Facilitating a Social Media Strategy

Updated: included wordle graphic

I’ve had quite a number of conversations  about social media strategy at the council recently,  as well as with a number of people via twitter and other networks.

So I thought I’d share my thinking on this and also share the strategy (co-developed by Martin Howitt) which I use to help others as well as a framework to developing a Social Media Action/Implementation Plan.

This is intended to be a reusable framework and strategy – as the detail and local variations will come in your own action plan.

To put this into context the council has already made significant progress around Social Media – In January 2010 the Council introduced a Social Media Policy and Guidelines which states:

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

It includes guidance around personal and professional responsibilities, using social media in different scenarios and key things to consider.

We don’t yet have a formal Social Media Strategy (yet), but the following is what I am personally using and promoting internally as a method and approach to adopting social media within our business operations.

The Strategy:
We will maximise the positive impact of our use of social media in support of the councils business aims and social objectives.


  1. The use of social media, like anything else the organisation does, must be informed by business strategy and social objectives.
  2. Social technology does nothing on its own. To create value from social media, it is people and processes that must change.
  3. Becoming a truly social organisation will yield benefits in terms of sustainability, responsiveness, reputation, lower operating costs, and higher social impact.
  4. Social media can in theory pervade every part of the organisation’s value chain. But it should only do so if there are defined and (where possible) measurable positive business impacts.
  5. There is no such thing as a social media project: there are only business projects that utilise social media tools to some extent to achieve their objectives.
  6. A social media capability must therefore be built or adopted specifically to serve the objectives and current projects of the organisation.


  1. Identify which organisational processes / service areas which might use social software or social media tools
  2. For each process / service area – state the key objectives and outcomes
  3. List the available tools and their best-value use cases
  4. For each process/service area identified in (1), identify the most useful tools from (3) and map the potential benefits to objectives/outcomes in (2)
  5. Consolidate the list in (4) by channel and/or by organisational role.
  6. For each role identified in (5), evaluate the cost, benefits, and risks
  7. Create a prioritised portfolio of projects, expected benefits, and Key Performance Indicators based on the outputs of (6)

I appreciate that this may sound easier than it actually is, but to be honest if it were that easy everyone would be doing it and no one would have trouble justifying its use. If you can build this approach into the service business planning cycle you (as facilitator) and the service area will yield higher results in terms of potential Social Media projects supporting and delivering business outcomes – that is the theory anyway 🙂

As a starting point I’d recommend that you look at your own service area as well as highlighting or at least acknowledging other “high value” organisational processes which could benefit from this exercise, so that you can get familiar with the process and the level of understanding you will need around some of the tools and best value use cases.

It is worth trying to separate the cross cutting processes from the actual service areas for example “community engagement” might be a service area in your organisation as well as it being a cross cutting activity. In my opinion you are likely to identify a better value proposition looking at the cross cutting process of community engagement then the service itself.

In my Council a sample list might look something like this:

Process / Activity Areas

  • Community Engagement
  • Customer Service
  • Staff Engagement
  • Community Consultations
  • Staff Consultations
  • Personal and Self Directed Learning
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Policy Development
  • Service Planning
  • Emergency Communications
  • Press and PR Relations

I’ve separated the activities of engagement and consultation on purpose as different social value can be created depending on your approach.  By tackling a cross cutting process or activity you can influence and impact a greater number and range of people who can add value when you start looking at this on a service perspective.

Service Areas

  • Trading Standards
  • Libraries
  • Road Safety
  • Highways (roads and traffic)
  • Waste Services
  • Registration Services

The reality here is I could have included a list of nearly all services, but you really need to stay focused and work on a service by service basis sometimes.

I envisage that the best approach would be a twin track approach –  During the prioritisation process outlined in stage 7 – try selecting one activity area alongside a service area to increase the organisational learning opportunities.

Hope this is helpful –  and I wish you luck….I’d be very keen to hear your stories on how this works or doesn’t for you.


