Making social media a friend, not a foe

By Cimon Constantine, Area Director, Meltwater Australia and New Zealand
Tuesday, 13 November, 2018

Making social media a friend, not a foe

Social media’s two-way trade of information presents the perfect way for governments to connect with the public.

Social media has democratised the public sphere, opening up new ways for governments to disseminate information and engage with constituents. It is now a vital platform for government outreach. And constituents now have the power to share their opinions as easily as any minister. But with opportunities come new challenges. It’s no longer good enough to be simply using social media. It needs to be seen as a crucial element to engage with constituents and help make decisions.

Understand what really matters

Social media has become a soundboard for ideas and opinions, so it’s important to be across what is being said on these platforms. Understanding what constituents want starts with listening to these online conversations, and not just as a one-off exercise. These conversations move fast, so social media listening tools that monitor what’s being said online will ensure you have the right information to understand the situation and make an informed decision, fast.

Earlier this year, Queensland school girl Dolley Everett tragically took her own life after being subjected to relentless bullying. Her friends took to social media, starting a campaign that went viral and resulted in the government investing $3.5 million on cyberbullying awareness, education, detection and prevention campaigns. It also inspired new laws to combat cyberbullying and online trolls.

By listening to the opinions and concerns of constituents on social media, both the federal and state governments were able to quickly respond and propose a plan of action.

Crisis prevention and management

In the digital age, news spreads in seconds. Instead of dealing with the fallout after the fact, conversations need to be identified early and in real time before they spread far and wide. This is crucial to preventing and mitigating potential crises.

Keyword and influencer monitoring is a good place to start, but beyond this, governments should set up anomaly detection so any abnormal rises in chatter are flagged before they have a chance to escalate into a full-blown communications crisis. A sudden spike in social mentions of a politician could point to a potential issue which, left unaddressed, could spread into a full-blown crisis.

Consider Malcolm Turnbull’s recent rebuttal Tweet to Scott Morrison’s radio appearance on Alan Jones’s radio show following his visit to Indonesia on behalf of the Prime Minister. Turnbull’s rebuttal Tweets showed a different side of the story, amassing 6200 likes, 1242 re-tweets and 1335 comments. But if Morrison left the conversation without correcting the record, the end result could have been a lot worse for his image with the Australian public. Government representatives at any level must be on the front foot to identify and respond to conversations accordingly and mitigate potential crises.

Better governance and engagement

Social media has broken down established barriers between communities and governments to increase two-way discourse. But it’s important to remember to keep communication on social media authentic and informative. For example, Malcolm Turnbull is known for sharing personal and political moments on his Twitter account, which has helped connect him with citizens. When Turnbull left parliament earlier this year he Tweeted a photo of his family, thanking Australia for his time as Prime Minister. The Tweet received engagement close to 30,000.

Malcolm Turnbull and his family gathered in front of his desk in the Prime Minister's office

Engaging with audiences on a human level and outside of election periods helps build trust with constituents to ensure receptiveness when it comes time to vote.

Your secret weapon

Many media intelligence tools are capable of monitoring online news, blogs and social media, but the challenge is turning these conversations from noise to actionable insights. All levels of government should be analysing online conversations to better understand how policies and decisions are being received by the community. If not, they could be missing a huge opportunity to better engage with constituents.

Image credit: ©

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