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Great “behind-the-scenes” progress in 2013, now let’s get creative!


Typically at this time of year I tend to write a few thoughts surrounding my hopes and expectations for digital engagement in the public sector sphere here in Canada. I must admit that I am quite optimistic about the next twelve months, given the amount of  behind-the-scenes progress that has been made to date in various organizations in terms of setting up the necessary infrastructure that social channels require (primarily governance and hr related).

At the municipal level, cities such as Edmonton, Regina and Calgary (note the latter’s bold move to a search focused website) are doing incredible work by incorporating social channels into their service delivery processes. At the provincial level, a stand out for true 2-way citizen engagement (using a hub and spoke model that empowers specific branches for digital engagement) is definitely the  BC Government . The feds have also come a long way with great initiatives on multiple fronts including, among others, the ongoing highly visual audience engagement performed by Parks Canada , the highly informative video content sharing (using subject matter experts) at Statistics Canada , and Service Canada‘s first foray into the 2-way social realm with their “Services for Youth” Facebook initiative.

Key elements that I find drive this sort of progress are as follows:

Integration of “social” across the organization

Understanding that social media engagement does not fall under any “single” branch in an organization. Communications may be responsible for the overall corporate strategy, however the various branches of an organization are beginning to realize that they need to be empowered for engagement (or at least content provision) as well. This often involves creating their own sub-strategies and presence across targeted social channels to achieve branch level objectives.

Understanding that traditional and social media advertising channels cannot be treated in isolation

I hope 2014 will mark the death of thinking traditional vs social when it comes to planning advertising campaigns. There has never been a greater need to practice integrated marketing communications (IMC). The two are heavily intertwined as evidenced by something as simple as the hashtag promotion that you see on nearly every print brochure,  TV program or radio station display you flick across these days.

Issuing simplified guidelines and educating staff

Organizations have finally realized that most employees do not read legal fine print even if they should. Clearly written, simplified 1-3 page social media engagement guidelines are a must. However the guidelines themselves are useless without a plan to communicate them to your staff. I have seen great progress made on this front through including engagement as a topic in employee training programs and all staff training gatherings.

Hiring staff and acknowledging the need for new skill sets

There are currently 107 job titles with the term “social media” included in them among people who put “Government of Canada” as their employer on LinkedIn. This does not include the hundreds of others that put down their department name as their employer instead. It also does not include those that have used other terms such as “new media coordinator, director of digital, engagement specialist, community manager, etc… None of these positions existed a few years ago. There is no denying it, strategic social media engagement requires human resources. Organizations are either re-writing existing job descriptions or hiring entirely new staff.  In the private sector, a typical organization of 1000 or more employees has a core social media team consisting of 15.6 full-time resources (according to this recent Altimeter Group study). For most government organizations, hiring a single resource is a good start.

Beginning to understand that the web is now permanently “social”

The transition to “web 2.0” (i.e. the web as a 2-way platform for participation) is now old news. The modern internet is social. Period. End of story. There is no such thing as a  “social media expert” without additional context, just like there is no such thing as an “internet expert”. The organizations that are at the forefront understand this.

So what do I envision next?

It’s time to start pushing the boundaries a bit. The above are all great positive steps in the right direction, however in my opinion 2014 should be the year we finally start to see some truly creative , original approaches for digital engagement in the public sector sphere. It’s been happening in the private sector for years now. Want a quick re-cap? Just take a look at this post on the Top 10 Influential Social Media Marketing Campaigns of 2013 and you’ll know what I mean.

To get you thinking, I’ll leave you with the now infamous video from WestJet that takes the crown for 2013 creativity, all the while staying true to the brand and generating a preposterous amount of earned media. I can’t wait to see ideas like this start to come in from Departments “X,Y and Z” of the Government of Canada. Am I too optimistic? What do you think?

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