Increasing Constituent Satisfaction and
Step 1: Understand how the agency is being portrayed in social media.
A person, business or institution does not have to be an active user of social media to have a social media presence. People online are already talking about you – the good, the bad and the ugly. Moreover, for a public agency, there are important topics and issues that are being addressed in social media that government can have a positive role if it is aware of online public sentiment. So, the first step to engaging in social media is to listen to cyberspace and analyze what is happening.
Step 2: Define social media goals in relationship to the institution’s mission.
For government agencies and officials alike, social media is the electronic version of a “help desk.” Expect questions, suggestions, complaints, random comments and specific requests. The differences is: nobody has to stand behind the yellow line to preserve privacy. Everything is in the open, transparent, searchable. Social media presents a powerful opportunity to take customer service up a few notches by increasing citizenry access and involvement in governmental affairs. The key is to keep the online message consistent with the fundamental goals of the organization. Of course, this is true of the lobby help desk, too. There should be very little institutional adjustment to the addition of social media.
Step 3: Select the best social media tools.
Now that you have an appreciation for what is being said and how, you can select the best methods for response and interaction. Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, Flikr, etc. all have their particular strengths, weaknesses, utility and audiences. So, the decision to use a particular tool will be a function of the current public use, the institutional goals, the power/shortcomings of the tool, the organizational resources and the immediate tactical objective (keep citizens from using water, slow drivers down near schools, prepare for an earthquake, etc.) For example, the institutional goal may be to raise awareness about an urgent public health issue by giving clear instructions to a wide audience of the most effective action steps that reduce disease. Your key social communications channels would be:
- Twitter (often, the widest reach)
- Facebook (strongest visual impact)
- YouTube (most potent messages)
- Pitchengine (newsmedia resource)
An excellent example if the tactical use of social media to achieve a strategic goal of customer service is the City of New York’s blog “The Daily Pothole” using Tumblr. It provides both evidence of results of city work and a way to assist the city in improving the streets. The same tool could be done to reduce graffiti, improve tree-trimming and monitor park maintenance. Other tools, such as Facebook, are better suited to announce special events, promote civic pride and engage citizens in open dialogue.
Step 4: Allocate resources.
Make a commitment of the level of effort and energy that will go into social media effort. Social media success comes with consistency of communications, the clarity of the communications and the timeliness of the interaction (social media is two-way communications). So, being realistic and pragmatic is key: only start what you can manage with quality or the effort will be counterproductive. Folks like a Facebook fan page that doesn’t acknowledge comments (click “like” on citizen’s comments and answer questions) just about as much as getting voicemail in the middle of the day at the City Clerk’s desk.
Step 5: Encourage honesty!
Fearing negative feedback online is like worrying about the rain. Guess what – someday, you’ll get wet! Don’t argue with folks online. For every person who complains publically, there are ten more talking trash behind your back. It’s your opportunity to address those criticisms directly and solve the problem. Demonstrate the institution’s amazing awareness, strong commitment to quality customer service and it’s rock-solid professional expertise by both thanking folks for their [negative] comments and following-up with a solution. For particularly aggressive criticism, pull the conversation into a private phone call or email exchange to give it more focus. However, always encourage transparency and accept the same level of criticism online as you would at a public meeting of elected officials using the identical standards of decorum.
Step 6: Engage staff.
Generate an institution-wide social media policy. Then, encourage employees to contribute to the institution’s social media messages in order to flatten out the hierarchy and make government more accessible and practical.
Step 7: Stay on a constant learning curve.
Constantly monitor what other government agencies, municipalities and organizations are doing and copy the best ideas. This is a new method of interactive communications, so don’t expect to have a step-by-step guide (pun intended) on how to do it right. Not only will there be new technologies which can change the powerful dynamics of social media (eg: live streaming video from cell phones), but there will be as-yet unknown legal and social issues to be discovered. By keeping an eye on how other cities use social media, you will increase effectiveness and decrease mistakes.
Key Municipalities Using Social Media
- 15% of those aged 16-24 turn to social media first for customer service (econsultancy.com)
- 5 Ways Social Media Improves Customer Service (venpop.com)