Thursday, June 03, 2010

The art of leveraging small announcements to drive Government social media engagement

Governments love big announcements. Billions of dollars in spending, bold new projects and initiatives, launches and major events.

These types of announcements are believed to be the best way to cut through the media storm, attract journalist interest and public attention.

These big announcements appear to work well for traditional media channels, that are always chasing the next big story. However the approach does not work as well in social media channels.

The first difference to consider is that when launching a new initiative a government department can reach out to existing traditional media channels with existing audiences. However in many cases a government department may not yet have aggregated their audience online, making it much less effective.

The big launch tweeted to a dozen followers, or posted on a Facebook page that has only been liked by the families and friends of departmental staff, won't create the type of stir intended and may even send an incorrect signal that it isn't worth engaging via social media channels.

Secondly big announcements tend to require much preparation, approval and timing. This makes them annoyingly difficult to release online at precisely the same time as a Minister steps up to a podium to deliver his speech. Even if you release the online announcement at precisely the right moment, it may take minutes, hours or even days (for web domains or searchable information) to become available to the audience.

Thirdly, big announcements are usually rare and there's large gaps between them. While in traditional media the news will be filled up by all kinds of other announcements and events, on a department's social media channels there is no other news to release, leaving them looking sporadic and disinclining audiences to follow them closely.

What I advocate governments departments do is to by all means make the big announcements, particularly via traditional media to create interest and drive people to an online channel, but also use social media channels to make series of regular small announcements through the life of a campaign or program to sustain and grow online interest.

Laurel Papworth demonstrated how this can work in her recent blog post, #1: Mistakes Companies Make on Twitter TIMELINES VELOCITY, where she illustrated the difference between social media and traditional media in several charts, which I have embedded.

If you're managing an information campaign then you have a range of information available and approved for release. Whether you're releasing videos, publications, factsheets and FAQs or rolling out and completing many small projects within a bigger one, break up your information into 'bite sized' (usually single themed) chunks and distribute them, a few at a time, through your social media channels.

Some people say they have nothing to say, or get concerned that their information may be 'old' because it is already in their website. However it is important to realise that while they might be very familiar with their web content as they visit and think about the website all the time, their audience does not. Every useful, practical, challenging and interesting snippet of information can form the basis for a tweet, a blog post or a Facebook announcement. In some mediums each snippet of information can be published several times through a month - such as on Twitter, where people are not watching your every tweet.

By feeding your social media channel with these small and regular snippets of information (but not too often - no more than a few tweets or one or two posts or Facebook announcements each day) you give your audience a reason to sign-up, to revisit, to share your messages with their friends and to engage with you.

These small announcements can lead into important conversations, giving you even more opportunities to engage in meaningful dialogue and to listen to the views of your audience as they reflect on the information you have provided.

Even more important, when you do have a big announcement, you'll have a pre-prepared, engaged and interested social media audience ready to listen, reflect, share and engage, improving your reach and cut-through and demonstrating how effective social media can be to reach audiences directly without relying on journalists to cover your big announcement.

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