Not Just Nonsense

John Sheridan - CIO & CISO
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Last week, I gave a presentation to members of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on the use of social networking tools in government. In accordance with our developing practice, I am posting the slides here on our blog. The presentation was also videoed and, for those of you who really need to get a life, we’ll post the links to the video once they are available. In the mean time, the gist of the discussion follows

Since government first started to think about social media as a policy tool, the social networking landscape has hardly stood still. Sites and tools abound and usage continues to grow, perhaps exponentially amongst some classes of users. Not surprisingly, the volume of traffic has increased equally quickly. In popular belief, most of this traffic is nonsense. It’s a mistake to think this. Most of it is of the nature of normal social discourse – the stuff we share at barbecues, on the sidelines of our children’s sporting fields and around coffee at work. Those conversations are mostly ephemeral: there is nothing to note and little to remember. But, occasionally, something catches our interest. The challenge for government is twofold – how to both find and be that thing.

There is a growing number of examples demonstrating that governments are learning to effectively use social media for a range of purposes. The use of Facebook and Twitter by the Queensland Police Service’s media unit is the stand-out example of how to handle emergency management communications. Many agencies have established information or consultation mechanisms on AGIMO’s govspace platform – over 50 to date. AGIMO itself has developed a solid body of work around the use of this blog to consult with industry and other stakeholders on procurement matters. Our colleagues in the skills area have maintained a useful presence on Facebook to assist in the recruitment of entry-level government IT positions.

The South Australian Government’s use of social media to develop its strategic plan has shown how a sustained campaign can develop a significant base of stakeholders, eager to remain engaged. Participation in developing government’s direction has been popular among internet-enabled citizens. Both the US and the UK have created e-petition sites. These have experienced a high degree of interest but have also demonstrated that motivated individuals don’t necessarily offer policy suggestions on which governments are ready to act – capital punishment and the legislation of marijuana being cases in point.

Open data sites are also attracting interest. has over 850 data sets from 110 agencies and sports 15 applications so far. While there’s no doubt that there are more data sets on the UK and US sites, the open government direction is also being reflected in the Information Publication Scheme sections and the FOI Disclosure Logs now apparent on most Australian Government agency websites.

There is now a range of useful aids to assist agencies and individuals in government wishing to develop their social media skills. Following the #gov2au hashtag on Twitter is a useful place to start, as it continues to be something of a hub for these matters. Finally, as the latest survey of the use of e-government shows, social media looks like it’s here to stay – successful public policy practitioners need to get, and stay, on board. Comments are welcome.

Presentation Slides


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Comments (3)


Not sure of you've published guidelines for the use of social media . But this may be useful.

You'll see that the EC and its National peers are on much the same trajectory. But we're still in "service delivery" mode. The challenge for your team and other Matilda's around the .gov traps is convincing gov media types that it's not just nonsense. And not just a matter of getting the skills up.

You'll know that there is a parrallel between .gov and .edu. Distance/online learning is not as well advanced in the National gov silos as it is in the Global edu ones. So thanks for the report of the little natter in a room. You must tell us when you open an online learning space for gov webbies. I'd love to see if we could make a .au domain the center of a global learning hub.
BTW. Love this line. "...occasionally, something catches our interest. The challenge for government is twofold – how to both find and be that thing".

Ever since Kevin Rudd released his PM's blog, I have always been interested in the governments use of social media. Here is some interesting data-

Julia Gillards Twitter followers: 171,529
Julia Gillards Facebook Likes: 124,851

These are huge numbers. The Pm has issued 818 tweets, this is a lot of information that has been dispersed to a large group of people with very little resources used.

But twitter is only one slice of the pie. Twitter is an excellent resource during periods of emergency when small pieces of information need to be delivered promptly.

For more weighty matters one of the most effective methods is still press releases. A lot of Government MP's in Australia still use press releases as their primary means of sharing important information. This, as with everything is slowly changing.

To illustrate this point consider the case of the Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen. A year ago his tweets were infrequent and he primarily used submit Press release sites to share information.

In the past year his tweets have become descriptive, pointed and frequent. This in turn has increased the number of people who are now following his tweets. But as mentioned earlier, this is still only one slice of the pie. All be it a particularly easily accesible slice of pie.

That's good Thanks Eugene,

I'm stil of the opinion though that most institutional inhabitants still don't get the "social media" model. What you've pointed to is the use of it which abides by the broadcast model. i.e. "pump those press releases, twitter notes, TV interviews out" and measure the number of times it's done. At least with twitter we know a receiver want the message from the publisher.

I could say the same thing in most places, although at least in Europe their equivilant blogs measure the number of times a message is read. N.B. The no. of views on these entries. So at least the writers can get/give some idea of an audience's interest, and if it's growing or diminshing.

That's one point. Is a space relevant to its constituency. In the publicly funded world, we still have the view that a sevice is "designed, and then delivered" (by a specialist agency). The idea it may be co-designed with citizens is still beyond the realms of credibilty.

To be fair, diseminating info is easy. The hard part in "social media" is getting some agreement, with a community (of interest and practice) as to how to implement a policy.

Last updated: 01 August 2016