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Using social media

In 2013, 75% of agencies reported using some form of social media to support business outcomes.10 The most commonly reported tools were Twitter, Facebook and the use of blogs to share information and engage with the community. The ACMA report discussed earlier in this chapter highlights that the use of blogs as a way of exchanging information continues to grow, and that blogging has now become a mainstream element of social communication. This section looks specifically at the use of social media tools by APS agencies and the way these have been employed to benefit organisational capability and engage with clients and citizens.

Finance, through the data.gov.au website, hosts APS Twitter and Facebook leaderboards. The data included in these leaderboards was collected for use in the Cross Agency Social Media Forum (CASM). CASM is a collection of social media practitioners across the APS and the leaderboard data referred to includes a list of Twitter and Facebook accounts as known to the CASM group and its followers.

According to the APS Twitter leaderboard, as at August 2014, there were 169 Australian public sector related Twitter accounts, with the number of followers for each account ranging from 38 to 149,655. Of these, the @Australia (149,655), @TourismAus (49,876) and @dfat (29,266) had the largest number of followers. The Facebook APS leaderboard showed that, as at August 2014, there were 125 Australian public sector related Facebook accounts, with the number of likes per account ranging from 257 to 5,964,728. Of these, Australia.com (5,964,728), Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) (270,771) and Australian Army (231,549) had the highest number of likes.

APS agencies are using social media to accomplish a number of goals, such as:

  • enhancing internal collaboration using internal social media platforms
  • enhancing cross-agency collaboration using social media tools
  • implementing social media as a customer service
  • using social media to target and reach specific audiences
  • leveraging social media to increase workplace productivity
  • measuring performance through social media tools and metrics.

Enhancing internal and cross-agency collaboration

Social media platforms can be used to enhance internal collaboration, disseminate information throughout an organisation quickly and gain real-time feedback on proposed policies, initiatives and programmes. For example, the Department of Human Services encourages employee collaboration through various social media and networking tools, including an online news service through which employees can comment on and rate articles, SpeechBubble, discussion forums, a departmental wiki, Yammer and instant messaging.

Cross-agency collaboration can also be aided by the innovative use of social media tools, such as wikis, interactive blogs and message boards. The Australian Government collaboration tool GovDex (hosted by Finance) provides a useful example of such tools. GovDex is a secure online collaboration tool for APS agencies. It comprises a wiki, a task and issue tracker for project management and a discussion forum. Users can choose which of these they wish to use in engaging with their communities. By using social media tools such as GovDex, collaborative communities can span agencies, physical locations and time zones. People are brought together online to share information and ideas, schedule project tasks, and review and edit joint work and documents.

Service delivery and targeting specific audiences

One of the more common uses for social media tools and platforms is to enhance the customer experience and/or target specific audiences to provide or receive information. There are a large number of very good examples of this kind of use of social media tools across the APS including:

  • Facebook, Twitter and an ABS smart phone app used to promote the availability of ABS statistics
  • Australian Electoral Commission used Twitter and Facebook accounts to promulgate its messages and provide links to new material on its website
  • Austrade used LinkedIn groups with a market and industry focus to facilitate information sharing on market conditions, emerging opportunities and related Austrade programmes and events
  • Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) used blogs to gain feedback on the Public Service Amendment Act 2013 and changes to the APS Values and Code of Conduct.

Run by Finance, the Australia.gov.au website provides links to information and services on around 900 other Australian Government websites. It highlights particular areas of government online presence and promotes government social media profiles and mobile apps. Australia.gov.au is being redeveloped to improve its search and browse features and provide better access to the growing amount of government social media and mobile resources. The redevelopment will also improve its design to take better advantage of opportunities offered by handheld devices, integration of social media and apps.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics: Census of Population and Housing

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) relies on the willing participation or voluntary compliance of people across Australia to complete the Census of Population and Housing (Census) every five years. The ABS continues to rely on Australians to use Census data when released to achieve its mission—encouraging informed decision making, research and discussion within governments and the community.

To support these objectives, the ABS needed to create long-term engagement with Australians through both the collection and dissemination phase of the Census.

To achieve this, the ABS embraced the use of social media tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, and developed two innovative, interactive gamification products—Run That Town and Spotlight 2.0.

