Civil servants should be assessed for social media skills, not just TV and radio

I welcome any change that tasks more civil servants to speak publicly about their work, whether they’re being asked to account for something that’s happened, or explain a policy.

Civil servants can bring a greater level of credibility to Government communications than Ministers. For example, economists, chief scientists and medical officers are better able to explain complex issues to discerning audiences.

Social media continues to offer senior public figures great opportunities to communicate – and there are many who do this well, including Lynne Owens at the National Crime Agency.

So it seems strange that the UK Home Office is choosing to determine the suitability of senior candidates based on their potential performance on TV and radio, but not their confidence to communicate online.

In all likelihood the senior civil service candidates the Home Office are recruiting will find themselves under scrutiny on TV or radio, defending something. This much is acknowledged in their tender for ‘media’ assessments. But Home Office staff will also be under scrutiny online, in the places where people discuss the headlines they’re reading, where they speculate, ask additional questions and seek advice from other sources.

The web will also be the first place that new problems and criticisms are first raised, and also where voices of support and alternative views might be found.

So why focus on TV and radio interviews?

TV and radio communications isn’t really working out loud.

TV and radio can’t provide the same speed of response.

To harness TV and radio relies on lots and lots of experience, training and confidence, as well as all the opportunities in the first place.

TV and radio can’t even guarantee reach, that hoary old metric, which sounds great on paper but delivers so little.

Good online communication skills can provide all of the above, and more. Discussion. Engagement. A conversation, if you will.

So why focus on TV and radio interviews?

 

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