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MOD's social tips to the Government in #MENA

As you know I’ve been hanging out in #Kuwait quite a bit recently. At the Social Media Summit last month I met some fascinating leading lights in the world of social, digital and how that applies to government bodies and agencies across the world.

I like to share what I learnt with other people trying to solve big social problems in their area of expertise and I had the pleasure of interviewing some key figures during my travels. This week’s #Trendsday blog is the result of being able to interview Pippa Norris, Head of Digital Engagement at the Ministry of Defence in the UK. What follows is the summary of that interview. I hope you find it useful and interesting, please share amongst your colleagues and networks. If you’d like to connect with Pippa directly she can be found on Twitter here – @PippaNorris.


What are the lessons learned from how the MOD is using social media to communicate with citizens in the West that the MENA region can take away? 

I think we are realising that it really is about building long term relationships and not about seeing social media as simply another or a different broadcast channel. The MOD is rationalising the number of channels to a smaller number so that we are able to have better and more focused engagements with our audiences, reducing fragmentation and improving the way people find information.  At the heart of this is the importance of putting user needs at the heart of all our communications.

How do you ensure the integrity of the communications when there is rampant hacking and takeovers of social profiles/feeds? That could seemingly undermine the legitimacy of the information and present real risk in terms of false alarms, etc.

Our audiences are not to be underestimated because they can tell when it is a spoof or one of our channels have been hacked; and hackers love to declare their latest victory. We do everything we can to ensure we take careful security measures: 2 factor authentication on usernames and passwords, having our channels verified (such as the blue tick with Twitter) the deployment of social media management tools, consistent and regular training of our community managers on appropriate channel moderation, the correct use of our corporate tone of voice, language and style, and the importance of prompt action should this sort of thing happen. You can’t stop being a target but you must have decision mitigations in place for prompt action.

When planning, how do you ensure that you reach communities (e.g., that are less likely to get their news from other sources?

We do a lot of audience work to understand who they are, their motivations, media consumption habits and preferences for content. All this research and background work helps us become more effective in reach and engagement rates.

How do you compete with social content from brands like Coca-Cola, etc? Do you find consumers expect the same things, or are there different expectations for ‘government content’?

Well, I don’t think we need to compete because our audiences need different things from us as a Government department. That said, it is always good to over-deliver on those expectations. I want us to build long term trust and confidence in our content and product; we need to be reliable, consistent, authoritative and credible and this means we need to be impartial in how we relay information to our audiences. We also have huge amounts of information that is freely available and as this has been paid for by the public purse, they are entitled to it. Some of our audiences already know about our amazing photography, for example, so why not share that?

RAF C17 Aircraft in Afghanistan


Ministry of Defence

What tools do you use? And why? 

Lots of different tools for different purposes are utilized. We are using Hootsuite for channel management at scale and it is proving to reap returns on the investment. We also use SocialBakers for our data. We try, where possible, to use open source or free tools, but I think the growing complexity of our work and the scale to which we are now geared means that I must now consider subscribing to tools that will give me greater flexibility and visibility.

Governance and policy- how and where do you start establishing policy and governance when time is short? What does good policy look like? How do you get staff to follow new governance?

Policy is easy to establish, but getting governance to work effectively is hard. I use advocates and ambassadors to help spread best practice because if it isn’t about doing things in the best way possible that enables staff to get the best job done, then it is really hard to get the message out.

I think good policy needs to be easy to understand, easy to follow and simple to communicate. If you can’t explain to staff why it’s important and helpful to them to follow simple rules on social media, you need to reconsider your policy and your communications side by side.



What should success look like to a government entity? 

Wow, big question! It depends on what you are trying to achieve, why and with whom. It starts with your strategy and an intimate understand of your audiences and their needs. If you don’t have the basics right, you simply can’t proceed because it could well be a waste of time and everyone’s (emotional) energy.

Integrating social – how does the MOD do this? What are the risks and how do you manage them?

It isn’t something we have cracked perfectly yet but my experience to date tells me that digital has to be at the heart of communications strategy development and planning to ensure good integration. Processes need to be redesigned to accommodate this and people need to think, work and communicate differently to support and enable this. If you don’t, then social will remain an afterthought, another broadcast channel and organisations will struggle to deliver the real dividends. Staff will not develop quickly and your organisation will struggle to keep pace with digital changes or your competitors. Eventually talented staff will leave to join more enlightened organisations and acquiring and retaining competent and bright staff will become a bigger problem.

What do you need to consider when making investment decisions in tools?

It depends on what you need to do and the resources you have at your disposal. I find drawing up a list of requirements, prioritizing them, talking to peers and working with specialist a great way of working towards a decision. Sometimes it isn’t a tool that you need, sometimes its knowledge and its exploitation. So being clear from the outset on your requirements is key.

What is the one thing you would recommend to a government entity just starting to try and implement social across its business?

Start small, learn fast, iterate quickly and collect your case studies.

And finally, my advice is keep the faith and don’t worry. The whole world is moving towards social, so it is a matter of time.”


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