Social media: a guiding hand

I was sad to miss last week’s really well-attended #teacamp with its focus on social media guidance for civil servants. There was some interesting debate on Twitter at the time, as well a few blog posts published later (see links below)  – some questioned the need for guidance at all, in particular questioning the privacy elements of  the draft guidance under discussion.

As someone who’s used social media from both a Comms and a policy perspective, I’m happy to support the need for guidance for people just starting out on their social media “journey”.  Everyone’s at a different starting point, though, and as civil servants we have to be particularly mindful of propriety issues which might not apply in other sectors.  That creates its own particular challenges in creating guidance.  Similarly, while some will choose to have a purely work focus in their digital engagement, many more will choose to use their accounts in a purely personal capacity.  Then there are those of us for whom the boundaries sometimes overlap.

I’ve tried to put myself in the position where I was a few years ago, and recollect the basic advice that my current team’s predecessors gave me.  It was something like:

  • Take appropriate risks but remember you are a civil servant with all that entails;
  • Don’t make announcements – that’s the role of press office;
  • Be open about where you’re from, and on what basis you’re commenting (if you’re talking about work to stakeholders).

I had a few of my own “guiding principles” at the time as well – the most basic of which was “think before you tweet”, and also benefited from the fact that the science and society Twitter community were relatively understanding of when and where I could engage..

People naturally need boundaries – and the Civil Service Code provides that –  but they also need to know what’s available, what the potential pitfalls are, how they can best use available tools, examples of success, and evaluated proof of what’s worked (the latter should incorporate learning from projects that maybe haven’t worked so well).  So, tools such as Steph Gray’s Digital Engagement Guide, or the even newer Kind of Digital/Consumer Focus Digital Engagement Cookbook are really useful.   I’d still like to see more examples of evaluation, though, that could be used to showcase to policy types what the ongoing policy impacts of active online engagement are.  I’ve mentioned Sciencewise in relation to Digital Engagement before, but their approach to measuring ongoing impacts of dialogue and engagement provide a useful starting point when considering what should or could be included in any approach to evaluation.

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