Integrating LinkedIn into your agency’s social media activity

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have become the staple platforms for commercial and public sector social media engagement in Australia – driven by the level of activity on those sites by Australians.

However LinkedIn, while used personally by many in business and government roles (around 16% of online Australians – over three million people), has lagged behind in its official use, particularly by government agencies.

LinkedIn, it is fair to say, is a curious beast in social media terms. Rather than being a place where people gather socially to chat and build friendships, it is a business networking site for discussing work-related issues and sharing useful resources.

Conversations on LinkedIn are frequently quite detailed, involve case studies and examples, tend to be more fact-based and involve less emotion and opinion than is seen on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

While lurking is possible, LinkedIn’s real value is in the meeting of professional minds on complex issues, making it far less ‘fun’ to use, but far more valuable to power users.

I have used LinkedIn for professional purposes for years, building a large network of people I wish to maintain contact with, using it for finding staff, researching organisations and locating particular expertise. I contribute less frequently to groups in LinkedIn, but find several are sources of great knowledge on specific topics.

For agencies the case for LinkedIn use is different to the case for other online tools as LinkedIn is less effective as a communications platform, but can be quite valuable as a recruitment, contact management and stakeholder management tool or as a source of knowledge and expertise across many professional topics.

I believe this difference in purpose has held its use back in government as LinkedIn is less often used by communication teams and more often used by engagement and HR teams – who have been slower to adopt online channels in their every day work.

However, with over three million users, LinkedIn is now becoming important for locating and assessing staff and stakeholders and needs consideration within agency recruitment and engagement strategies. Through an organisation’s LinkedIn profile agencies are able to tell potential staff what they do and offer, provide access to careers and information on their key goals and services or products.

By having an organisation page, individuals working at an agency can also link themselves to it – which provides the organisation with a view of which of their current staff are active on LinkedIn and also provides a way to keep an eye on alumni for prospective hiring back or approaching for expertise and knowledge of past events.

Of course, with organisations across Australia, or internationally, sometimes having the same name, registering your organisation with LinkedIn is also important to ‘own’ it before someone else registers it (if they haven’t already). I recall having an interesting experience back at the Child Support Agency where staff in Australia were being accidentally associated with the UK’s Child Support Agency before I could establish the Australian listing in LinkedIn.

For certain agencies (IP Australia, Austrade and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, for example), LinkedIn also offers opportunities to build business connections and lead or participate in appropriate topic groups in far more cost-effective ways that traditional ’round table’ engagements.

So who is using LinkedIn right now in government and how?

Unfortunately the use of LinkedIn by agency isn’t yet tracked by government social media lists, nationally, in Victoria, NSW, QLD or WA.

However, some agencies have begun using it, such as the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, FAHCSIA and the Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations which have provided a profile, but no jobs or ‘products’.

The Department of Health and Ageing has gone slightly further, listing key campaigns and the Brisbane City Council uses LinkedIn to advertise jobs.

However the government agency most effectively using LinkedIn in Australia that I’ve come across is Queensland Health, which has customised its landing page to offer news and updates, lists jobs and provides plenty of supporting information on joining the organisation.

This last example shows what is possible with LinkedIn to attract quality recruits and draw back experienced alumni.

Groups, which are not linked to organisational profiles, also provide ways to connect and engage stakeholders. The most notable one I’m aware of in Australian Government is AusGoal, used to discuss the open access and licensing framework being put in place for commonwealth and state governments and share relevant information from around the world.

It is possible that there are many other government groups on LinkedIn, hidden behind passwords and only accessible to a selected few, as well as the many unofficial government groups publicly listed which government staff already belong to (such as the Online Communicators Forum).

In either case these organisational profiles and groups may offer benefits to agencies beyond the use of social networks for broad public engagement. The real challenge within agencies is to rethink the management and purpose of social media – from communication and engagement with large communities, to also include the use of social networks, such as LinkedIn, in more narrow, focused and specific interactions beyond the communications sphere.

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