The Public Sector’s Key to Success When Kicking Off on Social Media

By: Sofie De Beule

October 24, 2014

We often receive questions on how governmental institutions should tackle social media. Unfortunately, there isn’t one easy answer. Quite a few pitfalls prevent governmental institutions from establishing a strong social media presence (e.g. the governmental sector is tied to specific and complex regulations, top management isn’t always “sold” on social media, strategies that work for some organizations don’t necessarily work for others, and so on).

“For the first time in history, it has never been easier for the public to have their voice heard. They can now easily connect with governmental institutions and desperately want to talk about the topics that matter the most to them.”

Dimitri Callens, VP of Customer Success at Engagor

Here’s the key to successfully kicking off your efforts on social media: understand which type of governmental institution you belong to, and therefore, know which objectives you should set for your organization, which target audience to tailor your message to, etc.

So, how do you identify what “type” of institution you are and what the biggest difference is when it comes to establishing your social media strategy and goals?

Targeting Consumers vs. Citizens

When it comes to establishing and running a social media presence, there are two types of governmental institutions: organizations that specifically target consumers and those that target citizens.

The first type of governmental institutions craft their message to all citizens because each individual has the same interest. They have no commercial goals and want to mobilize, educate, and interact with citizens on the topics that matter the most to them. Their social media objective is to communicate openly and transparently about the policies of the governmental institutions and how they affects citizens.

Example: all local governments (states in the US), the European Commission, Ministries (Defense, Economics, etc.), the police

In this way, social media plays a crucial role to foster the dialogue with citizens.

The second type of institution we are going to discuss are companies in the public sector that are run by the government and offer a service customers pay money for. Compared to governmental institutions, they have clear commercial goals, and therefore, their target audience should be identified by customers/consumers. Their focus on social media is more geared towards providing social customer care to keep their customers happy and creating opportunities to gain new ones.

Example: (some) public transportation companies (not in all countries)

One Country Doesn’t Equal All

Bear in mind that these two types of governmental institutions don’t apply to every company. The subject is very country-specific. For example, in Belgium, the transportation company De Lijn is run by the government, but there are countries where public transport is (partially) in the hands of private companies.

Citizens & Customers United

There is, however, one common goal: citizens/customers are truly the main focus of attention. Social media has given the public sector the ability to engage on a personal level. Nowadays, if customers have any questions or complaints, governmental institutions can seize this opportunity to immediately address any issue. Now more than ever, the public sector has great insights into who their target audience is and how to tailor personal messages to individuals.