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How to Use Social Media for Effective Citizen Engagement

The public often rely on social media as their primary way to consume information. They also want to voice their opinions, and to receive a response. While social media makes it easier for government agencies to communicate with its citizens, it’s important to do so through a clear strategic plan.

As a government communicator, it’s likely that you have limited resources dedicated to managing your social media channels. So being intentional about what, how, and how often you post is crucial.

The following are key guidelines for an effective, streamlined approach to social media for government agencies.

Be strategic

Ensure that your social media plan contributes to your agency’s overall mission. Is your primary aim to educate or to solicit feedback? Are you sending emergency alerts or answering questions? Think through what your main goal is in serving the community, and make sure your social media plan is helping you achieve this. 

How do you know if your social media strategy is working? By creating Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each social media goal. If your goal is to be a resource for the community to ask questions and receive immediate assistance, then your KPI might be reaching an average response time of two hours or less. If your goal is to share information with more people, your KPI may be increasing newsletter subscriptions each month or visits to the website. 

Be present

Go where your main audiences already are. Prioritize channels that will most effectively reach your audience, and don’t feel pressured to be on every platform if it doesn’t make sense for your office or agency. If the demographic you’re engaging is older, then using Facebook may be most strategic. If you’re mainly working with youth, then Snapchat or Instagram may be more effective. If a key goal of yours is to interact with journalists, then Twitter may make sense. Do the research to find out what social platforms your audiences use — and for what —  and focus your efforts there.

Be consistent

First determine your cadence. Do you need to post every hour or a couple times a week? Test to see what time frames work best for your audience and pay attention to when and why followers and engagement may increase or decrease. Once you know how often you want to post, determine a schedule and develop a process for pushing content through clearance and approvals. An editorial calendar will be a useful tool in ensuring everyone is on the same page about what is coming up. Sync this with events, holidays, and other occasions to keep content relevant and timely. 

Be adaptive

Don’t give in to the temptation to schedule posts once a week and then forget about them for the rest of the week. Pay attention to which posts are gaining the most engagement — likes, replies, shares — and if something is working well, do more of it. Try A/B testing posts with different subject lines or images and see which is more interesting to people. Find analytics tools that effectively measure your outcomes. Managing social media is a constant learning experience, so tweak what you’re doing as you go.

Be compliant

Make sure that anyone who has access to your social media accounts is properly trained on all relevant privacy, security, and record-keeping laws. Develop a set of rules to keep social media use consistent, safe, and compliant. 

Be accountable

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when engaging with the public on social media is to demonstrate that there are real people on the end of the line. Citizens will use their social media platforms to voice concerns, ask questions, and share their opinions. In many cases, the worst thing a government agency can do is to ignore them. Have a governance plan for how your team will to respond to people in a timely manner. Create templates with responses to common inquiries or complaints that can be published quickly. People want to know that they’re being heard and that you are working to address their issue. Of course, there are times when no response is necessary-or might even make things worse-so make sure everyone with social media access on your team knows when and how to engage, or not engage, on social media.

Implementing these guidelines for a strategic social media plan will help you effectively engage with the public and achieve your goals. 

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