Some top tips for Governments to get social with citizens

Social Media and the ‘hyper connected’ nature of people today presents a brilliant opportunity for government authorities to use new forms of engagement to build closer relationships with their citizens.

Fuelled by a decrease in engagement from voters within a backdrop of public sector budget cuts and threats to service quality, citizen trust in government has eroded to dangerous levels. 38% of global citizens are showing trust in government officials compared to 70% of trust placed in academics or industry leaders (Edelmen, 2015). From a UK perspective, roughly half of citizens say they trust government organisations, with the figure falling to less than 1 in 5 for politicians themselves (Ipsos Mori, 2015). So how can Social Media help?

In recent studies (Vodafone) 77% of people describe being digitally connected as ‘essential’ to their lives. 75% of our social contact is now conducted within the digital world, be it on social media platforms or direct messaging apps such as Whatsapp or Facebook messenger, and people feel they have stronger relationships as a result of technological improvements. Within the UK, 65% of online adults (age 16+ being voting age) are using social media, and have a current social media profile, of which 96% of these online adults have a Facebook profile (Ofcom, 2014); further evidence for the need to adapt and integrate within social media.

These ‘connected citizens’ have unlimited access to information at their very fingertips. In essense they can sniff out a bad argument and false information in a heartbeat. There’s huge interest in political process, political causes and legislation, however citizens are taking a more subjective approach and being more issue-focused. To put it simply, they find it difficult to understand what parties are really saying. With these issues in the limelight, social media is the constant between government and citizen and, beyond being a simple broadcast medium, will assist in creating a dialogue. Within the 2015 general election Tata Consultancy Services developed an app, ElectUK, that analysed data taken directly from Twitter to monitor the social buzz around the election. There were over 10 million election related tweets, and further analysis into specific mentions to political partiments and positive/negative sentiment. The top tips below highlight how governments can use social media to bridge this communication and ultimately trust gap between local authorities and citizens.

1. Social polling

Social polling across social platforms will allow the UK governments to gauge consumer opinions on services. There is a huge amount of connected consumers on well-known platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) which already have inbuilt polling systems. Social polling would be a great tool in situations to stress test new or changes in legislation and services while striving towards a more transparent and reliable government.

Here are 5 top reasons for using social polling:

  • Free consumer feedback – Cost wouldn’t be an issue, while involving local communities in expressing their views and opinions.
  • Understanding consumers in real time – The data would retain its relevance while understanding consumer opinions at a particular, relevant, point in time.
  • Community building – Allowing local communities to bond together in opinions while also involving those who otherwise wouldn’t know how to have their voice heard.
  • Content generation – Again, allows for free content generation as results could be posted as content, informing citizens that their opinions are being heard.
  • Driving traffic and awareness – Drive traffic to collaborative websites/ and driving awareness around potential actions governments may be looking to take.

Social polling is a great way to get a general sentiment on what topics/issues are important to your citizens but should always be backed up by more in-depth research as not everyone is on social media.

2. Branded hashtags

Hashtags have been used in everything, from daily conversations to marketing strategies. In a study conducted by Locowise (2015), the use of one hashtag showed a spike in engagement of 24%, however two hashtags showed a further boost in engagement of 15% and three hashtags of 3%.

Hashtags are a great way for brands and consumers to not only target the type of people they want to see their post, but governments can also tap into this. Following on from the 2015 general election, there were between 200,000 and one million mentions regarding specific parties and their policies; brand hashtags would provide a more efficient means of tracking sentiment as well as consumer perceptions.

Branded hashtags also manage the flow of a conversation making it easier to observe who is involved, therefore making it easier to reply to such people. Branded hashtags also create an element of exclusivity, and with the challenge of bridging the gap between Government and citizen, citizens will feel a part of the process and feel they’re collaborating toward a solution. The idea of branded hashtags has been prominently used between brand and consumer, however government officials and parties are now having to behave much alike to a brand- the way they communicate with consumers (citizens) on habitual/recognized platforms while delivering content (policies) which are in the interest of the consumer (citizen).

3: Increase citizen collaboration with well-known platforms

Collaboration with consumer recognised websites would be a great way in building a streamlined conversation between government and citizen while sharing audience reach.. Brands who are collaborating with government officials are GitHub, allowing government bodies and the public to collaborate on open government efforts, and NASA who have collaborated with WordPress in developing an open Government initiative, allowing citizens to understand NASA and engage in what NASA are doing.

Melbourne City Council made use of a collaborative Wiki platform to engage citizens in the creation of their ’10 year future of Melbourne plan’.The open source initiative was a great starting point toward social inclusion, in allowing citizens to be involved in improving patent quality in a structured way. Citizens were able to make changes to the wiki page, allowing for a complete plan to be formed through collaboration. Examples as such, are hugely beneficial in making local citizens feel a part of the decision making process, and would be utilised well in assessing perceptions behind local and national changes.

4: Hero local influencers

Brands are progressively using social influencers as advocates of the brand as opposed to celebrities, due to the trust associated with having a ‘real’ human being who has gained fame through now conventional methods, giving their opinion. Again, falling under trust association, 84% of people trust those within their network of friends and followers and therefore will form a more positive opinion of a brand (Nielson, 2013). This tip focuses around the idea of mimicking typical brand activity. In heroing citizens the aim is to make them feel more a part of the community, as well as being rewarded for their contributions.

5: Local crowd source ideation and voting

Crowd sourcing is a great way to gain information and contributions from the public without having to spend too much. The US government has previously used a form of crowdsourcing competition called the SAVE award as a means to involve federal employees in submitting ways the US government could save money. Once the ideas had been submitted, they were then able to vote on the best ideas, to which the finalist was given an award and prize for their contribution. This concept would be a great way to not only engage citizens of a broad age range to share their thoughts and ideas, but could also branch out into spurring a more technological and entrepreneurial economy.