REVISED – Social Media Policy and Guidance

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

In May last year i published the councils first version of our Social Media Policy and Guidance. Since then we have reviewed them and have updated them to focus more on achieving business benefit then simply taking advantage of social media tools like twitter, facebook you tube etc.

The revision is the result of additional learning, continued development and the input from a wider group of people then the original and includes the following:

  • Head of Corporate Communications
  • Head of ICT
  • Head of Strategic Intelligence
  • Directorate Business Managers

We have split the new policy and guidance into 4 parts and I will post them individually but link to them from this post.

  1. Social Media Policy
  2. Guidance – Section 1 – Personal and Professional responsibilities
  3. Guidance  – Section 2 – Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios
  4. Guidance – Section 3 – Key things to consider before getting involved and useful contacts

As before, feel free to adapt but please acknowledge the source.

Social Media Policy

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

Social Media Policy

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

‘Social media‘ is the term commonly given to web-based tools which allow users to interact with each other in some way – by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests online. As the name implies, social media involves the building of online communities or networks to encourage participation and engagement.

This includes blogs, message boards, social networking websites (such as facebooktwitter, bebo, MySpace), content sharing websites (such as flickr, YouTube) and many other similar online channels.

These platforms open up many new and exciting opportunities. However, the practical application of such technology by councils is in its infancy and there are many potential issues to consider – both as individual employees and as an organisation.

To avoid major mistakes and turning a well meant social media experiment into a reputational disaster it is important that we manage any potential risks through a common-sense approach and framework as well as proactively monitoring the development of such applications.

These guidelines aim to provide managers and individual employees with information to consider before participating in or developing any new social media application and to help them get the best out of the tools available whilst maintaining a safe professional environment  and protecting themselves as well as the organisation.

Social Media Guidance – Section One: Personal and professional responsibilities

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

Section One: Personal and professional responsibilities

This details personal and professional responsibilities for the participation in or use of social media as part of your job or whenever you identify yourself in a professional capacity as a DCC employee.

1. Personal use of social media

Whether or not an individual chooses to create or participate in an online social network or any other form of online publishing or discussion is his or her own business. The views and opinions you express are your own.

As a council employee it is important to be aware that posting information or views about the council can not be isolated from your working life. Any information published online can, if unprotected, be accessed around the world within seconds and will be available for all to see and will contribute to your Online Digital Footprint[1].

  • Remember you are personally responsible for any content you publish.
  • Understand your online privacy settings – Check your settings and understand who can see the information you publish and your personal information.
  • All DCC employees should be aware of and follow DCCs general Employee Code of Conduct.
  • All DCC employees should be aware of and follow the Information Security Policy
  • If you do talk about the work you do or a DCC service you are associated with, you should make it clear that you are speaking for yourself and not on behalf of DCC.  Use a disclaimer such as: “The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the County Council.”
  • Do not let your use of social media interfere with your job and always access in your own time. See guidelines on Using County Council Websites and the Internet and Private use of ICT


2.  Using social media as a DCC employee

Your relationship with social media changes as soon as you identify yourself as a County Council employee, speak in any kind of professional capacity or seek to deploy social media on council business.

In such circumstances there are certain responsibilities, standards of behaviour and other organisational considerations which apply. Remember, you are the public face of the council and should participate in the same way as you would with other media or public meetings or forums.

Always remember that participation online results in your comments being permanently available and open to being republished in other media.

You should also be aware that you may attract media interest in yourself or the organisation, so proceed with care whether you are participating in a business or a personal capacity. If you have any doubts, take advice from your line manager and/or the Corporate Communications Unit.