The ABS' unique approach to social media and use of gamification, embraced Government 2.0 approaches by:

  • assisting the public in understanding their role and contribution to the nation through participation in the Census
  • providing an experience tailored to the individual or the characteristics they provided
  • placing Census data in amusing and engaging contexts, combining humour with real-world scenarios
  • requiring players to consider and use Census data to make informed decisions and achieve better outcomes for their community through gameplay
  • integrating social-sharing elements, through Facebook and Twitter, of personalised infographics to encourage peer-to-peer communication about the Census.

Run That Town and Spotlight won the Government 2.0—Excellence in eGovernment Awards for two consecutive years.

Together, these products, along with the use of social media, demonstrate the new, innovative products and services being developed as part of the strongly evidence-based business and communications strategy currently being implemented by the ABS.

National Library of Australia: Australian printed ephemera

The National Library of Australia collects Australian printed ephemera as a record of Australian life and social customs, popular culture, national events and issues of national importance. The Library aims to collect federal election campaign materials as comprehensively as possible, including one copy of all published leaflets, handbills, posters, policy speeches, press statements, pamphlets, letters and reports to constituents, novelties and how-to-vote cards—that is, anything produced by individual candidates, political parties and lobby groups in the run-up to the vote. In previous years, the election collecting strategy was limited to individual letters sent to candidates and parties. In 2013, the Library employed varied communications channels, with a strong focus on social media, to seek community involvement in collecting federal election materials.

For the 2013 federal election, a focussed social media campaign was developed to complement pre-existing collecting strategies and expand the reach and accessibility of the Library's message, ‘Wanted: Your 2013 Election Ephemera’. A media release, distributed through the Australian Associated Press, and a blog post were the campaign's foundation messages. The campaign used direct email and phone calls, traditional radio and print media, the Library's homepage carousel, its e-newsletter (sent to 42,294 subscribers), and social media, including blogs, Facebook (more than 28,952 people reached through organic and paid posts) and Twitter (more than 14,000 followers). These platforms were fuelled with content developed from across the Library, with the campaign staged progressively throughout the election. Stages of the campaign were targeted towards particular audiences, including the Australian Electoral Commission's official list of candidates. Lobby groups were targeted by addressing high-profile election issues through Twitter, as well as high-profile media, even Tony Abbott himself. Proactive communications were followed up by a reactive social media presence.

The Library's use of #AusPol and #AusVotes enabled messaging to appear among general federal election conversations on Twitter, engaging a broader audience than is represented in the Library's followers. Third-party print media incorporated into the campaign included metropolitan, local and regional media. Library employees also assisted with campaign promotion through internal communication tools, Microsoft Lync and Yammer.

The campaign resulted in the highest yield of federal election material in the Library's collecting history. Early direct replies and positive responses from candidates helped with the immediate campaign and filled collection gaps from previous years. Media work and Twitter posts resulted in others taking up the cause, including Wil Anderson and the Gruen Team. ABC election analyst Antony Green promoted the campaign on his blog—and deposited his papers. A life-size Bob Katter cut-out was sourced through Twitter from Bruce Nicholson, Candidate for the Hume Electorate. Some election candidates targeted were found to be published authors leading to other collecting activities by the Library.

For the 2013 federal election, the Library's collection now holds more than 7,000 individual items filed into 945 categories and housed in 63 boxes. This represents a 40% increase on the previous election's collected materials and the highest harvest since the collection was first established in 1901. Statistically, there was a 10 to 15% increase in Twitter followers throughout this campaign, much higher than previous month-to-month figures.

The campaign also reached new audiences active in the political space and educated people about the Library's role as a collecting institution. It demonstrated an important opportunity for social engagement with the public and promoted a strong sense of community involvement.

For the Library, the campaign demonstrated the success and importance of collaboration through social media in collecting, preserving and sharing the history of Australia. Future historians will gain insight into the political landscape in 2013—how the election happened, what the important issues were, how the campaign was conducted (officially and unofficially) and who was active in the debate—and be able to compare it to Australia's political collection stretching back to 1901.

Increasing workplace productivity and measuring performance

Social media platforms and tools can be used to increase workplace productivity, through innovative and more efficient and effective ways of working. They also provide a unique perspective through which to measure agency and/or programme performance. The recent OECD report on government use of social media (referenced previously in this chapter) highlights that social media provides organisations with real-time policy and programme feedback and input, allowing them to crowd-source ideas for service design, improve work processes and facilitate emergency response and intervention. The report further notes that, in using social media in this fashion, public sector organisations have the opportunity to experiment with, evaluate and adjust ideas to make quick evidence-based decisions designed to meet client and customer expectations and requirements.


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