Using social media right requires a certain skill set… and it’s not just knowing about the tools and how they work, it’s about having a social mindset and knowing how to manage issues and foster engagement online.

While many organisations will (where budget permits) engage a creative digital agency to establish a social media strategy or get them started, there are great examples out there of organisations that started small and upskilled their staff to manage their social media presence.

My employer – the Australian Government Department of Human Services – is a good example of how organisations can create a skilled social media team in-house. 

Joining the conversation

We started using social media in 2009, using freely available tools like Hootsuite and Social Mention to monitor what was being said about us online.

As the government department responsible for providing access to social, health and other payments and services, we touch the lives of almost every Australian.

When we noticed many people asking questions about our payments and services in popular online forums and communities, like Whirlpool and BubHub, we saw an opportunity to join the conversation and provide helpful answers.

We used the feedback from customers in these forums to continually improve and refine our approach. We learned having a clear answer upfront, using plain English, and providing links to further information were important. Also, tone can be everything.

Expanding into social media

Around the same time we also set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for our department’s primary spokesperson, Hank Jongen, as a way for him to build relationships in a changing media landscape.

Our team was able to assist him by developing proactive ‘good news’ stories that were suited for social media and alert him to issues that may appear on his accounts.

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We used these experiences to establish social media accounts for our customers and now have five on Facebook, six on Twitter, one on Google+ and one on YouTube. We monitor our accounts 7 days a week between 9am and 5pm.

We now answer between 200 to 1500 customer queries per week and some of our social media messages reach up to 1.5 million people.

Ongoing training

As well as on-the-job learning, we’ve done specialist training to ensure our staff have the right skills to do their jobs well.

Our legal team organises a workshop once a year where we learn about legal and privacy issues and then we work through scenarios as a group to practice how we would manage and respond to these.

We’ve also had online community management training to learn how we can foster engagement on our accounts and manage difficult discussions.

Skilling our own staff is more cost effective than outsourcing our social media activities and after all, who knows your business better than your own staff?

 My top 5 tips for skilling your staff to be social media experts

1. Start by identifying the strengths and skills already within your team and arrange informal training sessions to share these. We’ve done this to help build a lot of our practical skills like best ways to monitor social media.

2. Regularly evaluate your social media approach to identify where you might need to build your expertise. Look at best practice examples or engage in an expert to deliver this training.

3. Share your lessons and wins within your team. It’s great to try new things – sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. Keep a record of what works well (and what to avoid) to keep evolving your approach.

4. Start small and build up. It’s easy to launch new social media accounts, it’s not so easy to manage them, especially if you don’t have the resources!

5. Consult experts. We regularly work with legal, privacy, HR and IT security experts to deliver training or help our team manage issues.

Find out more

You can find more information about the department’s social media presence at humanservices.gov.au/socialmedia

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