Key Areas Governments Can Benefit from Social Media


Real-time communications with citizens are just one of the advantages of a social media plan.

Social media has become a critical communications tool for government agencies. It’s a direct lifeline to their constituents and the use cases of social media are endless. Take for example the ability to encourage constituents to sign up for health care directly, or altering commuters in real time any delays or outages in public transportation. When it comes to emergencies, social media could literally be a life or death resource, directing citizens to the nearest disaster relief centers or educating them on the latest rescue efforts.

Yet, despite the clear benefits associated with social media, many government agencies are still struggling to include social media in their broader outreach programs. A recent survey conducted by Hootsuite found that 87 percent of government agency respondents felt that their social media programs have room for improvement, but only 40 percent had a clear path moving forward with social.

Taking into account the growth and importance of social media, there are some key areas that government agencies would see clear, actionable benefits from increasing their commitment to social media use.

A More Informed Public

According to Hootsuite’s survey, citizen engagement ranked as the highest priority for government agencies on social media, this holds particularly true for state and local governments, with nearly 90 percent reporting that they use social media for citizen engagement.

By using social media for citizen engagement, government agencies are seeing a two-way benefit, not only are their citizens more informed but the agencies themselves are better understanding the needs of their constituents, leading to a happier overall community.

Tapping into Unused Resources

Government agencies often struggle with budget constraints related to service teams. Social media empowers government customer service teams to quickly identify and engage with unhappy or unsatisfied constituents through the use of hashtags, agency mentions and relevant keywords. Cost savings are possible if governments integrate social media as a real-time channel for responding to individuals, rather than relying on a ticket-based help desk or call center.

Take for example the use case of New York City’s 311 service as a compelling example of how governments can use social media to support an effective service delivery strategy. 311 has encouraged city residents to file complaints digitally to report potholes, damaged roads, missed garbage collections and similar issues. This allows the agency to collect the information in a more efficient manner and frees up other resources within the department.

Communications in Real Time

Traditional forms of communication no longer cut it when it comes to crisis response; citizens want to be informed in an immediate and up-to-date manner, which is where social media plays a critical role. In fact, critical response should be the number one use of government social media, simply because during a time of crisis, people turn to social channels first.

Nearly 84 percent of respondents to Hootsuite’s survey identified keeping citizens better informed as the number one benefit of social media for critical response communications. Rumor control and faster response times also rank highly, at 60 and 50 percent respectively.

Creating an Employer Brand that Attracts and Retains Talent

Government agencies struggle to find suitable recruits and the issue is only going to become more complicated as more and more vacancies open up due to baby-boomer retirements. At the moment, most agencies use social media as a simple job posting board in the hopes that someone applies. However, the creative capabilities of employer branding have not been realized yet.

Nearly 20 percent of survey respondents said they have seen no benefit in recruitment, indicating untapped potential in the area of using social media for employee branding. A strong employer brand is a direct correlation between increased talent attraction and employee retention. By creating a social media presence that informs and engages potential, and current, employees agencies can generate goodwill and positive branding that entices people to want to be a part of what’s happening. The tertiary benefit to this is it also creates a brand that becomes engaging from a citizen perspective, increasing the number of conversations and use cases the agency has with the public.  

The power of social media to quickly and efficiently share information with citizens and stakeholders is clear. This dynamic has changed the way government engages with citizens, replacing traditional one-way communication with two-way conversations. There is still much to be done, especially in an era that demands efficiency, modernization and rapid response. By adopting social media strategies and tools that can improve collaboration, remove silos to social media success, and provide deep insights, governments can continue taking steps to transform their operations and take the social advantage.

Ben Cathers is a principal solution consultant for Hootsuite.