Social Media in the Public Sector: Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Yesterday, I enjoyed the opportunity to present to the Conference Board of Canada’s Public Sector Social Media Conference. The session was co-hosted with Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who shared an insider, executive-level perspective on VIA Rail’s gutsy and extremely successful social media campaign led by its @VIA_Rail customer service presence on Twitter.

Clearly, social media is a game changer for organizations and there is a strong appetite to learn about how to harness its uncanny power without becoming unhinged by its force and inherent risks.

My contribution to the Conference was simple – to highlight that sound principles and practices of strategic communications planning are of particular importance when embarking on social media initiatives. (You can check out my Prezi presentation here).

Social media has an interesting tendency to create a sort of tactical tunnel vision among communicators and organizational leaders – so often, the urge to get involved creates a “shoot first, aim later” mentality which is more about doing something – anything – with social media, rather than to carefully consider the initiative’s purpose, resourcing and intended outcomes.

Ten years ago, communicators used to lament that their internal masters would decree “I need a brochure” and the communications team then became relegated to the status of order taker, rather than being a strategic contributor. It strikes me that social media may be today’s new “brochure” – which makes it a unique opportunity for communicators to add real value and leadership to our organizations by contributing a strategic and disciplined perspective on social media.