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Forum wrap: Social media – maximising opportunities and minimising risks

The Victorian Managed Insurance Authority held a successful forum for the Victorian Public Sector on the maximising the opportunities and minimising the risks of social media. Attended by 200 people, the forum featured three speakers:
• Kathy Phelan – Director, Small World Social Media
• Greg Daniel – Executive Chairman, SR7
• Maria Katsonis – Principal Advisor Public Administration, Department of Premier and Cabinet (Vic).

As social media is a force to be reckoned with, Kathy looked at the good side of the force, Greg looked at the dark side of the force, and Maria looked at how we use the force in just the right way.

Here’s our take on the wrap up of the forum.

Kathy Phelan – our take outs

Social media is a faster, more entertaining and engaging way to communicate at lower cost, with greater reach and more customisation. The three main areas of online activity are searching, social media and video watching. The latter has outstripped all other uses. Millions of Australians spend a significant amount of time on social media every day, predominantly with Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The social media space is constantly shifting as new technologies and new patterns and pockets of usage emerge. Eg Twittter is being used by an older demographic as it is shorter and simpler.

On trends to watch, look out for Yelp (a fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses) and Foursquare (a way to find your friends and places in a city). Cloud server hosting has significantly reduced the cost of communication. Crowd sourcing is growing. Social media cuts out the middle man.

Innovation is made by people not money. An example is Ambulance Victoria’s “Shift off”; an application developed from employee feedback. Costing only $40,000 to develop, by enabling employees to more easily swap shifts with each other, sick leave has been reduced by $6m a year. The lesson is to listen to your staff and listen to the population.

Greg Daniel – our take outs

While social media is a force for good, there is a dark side of the force.

Word of mouth has always been powerful and with 86% of internet users looking to other users for opinions, word of mouth has become even more powerful through social media. By comparison only 14% of Australians trust online advertising. People want to know their friends views and are more likely to believe them.

This has implications for public sector governance as communities trust institutions less and less and trust themselves more and more. Real life experience of people is trumping the assertions of business and government.

Social media is a powerful tool for governments to get real time views of citizen sentiment. In using it, we need to have a clear policy on how we engage and use the same standards of conduct and judgement that we would apply in the offline world.

With social media, the 24 hour news cycle has become the 24 seconds news cycle, especially with crisis management. Journalism, social media and community activism are linking and converging. “I hate” sites and fake sites that look “official” can pop up, so we should be aware they are there. As public servants, we need to exercise good judgement on how to respond to them. It requires human analysis and judgement to discern between what is noise and what has traction. It is important to correct misleading information about government and safeguard against misuse of government brands and logos.

Maria Katsonis – our take outs

A quick audience survey enlivened proceedings to reveal who amongst us uses what devices and what social media technologies and for what personal or professional use. It highlighted the blurring of personal and professional in our use of social media. It dispelled the myth that social media is purely a Gen Y phenomenon.

With Victoria as the first government in Australia to have a Gov 2.0 Action Plan, the robust process of its development was outlined. This included using force field analysis to remove constraints, unleashing benefits and grounding the plan on a strong evidence base. To stress test the plan, extensive consultations and workshops were conducted engaging techniques that deployed nodes and network theory for the plan to go viral as well as a wiki to crowd source ideas for key initiatives. An expert reference group of VPS and non-VPS members acted as a sounding board and a fresh perspective.

The result was a plan that early adopters said didn’t go far enough and that late followers said went too far. So, in short, it was just right. The plan was signed by the 13 members of the State Coordination and Management Council to show their support.

A decade or more ago a similar group would have decided to give all VPS employees access to email and the internet and the world did not fall in. If government does not use social media, then citizens will do it for themselves and government will be left behind.

The hallmark of a good public servant is good judgement. The principles of proper conduct are the same even though the technology has changed and is dynamic. In the use of social media there are two bright line tests – “how would this look on the front page of The Age?” and “what would my mother think?”

May the force be with you ….

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