Monday, April 23, 2012

What are Australian Government agencies using social media to achieve?

I'm still collecting responses to my FOI request, however felt it worth providing some interim data on what Australian Government agencies are telling me that they are using social media to achieve.

Of the 166 FOI requests I sent out, I have, so far, received 59 legitimate responses in survey format (35%), another 10-20 in other formats (not analysed below) and 6 refusals to respond.

(I also received a survey response from the 'Dept of Silly Walks and Frilly Pants' that I've disregarded in this analysis. However I am pleased that FOI officers have healthy senses of humour!)

Of the 59 legitimate responses, 43 agencies indicated in Question 8 of my survey that they used social media channels for some purpose.

That is, 73% of Australian Government agencies in my sample are using social media.

This demonstrates how far the public service has come in embedding social media into their activities. However what do they say they are using social media to achieve?

Question 8 of my survey asked agencies:
Has your agency used social media services in the following activities?
(Please indicate all that apply and name each of the specific social media services used, ie: agency operated blogs or forums, third party blogs or forums, social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, social sharing sites such as YouTube, SlideShare or Flickr, etc)
The responses (so far) are as follows, listed from most to least popular uses of social media:

Answer choiceResponsesShare
For stakeholder engagement or collaboration3254.24%
Operating an information campaign2542.37%
Responding to customer enquiries/comments/complaints2542.37%
For engaging with journalists and media outlets2440.68%
For engagement or collaboration with other government agencies2440.68%
Monitoring citizen, stakeholder and/or lobbyist views and activities1728.81%
For a public consultation process1627.12%
For a stakeholder or other restricted access consultation process1322.03%
Other type of activity 1118.64%
For policy or services co-design  711.86%

The 'Other' category was broken into the following 11 responses:
  • cartoon competition - Flickr
  • day to day information for subscribers and stakeholders
  • Youtube
  • No, but use of social media to advertise Gov Jobs is being assessed.
  • YouTube
  • LinkedIn (recruitment activity)
  • Internal communication
  • Yes
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Yes. Facebook (Promote Aboriginal Studies [ED: followed by two unreadable words])
  • Facebook, Twitter
So, what are my conclusions from this data?

Firstly, there is a high use of social media for official purposes throughout the Australian Government. Almost three-quarters of agencies (73%) reported using at least one (and more commonly two or more) social media tools.

The most popular use for these tools is for stakeholder engagement or collaboration (53.24%) - well ahead of operating an information campaign (42.37%), indicating that social media use is expanding beyond Communication teams into broader agency use for two-way dialogues.

Responding to customer enquiries/comments/complaints was also quite high (42.37%), indicating that many agencies are serious about the use of social media channels for engaging.

Monitoring citizen, stakeholder and/or lobbyist views and activities was lower than I would have expected (28.81%). This is potentially the most cost-effective use for social media as it doesn't require engagement by an agency and can often be accomplished with free tools and limited time. I hope more agencies take this up in the future as it can provide deeper insights into their stakeholders and clients and help head-off issues.

Consultation was also lower than I had expected, with only a quarter of agencies respectively using social media for a public consultation process (27.12%) or for a stakeholder or other restricted access consultation process (22.03%). This is an area with significant potential to add value to policy deliberations and to provide a cost-effective extension or replacement of physical consultation events (particularly when budgets are tight). I hope more agencies take this up in the future as well.

The lowest rating answer was for policy or services co-design (11.86%), an emerging area which has a potentially bright future ahead of it. I can understand this being low as it is a new area for many agencies, but hope it grows as they realise the efficiencies of online co-design processes (alongside offline processes).

Finally, the other type of activity answer provided some interesting food for future thought. The answers provided by agencies, excluding the naming of specific social media tools and general use, fell into several significant categories; recruitment, internal communication and crowdsourcing.

These are all emerging areas where social media can make a significant difference and I hope we see a lot more of them in the future.

There is more analysis I will do down the track - which social media tools are most often used for each type of activity, what are the average number (and types) of tools used by agencies), however I'll wait for all responses to be received before putting this time in.

All in all the interim responses are very positive (at least from my position as a Gov 2.0 Advocate), with Australian Government agencies making strong use of social media across many different types of activities.

There's many who are testing, piloting and practicing different approaches to social media use, which will provide an ever-growing source of useful social media examples, case studies and expertise for all agencies to draw on and thereby build their capabilities and effectiveness online.


  1. Great stuff Craig, I'm so glad you're doing this survey work and I'm looking forward to reading the results.

  2. Very valuable information, Craig. Really appreciating your efforts in social media. It really helps those of us who train government agencies in social media.

  3. It's wonderful to see Government using social media and I like you hope that they use it more to garner input from the voters (especially) and other stakeholders.

  4. Interesting, but 43 over 166 is more like 26 percent of surveyed agencies actually using social media unless you modify your statements to just the responding agencies.

  5. Anonymous, that is 43 of 59 responses.

    If you understand statistics, that is a statistically relevant sample and therefore I am comfortable using my percentage of 73%.

    I'll update once I have more responses - and will also be highlighting the agencies who ignored the FOI request (and letting the OAIC know as well).

  6. Fascinating that co design lags behind other areas. Any comments Craig?

  7. I can understand this being low as it is a new area for many agencies, but hope it grows as they realise the efficiencies of online co-design processes.

    Bandura Headhunters