2.1       Participation as an employee or professional capacity

As an employee, you must take the following into consideration when using social media:

  • You are personally responsible for any content you publish so be mindful that it is in the public domain and on the record for a long time.
  • If you wish to participate as a Council employee you should clearly identify yourself and your role. Make it clear whether you are acting in your professional capacity – and remember, even if you do not intend to, your professional role or status as a DCC employee will affect the way you and the organisation are perceived and therefore brings certain responsibilities.
  • Be aware of your association with DCC in online spaces. If you identify yourself as a DCC employee, ensure your profile and related content is consistent with how you wish to present yourself with colleagues and customers.
  • Be professional. Make sure you are always seen to act in an honest, accurate, fair and responsible way at all times.
  • Be aware of your language and conduct. The rules governing staff conduct such as the Acceptable Behaviour and Equality and Diversity policies still apply.Also, as in all publishing, you should be aware of issues such as libel, defamation and slander.
  • Never share confidential or sensitive information. You should know and follow the Information Security Policy. You have a unique inside track so be aware of the rules on data protection and financial regulations.
  • Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. DCC’s brand is best represented by its people and what you publish will reflect on the wider organisation.
  • Tell your line manager. If you wish to participate in a professional capacity it may be best to discuss with your line manager first. Always alert your manager or the Corporate Communications Unit early if you think you may have made a mistake.


2.2 Acting on behalf of the organisation or as part of your job

It is important to remember that there is a human cost in using social media as an employee or in a professional capacity. Social Media is about the social connections and conversations we have with our customers, peers and friends. To gain the maximum value from these tools, you should look to foster relationships and therefore you will need to acknowledge and understand the commitment and investment of time in building and developing sustainable online relationships with people.

  • Understand the resources available to you to maintain and foster sustainable relationships.
  • Get official backing. Ensure you have the full approval and support of your line manager before any official deployment of social media. Ideally, also alert the Corporate Communications Unit of your intentions.
  • Be professional. Always remember that you are an ambassador for the organisation. Always disclose your position as a representative of the County Council, your department or team. Anything you publish will reflect directly on the council as a whole.
  • Purpose and outcomes. Make sure you think through why you are deploying social media and what outcome you wish to achieve. For example, if you are inviting public responses then think through how you will make use of the results and how this fits in with other forms of consultation. Ask yourself is social media appropriate for this activity?
  • Assess any risks. Think through any potential risks and make sure you have plans in place to manage and mitigate these.
  • Respect your target audience. Think about their specific needs and be aware of any language, cultural or other sensitivities you may need to take account of.
  • Ask and seek permission to publish any information, report or conversation that is not already in the public domain. Do not cite or reference customers, partners or suppliers without their approval.
  • Respect copyright when linking to images or other online material.
  • Always stay within the legal framework and be aware that data protection, financial regulations apply.
  • Monitoring and evaluation. Make sure you have a plan for how you intend to monitor and evaluate the success of your activity.

[1] A Digital Footprint is the data trace or trail left by someone’s activity in a digital environment. Digital Footprints are the capture in an electronic fashion of memories and moments and are built from the interaction with the Internet, World Wide Web, Mobile Web and other Digital devices.

Social Media Guidance – Section Two: Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

Section Two: Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios

To undertake your duties in this online space there are several different roles you may find yourself in. Sometimes these roles may be combined but more often you will be acting in a distinct capacity. Below are the types of role you may be asked to undertake and some common-sense guidance to help you fulfil this role.

1. Contributor/Participant


This is often the most familiar role in the online space – you are participating in online discussions, networks and forums simply as a participant. You neither own or lead these discussions and should have equal voice as other participants. You are contributing to add value to the discussion in a relevant way. Please be aware that discussions, debate and at the more extreme end, argument all magnify strength of opinion so it is important to understand that what you say and the way you say it. It will directly reflect upon the mood of the discussion and the reaction of people within it. Be professional and show respect.

Guidance and Tips:

  • Avoid getting into an argument or inflaming a discussion
  • Understand the impact of your participation / contribution
  • Are children or vulnerable people involved and will you be interacting with them?

2. Broadcaster/Publisher


Your role is to simply provide or promote some form of information to an audience. To do this effectively you must be accurate, fair, thorough and clear in the information you provide. The rules of Accessibility and Plain English should apply. It is also a common oversight to forget to ensure that if you provide information or generate awareness through broadcast you must also provide a method or route for people to find out more or enquire about the information provided. If this is yourself make sure that you are set-up to manage this response. If it is someone else then ensure that they are aware that this is the case and they understand the information you have broadcast.

