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What are Australian Government agencies using social media to achieve?

I’m still collecting responses to my FOI request, however felt it worth providing some interim data on what Australian Government agencies are telling me that they are using social media to achieve.

Of the 166 FOI requests I sent out, I have, so far, received 59 legitimate responses in survey format (35%), another 10-20 in other formats (not analysed below) and 6 refusals to respond.

(I also received a survey response from the ‘Dept of Silly Walks and Frilly Pants’ that I’ve disregarded in this analysis. However I am pleased that FOI officers have healthy senses of humour!)

Of the 59 legitimate responses, 43 agencies indicated in Question 8 of my survey that they used social media channels for some purpose.

That is, 73% of Australian Government agencies in my sample are using social media.

This demonstrates how far the public service has come in embedding social media into their activities. However what do they say they are using social media to achieve?

Question 8 of my survey asked agencies:

Has your agency used social media services in the following activities?
indicate all that apply and name each of the specific social media
services used, ie: agency operated blogs or forums, third party blogs or
forums, social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, social sharing
sites such as YouTube, SlideShare or Flickr, etc)

The responses (so far) are as follows, listed from most to least popular uses of social media:

Answer choice Responses Share
For stakeholder engagement or collaboration 32 54.24%
Operating an information campaign 25 42.37%
Responding to customer enquiries/comments/complaints 25 42.37%
For engaging with journalists and media outlets 24 40.68%
For engagement or collaboration with other government agencies 24 40.68%
Monitoring citizen, stakeholder and/or lobbyist views and activities 17 28.81%
For a public consultation process 16 27.12%
For a stakeholder or other restricted access consultation process 13 22.03%
Other type of activity 11 18.64%
For policy or services co-design 7 11.86%

The ‘Other’ category was broken into the following 11 responses:

  • cartoon competition – Flickr
  • day to day information for subscribers and stakeholders
  • Youtube
  • No, but use of social media to advertise Gov Jobs is being assessed.
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn (recruitment activity)
  • Internal communication
  • Yes
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Yes. Facebook (Promote Aboriginal Studies [ED: followed by two unreadable words])
  • Facebook, Twitter

So, what are my conclusions from this data?

Firstly, there is a high use of social media for official purposes throughout the Australian Government. Almost three-quarters of agencies (73%) reported using at least one (and more commonly two or more) social media tools.

The most popular use for these tools is for stakeholder engagement or collaboration (53.24%) – well ahead of operating an information campaign (42.37%), indicating that social media use is expanding beyond Communication teams into broader agency use for two-way dialogues.

Responding to customer enquiries/comments/complaints was also quite high (42.37%), indicating that many agencies are serious about the use of social media channels for engaging.

Monitoring citizen, stakeholder and/or lobbyist views and activities was lower than I would have expected (28.81%). This is potentially the most cost-effective use for social media as it doesn’t require engagement by an agency and can often be accomplished with free tools and limited time. I hope more agencies take this up in the future as it can provide deeper insights into their stakeholders and clients and help head-off issues.

Consultation was also lower than I had expected, with only a quarter of agencies respectively using social media for a public consultation process (27.12%) or for a stakeholder or other restricted access consultation process (22.03%). This is an area with significant potential to add value to policy deliberations and to provide a cost-effective extension or replacement of physical consultation events (particularly when budgets are tight). I hope more agencies take this up in the future as well.

The lowest rating answer was for policy or services co-design (11.86%), an emerging area which has a potentially bright future ahead of it. I can understand this being low as it is a new area for many agencies, but hope it grows as they realise the efficiencies of online co-design processes (alongside offline processes).

Finally, the other type of activity answer provided some interesting food for future thought. The answers provided by agencies, excluding the naming of specific social media tools and general use, fell into several significant categories; recruitment, internal communication and crowdsourcing.

These are all emerging areas where social media can make a significant difference and I hope we see a lot more of them in the future.

There is more analysis I will do down the track – which social media tools are most often used for each type of activity, what are the average number (and types) of tools used by agencies), however I’ll wait for all responses to be received before putting this time in.

All in all the interim responses are very positive (at least from my position as a Gov 2.0 Advocate), with Australian Government agencies making strong use of social media across many different types of activities.

There’s many who are testing, piloting and practicing different approaches to social media use, which will provide an ever-growing source of useful social media examples, case studies and expertise for all agencies to draw on and thereby build their capabilities and effectiveness online.

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