I updated this post 19 February to include more public servants recommended to me. Skip to the list.
Public servants the world over have been using social media (blogs, twitter, YouTube) for more than a decade.
Putting a policeman or diplomat on twitter is no longer innovative. However, the attention these profiles receive, and their quality and impact seems to ebb and flow.
Political changes, high profile mistakes and a need to demonstrate change in an organisation all contribute to this.
Since 2009 I’ve followed and worked with lots of public servants on social media, of all grades and from all services and departments.
Lately I’ve felt that attention has been building again. In the public sector communities I inhabit online, and the projects we receive at work, there’s been more references and demands for help to encourage, or discourage, staff from using social media in a personal, professional, capacity.
Unfortunately, with increased attention seems to come less impressive examples of public servants online, and more of them.
One thing I’ve learned in the past 9 years is that setting up programmes to encourage staff to use social media in this way is the easy part. Lots of well meaning digital teams bring their leadership and behind-the-scenes experts to social media, creating volume, but often with short-lived impact.
This is particularly unfortunate because while more and more public servants are appearing online with varying success, the gap between the majority and the very best of these, has widened considerably.
In 2018, a public servant on social media has to use it really well in order to be credible.
What’s the criteria for a really great public servant on social media? For the purposes of our training programmes I’ve been giving some thought to a little points system. I’m not usually a fan of this approach, but public servants are a competitive bunch. This approach has landed well with those whom we have challenged.
- Basic entry criteria: Must be a real person, running their own account (as far as we can tell)
- Frequency of posting = 1 pt
- The quality of their response (does it answer the question or continue the conversation or provide relevant info?) = 1pt
- Extra credit, for example responding to a difficult question = 2pt
- Remove credits for = avoiding talking about live issues, linking to information that could easily be blogged or tweeted, using twitter when the debate is happening elsewhere
Note that regular conversations are a given here. This is deliberately weighted against those channels which post regular grip and grins or diary reports.
Susan Acland-Hood, CEO of HMCTS
For my money, the best UK public servant online right now. Tackling tricky questions head on and using social media as it was intended.
Lynne Owens, Director General, National Crime Agency
Sets the standard for the rest of the organisation in terms of personal, professional activity on social media. Lots of passion for the job and commentary, which makes this really authentic.
John Curtin, Executive Director, Flood and Coastal Risk Management, Environment Agency
One of many examples from the Environment Agency. I’ve been following John for a while and know that you’ll find him posting through the best and worst of times for his organisation, which is what makes his activity so credible.
Leigh Turner, Ambassador to Austria, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
I enjoy Leigh’s blogs. They’re an all too rare example of blogging that reads like it is coming from someone who wants to blog, rather than who feels they ought to.
Vice Admiral Woodcock, Second Sea Lord
As recommended to me by Alex Schillemore. There’s a lot of promotional tweets in this timeline, but that’s to be expected. What makes this stand out for me is the informal language and willingness to get into discussions, all of which mean it stands out as the activity of a real person rather than a comms team or private office.
Jo Miller, Chief Executive, Doncaster Council
Should need no introduction after this epic piece of engagement with BBC Radio 2.
Clearly this isn’t exhaustive, and only my personal snapshot. I’d love to hear suggestions of other public servants – particularly those who might score highly for shunning twitter and going where there audience are.
I’m updating a longer list of tweeting public servants, but for that reason I’d like to keep adding to this post too.
Most important of all, I’d like to see a really constructive debate about what constitutes an effective use of social media in a personal, professional capacity, in the hope we can raise the bar.