Public sector stakeholders use all kinds of social media, and if you’re not using it to engage them you’re missing a major opportunity.
The figures speak for themselves. Facebook has 1.11 billion active users. Twitter has 55 million. Add to that LinkedIn’s 255 million members and the billion unique visitors to YouTube every month, and it’s certain that many of your stakeholders are using at least one major social network – not to mention reading and commenting on blogs, subscribing to RSS feeds and more.
The audience is there. But how do you identify your stakeholders among all those users? And how do you use social media to inform, consult and collaborate?
In this post we share our top tips for doing just that, and for making social media part of your stakeholder engagement strategy.
1. Maintain a relevant presence on social media
It may seem obvious, but the first step to engaging stakeholders is to maintain a relevant presence on the social networks they use.
Start with creating social media accounts that meet the needs of different groups of stakeholders.
Imagine you belong to an NHS Trust. The chances are that you’ll find most business oriented stakeholders on LinkedIn – including suppliers, partners, doctors, consultants, local authority contacts, emergency services and so on. On Twitter and Facebook you’ll also find many patients, service users, local politicians and other community stakeholders.
To reach out to these groups effectively, you need to establish relevant profiles for each network. Business contacts will be aware that they are dealing with you as an NHS Trust, so an official NHS Trust profile page would be appropriate on LinkedIn. However, service users on Twitter and Facebook will primarily be looking to reach out to their local hospital, GP and so on — so these organisations will need to have their own social media accounts.
The advantage of having relevant social media accounts is that stakeholders can identify themselves by ‘liking’ your page, following you or adding you as a contact. By reciprocating, you create the conditions to engage with this new audience in future — whether by informing, consulting or collaborating.
2. Search for stakeholder conversations
Some of your stakeholders are already talking about you on social media. For example, if you belong to a local authority, you’ll find people using Twitter and Facebook to talk about missed bin collections, asking about attractions worth visiting in your area, wanting to know about available school places, looking for social housing and more.
Some comments will be positive, and some will be negative. You need to join the conversation to help the people with issues that need resolving, and to share the positive comments to a wider audience.
The only problem is – how can you find out when people are talking about you?
There’s no single solution for doing this, but there are some easy techniques that can get you started. They include:
- Use Google Alerts to flag up conversations they happen. Google Alerts allow you to monitor any online mention of chosen keywords as they happen. If you set up an alert for your organisation name, the names of its chief executive and key staff, the names of your principal services and buildings, you’ll receive an email every time new material containing those keywords is published on the web. This allows you to join in the conversation before it escalates (if it is negative) and to share any good news immediately.
- Use social media monitoring sites for the same reason. Sites like socialmention and brandwatch allow you to monitor keywords in more detail across social networks, blogs, online bookmarks and more — adding extra power to your attempts to identify stakeholders and manage your online reputation.
When you identify stakeholders who are talking about you, you need to make the relationship permanent —be sure to follow or add them to your friends or contacts list as appropriate. This allows you to build a relationship with them over time.
3. Target stakeholders by their interests
It’s easy to identify potential stakeholders by searching social networks for mentions of places, services, people, events and other things relevant to your work.
For example, if you belong to a local police force and you have an official Twitter account, you can search the network for mention of different types of crime in your area, or simply tweets that include the name of your area and words like ‘police’, ‘criminal’, ‘stolen’, ‘graffiti’ and so on.
By doing so, you can not only build up a valuable network of local people, but one that has the potential to become your online ‘eyes and ears’ when you need help in solving local crime, finding witnesses or more.
4. Share relevant content
The first three tips in this post are focused on building a relevant audience of stakeholders and monitoring your reputation.
However, the most important aspect of using social media to engage stakeholders is to develop relevant content.
Imagine you belong to a local museums service. You will need to share content that appeals to different groups of stakeholders. For example:
- Visitors & potential visitors. Share details of exhibitions, opening times, special events, positive feedback, relevant blog posts, online videos etc on Twitter and Facebook.
- Other museums professionals. Use LinkedIn to publicise conferences and training to others in your sector, share blog posts and original guides about best practice, target individuals you may wish to recruit and more.
- Funders and Government. Use all networks to publicise successful results, increases in visitor numbers, prestigious new partnerships, funding requirements and more.
- By creating and sharing content relevant to your audiences, you can listen to responses, reply and contribute to other conversations that are taking place.
This process allows you to build relationships with stakeholders and identify those you need to engage with in different ways – whether to inform, consult or collaborate.
Once you have done this, you can build on these relationships. Going back to our example of a local authority, you could do the following:
- Invite stakeholders to sign up for regular updates. If you build up relationships with stakeholders who use social media to comment on services such as waste collection, street cleaning, housing, education and more, invite them to sign up for regular email updates. In this way you open up another channel that allows you to inform them of relevant news, and also invite them to take part in future consultations.
- Publicise consultations. If you have built up a following of relevant and motivated stakeholders, you can reach beyond the ‘famous few’ when you need to consult on matters such as planning, service provision or town centre improvement.
- Publicise tenders. Similarly, you can publicise opportunities to tender to your social media audiences, potentially delivering a wider and more competitive field of suppliers.
- Identify potential collaborators. If you have a project that needs developing and implementing, such as a town centre traffic management scheme, you can publicise it to your social media audiences and identify potential collaborators — such as residents with relevant experience, civil engineers, retailers, car users, community interest groups and more. You can then work with them using channels such as online collaboration software.
There are many other ways to engage segments of your social media audience, but as you build individual relationships it allows you to identify groups of people that want you to inform, consult or collaborate with them.
As you can see from the diagram below, when you reach out to people on social media, it becomes easy for you to inform them. Once they become part of your network, you can then encourage individuals to subscribe to targeted information, take part in consultations and get involved with your work.
In time, you’ll develop relationships with some of your social media contacts that require you to collaborate with them. To do this, you need to move your relationship to a wider variety of digital channels. You can find out how to do this in our free guide Transforming Public Sector Stakeholder Engagement - Effective Digital Channels and Strategies.
Have you got any tips and tricks to add? We would really like to hear from you! Simply use the comment box below...