Guidance and Tips:

  • You must have buy-in from the organisation
  • Making the commitment to maintaining the accuracy an updating of this information
  • Ensure that there is a clear and resourced ‘return path’ for people to enquire or respond to your information.
  • Understand the restrictions of your chosen tool. For example twitter restricts you to 140 characters, if you wish people to “retweet” your information allow space for this to occur.

3. Lead Spokesperson


A lead spokesperson may start, lead or participate in a discussion but in this role you must accept the full responsibility as THE voice of the Council on the matters you are called on to discuss. It is therefore important to understand the impact of your position and the accuracy and rationality of your comments in an online space. You will be held to account for them either by your employer, the media or the public. Be professional. Be Responsible. Be credible. Most importantly never say anything that you cannot substantiate and avoid commenting on things that you are not spokesperson for (i.e.: if you are the Lead Spokesperson for Highways then it would be best you did  not speak about Council issues relating to Child Protection, that is unless you are the Lead Spokesperson for this aswell!)

Guidance and Tips:

  • Let the Press Office know
  • Are you the right person or is someone better placed to do this?
  • Have you attended the internal media training course?

4. Community Management (Moderator/Facilitator)


A Moderator/facilitator is one of the most important and difficult roles to undertake. You should not underestimate the time needed to encourage, grow and create valuable online discussion or communities.

Forum moderators are not police officers

The biggest mistake forum or discussion owners make when taking on forum moderators is expecting them to police the community. Many see the main role of moderators as enforcers of the site rules, as people who delete posts they don’t like and lock topics the moment they run off-course. If these are the priorities of your moderators, you are doing it all wrong.

The primary role of a forum moderator should be to promote interaction. A forum moderator should be posting new threads and adding new content to the site. They should be helping out members with their queries and they should be keeping threads alive by asking questions. That is not to say that forum moderators shouldn’t be allowed to delete or lock threads that are inappropriate – of course this should be one of their roles. But this should never be their primary role.

How to effectively moderate forums and online discussions

Why forum moderation is necessary

If you don’t moderate your forum it can be overwhelmed with spam and abusive posts – this is the primary reason why you should ensure all the forums you run have some degree of moderation. Spam and abusive posts are detrimental to your online community – you must moderate your forums to prevent irreversible damage from taking place.

Why moderation should be taken seriously

Many forum moderators will often delete comments they disagree with, or members they suspect of spamming, then think nothing else of it. This is a mistake.

Forum moderation, if done incorrectly, can be worse than having no moderation at all. Over-zealous moderation can result in members ending up feeling alienated and angry when they find their posts or accounts deleted for no understandable reason.

A community relies on its members – before you take decisive action against yours, make sure you are making the right decision.

How to avoid conflict when moderating

It is essential that your online community has a set of rules, parameters or guidelines for your members to follow.

Before you have to take action against a member, you should always contact them and try to get them to remove or edit the post themselves by referring them to the rule you feel they have broken.

In this way, you are making your site user feel far more valued on a personal level – this is far preferable to the member simply returning one day to find their post(s) or account deleted.

The key to effective forum moderation

You should only edit the accounts or posts of your members as a last resort.

If you are unhappy with any content they have created, speak directly and confidentially to that person.

This way, you will not end up alienating your community – they will respect you far more as a moderator and will feel far more valued as a member of your community.

Each online community will be unique and will develop its own “rhythm”, you may feel that the community is inactive when in fact it could be in a quiet phase within its cycle. Good community managers learn the unique rhythms of their communities and contribute, encourage and foster participation at the right times.


Guidance and Tips:

  • Special needs of the audience
  • Are children or vulnerable people involved


5. Forum Administrator

A forum administrator may indeed fulfil some of the advanced roles of the Moderator however if we separate the facilitation and moderation of the content of the site from the administration of the forum in terms of it being up to date, technical issues, adding or deleting accounts, routing general enquiries and ensuring the structure and the technical/functional integrity of the site remains intact then this can be seen as an administrative role. A Moderator/Facilitator is NOT an administrative role as it is responsible for the content and its integrity on the site/forum and is therefore a highly evolved role.