentation at this conference were:

  • Information is a key strategic resource of government
  • Government needs records of its web 2.0/social media business operations for both accountability and ongoing business purposes, but unless proactive steps are taken to actively preserve these records, data about government’s web 2.0/social media activities will not survive
  • This is because digital information is very vulnerable and web 2.0/social media is more vulnerable than most. Business in social media environments takes place in external, 3rd party hosted, web-based platforms. For the first time, key business information is not residing on internal IT systems but is possibly owned and hosted by others. Active plans have to be made to export data from these external platforms and bring it into corporate systems, but in many cases, this is not occurring.
  • Administrative change which is a standard feature across government also threatens web 2.0 records. Administrative change affects urls, corporate support for the use of specific business applications, ongoing support and financial support for web 2.0 activities, use of particular versions of technology or certain technology architectures or implementation configurations. Changes to any or all of these components through administrative change can cause the loss of or damage to digital data
  • Social media strategies are often run by passionate, involved individuals and when these people move on, there may not be the corporate expertise to  capture records of the corporate business performed using social media.
  • There are numerous precedents for a range of web services just disappearing and all the data they contain disappearing with them
  • We need, from a business and Government perspective, information about Government business for quite extensive periods of time. A lot of Government information will need to be kept for longer than the application in which it was created. Therefore active plans need to be in place to ensure the longevity of digital business information for as long as organisations need to access it.
  • These decisions on what data to export, how to export, what to export to all need to be planned and proactive. But they are challenging decisions that require time and consideration and frequently there is no support for this kind of investment. Social media and web 2.0 strategies are deployed without any consideration on how the records of these strategies are to be created, maintained and protected.
  • Often it is high risk, significant government business that is moving to web 2.0 applications. There is so much potential and so many business benefits to web 2.0 and social media engagement and so Government needs to move its operations to these environments, but it needs to protect and manage the records of this business.
  • You can look for quick recordkeeping wins. Solutions don’t need to be complex or high-tech. For example you can print blog posts or wiki updates to PDF and save them in a corporate EDRMS environment. You can capture comments as emails or use RSS feeds for recordkeeping purposes. Use reports or spreadsheets to record comments or likes or retweets. Use export functionality wherever possible. And use a risk management approach too because not everything in your social media engagement needs to be a record – you only need to capture what’s significant. Use recordkeeping as a means to consolidate and share information generated through social media strategies, to move beyond the information silos that can exist in each social media or web 2.0 application.
  • Ideally though we will move to an environment where recordkeeping solutions are not ‘fast paper’ and are able to capture and manage the dynamic functionality of web 2.0 and social media services.

In summary

It was really lovely to be invited to engage with the passionate, engaged Gov 2.0, social media community in Australia. I so enjoyed it. Thanks so much to the conference organisers for putting on a fascintating and highly relevant conference. I hope that recordkeeping becomes a more standard consideration in the range of exciting initiatives that Government is undertaking using social media/web 2.0 platforms but, as always, I’m happy to engage with other opinions via this blog! Let us know what you think.

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