Making social media happen in government: case study of NSW Department of Education


I’m at the launch meeting of the social media community of practice set up by Institute of Public Administration NSW (IPAA).

Earlier this year I gave the opening keynote on The Transformation of Government at IPAA’s annual conference, where I was encouraged to see the interest and appetite for new and more open approaches to government here. 

At the conference I wrote about the case study of Queensland Police, which is a great example of government bodies creating value through social media.

At today’s event Tracey Sen of the NSW Department of Education & Training (DET), which has 110,000 employees, presented on the Department’s social media initiatives. Here are a few live notes from the event. 

There are many, many opportunities for social media, so it’s important to identify what you want to achieve.
Barriers to engagement include loss of control, staff performance, ROI, brand reputation, security, and poor understanding. However the conversations are happening anyway, and staff are engaging on social media on mobile devices.

DET released a 12 point social media guideline to all staff earlier this year, based on discussions with staff, unions, and professional bodies. They created it by drawing on and adapting existing social media policies.

They have also released an excellent 16 page printed booklet called What staff need to know about social media & technology, as well as a very nice 4 minute video that runs through and illustrates the 12 points.

Once the policy was in place and staff were being educated on the issues, the executives started feeling far more comfortable providing more access to social media, including Facebook.

Coverage was very positive, including an article in Sydney Morning Herald called Facebook opened up to school teachers.

DET CEO Michael Coutts-Trotter embraced social media, including using Twitter and creating a number of YouTube videos. 

DET launched Yammer internally, and soon grew to 13,311 users, with the most active time Sunday evenings. One story is a teacher who had a new student who knew one word of English, who went to Yammer to ask for help and got significant useful advice from the network.

DET has now transitioned to SocialText, and have 13,640 users after 4 months. There are many groups, including on teaching topics such as maths.

They also use a range of free and commercial tools, including Radian6 and Google News to monitor conversations on schooling and education. 

They launched a parent resource program SchoolAtoZ, which includes a website, Twitter account, Facebook page, and a mobile app (both iPhone and Android though virtually all downloads have been iOS), which has been selected by Apple as a featured app.

There hasn’t been an emphasis on measuring return on investment, partly because it is so hard and there are other priorities, though they recognize that there is a cost, notably of staff time. There are three staff working on social media who are on rotation, including on weekends, though they also have other responsibilities.