The following is an excerpt by Head of Communications at Brighton & Hove City Council, John Shewell.
The public sector is facing unprecedented challenges – not least huge financial pressures, with Chancellor George Osborne’s 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review unveiling the UK’s biggest spending cuts for decades.
The Government laid out plans to slash more than £80 billion from the public purse, with schools, councils, hospitals, the fire brigade and police all affected.
In short, the public sector cannot continue working in the same way it has done since the 19th century, when county and district councils began.
At the heart of these challenges lies communication. Research carried out by Ipsos-Mori shows that the more the public feel informed about their services, the more satisfied they are with an organisation. Communication becomes more complicated with the changing media landscape. Newspaper circulation is in decline both nationally and regionally while online audience share continues to grow apace.
In the face of real change in the public sector, communication has undergone its own quiet revolution. Where local public services need to find more efficient and effective ways to engage with people, social media is proving to be an invaluable new tool.
The case for social media
Various public sector organisations have been experimenting with social media over the last few years. Age-old industries are turning to modern technology to reach their audience through a medium that is mutually used by people of all backgrounds and ages.
Social media is fast becoming an essential component in an organisation’s business strategy. However, social media in itself is not a strategy.
The challenge is to avoid focusing on creating a “social media strategy”. This narrow field of vision ignores the fact that a good reputation is built on an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to reputation management. Today’s tech-savvy citizen commands a different relationship. No longer are they willing to be passive recipients; they expect to be active participants in sharing information and creating content.
Citizens are now prosumers rather than consumers. These are people curating content on issues that they care about which often means they can either support or destroy a brand (also referred to as “folk ads”, “open source branding” and “vigilante marketing”).
At the heart of this lies a desire for citizens to feel valued. This means they are being listened to and are involved in the shaping of an organisation’s brand; making them feel empowered and making brands more “social”, and the Twitter hashtag is bringing people together to talk about issues they care about.
The riots in the summer of 2011 across parts of the UK demonstrated the power of social media, playing a key role in organising people to wreak havoc across the country, costing UK companies millions of pounds. But it was also a force for good in bringing citizens together to clean up and reclaim their streets.
Throughout the August riots, Sussex Police used Twitter to publish a steady stream of updates from the “top cop” all the way down to the frontline – answering questions from citizens and setting the record straight when rumours started to spread.
The vast majority of the public sector still relies heavily on traditional communications based on media relations, marketing and paid-for advertising. All three are problematic and resource intensive.
Media relations means relying on TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, often with declining audiences, to disseminate messages that may not necessarily convey the full story, which may limit the audiences’ understanding of the organisation’s actions, thus impacting on the organisation’s reputation. Advertising, on the other hand, is expensive and often ineffective when applied to people who are increasingly impervious to obvious marketing.
Social media, therefore, which includes blogs, podcasts and social networks, presents a better opportunity for the public sector to communicate in both directions in a cost-effective, authentic and direct way. It presents engagement opportunities with traditionally hard-to-reach groups, for example young people, and can reach a new audience as a consultation tool.
By using social media, public sector organisations are able to talk to citizens in the way they want and on their terms - addressing the issues that are important to them. Not only can these organisations share information about new services and listen to discussions taking place in the blogosphere – that may or may not include the public sector organisation – but the opportunity also exists to contribute to these discussions.
Together with the rise of the internet and social media, local public services are provided with an opportunity to forge new relationships with citizens. Even schools are recognising that social media can be used for educational purposes, as instead of seeing it as a distraction to pupils, they are adding it to the curriculum.
Social media use in the public sector has not yet reached its height. As we carry on learning more about its possibilities and form stronger relationships with audiences along the way, our organisations’ reputations will continue to grow.
To read the rest, click on this link http://www.dwpub.com/whitepapers.