Best use of social media (public sector) 2011

Social Media Awards 2011

Best use of social media (public sector)

In this category we want the most innovative uses of social media and what impact they’ve had. This category is for the best use of social media in the public sector. Some examples are that the project could be using social media as a delivery method for a wider marketing campaign or it could be the implementation of social media across the company.

In this part:

Digital Engagement for Independent Review of IP & Growth

- Background

In November 2010, the Prime Minister announced the Independent Review of Intellectual Property and Growth led by Professor Ian Hargreaves.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) assembled a Review Team to support this work, which included developing an overall communications plan led by James Thomson.

Early on in the planning stages, Hargreaves requested that we develop a blog as part of the overall package of communications activity to be used before, during and after the review.

- Objective

The objective of the blog was to engage with stakeholders in a transparent and honest way during the evidence gathering stage of the review.  This enabled citizens (stakeholders) to be able to reach out / communicate with the IP Review team quickly, easily and at no cost, to make sure their view were heard or their question/concerns were answered.

- The plan

To achieve this we set up a dedicated social media team to develop a webpage and social media channel for the Review.

- Why this nomination should win

We believe that the IPO’s use of a dedicated social media channel for a government commissioned independent review (consultation) was a first.

Positive feedback was received throughout the Review via Twitter, IP Review blog, verbal comments and external media coverage and influential bloggers.  This included feedback from key stakeholders and the IP community.

Tweets by the IP Review Team were re-tweeted widely, and at its peak (publication), the keywords (Hash tags) “#ipreview” and “#hargreaves” were ‘trending’ in the UK (Top 10 most tweeted about topic(s)).

Foster carers support each other with Yammer

Our objectives:

  • To improve communication between the council and foster carers;
  • To empower foster carers by giving them a space to share practice;
  • To save the foster care team money on newsletters/meetings/other forms of communication.

Our foster care team had a request from carers to create what they described as an 'online bulletin board'. We felt that in order to give foster carers relevant and useful support in their jobs we needed a more open dialogue with foster carers and a place where the officers and foster carers could have an informal space to chat and get to know each other better as people. A channel less static than a website and with a sense of community would get foster carers comfortable talking about often sensitive and difficult subjects.

Cost and time of developing a website was dismissed in favour of the use of a Yammer community – a private group where each member needs to be invited to join. It is free to use and gives foster carers a way to privately discuss issues.

As a council we were already using Yammer for a social form of internal communications and this network for foster carers is hosted by the Monmouthshire Council network but as a separate, private area.

It was felt that foster carers need to buy in to the project. The communications officer leading the project presented to the county’s foster carers, showing how it would work and what it could be used for. Foster carers said they felt they had few ways of contacting the authority and after the presentation all were in favour of using the Yammer community - they showed great enthusiasm.

All foster carers were invited and council officers and the communications officer leading the project posted polls, questions and information to get conversation flowing. 

Foster carers said that they appreciated being asked about using the site and activity grew quickly.  It is now a self-sustaining group and very little input is needed from the communications officer.
This was the first use of Yammer for a project of this kind in the UK.

What goes on in the group:

  • Information: the newsletter gets posted there so people can easily read it on their phones on computers in their own time.
  • Questions: like 'has mileage gone up to 45p?' and 'does anyone know where to get school uniform jumpers?' and 'I look after a three year old who is prone to waking in the nights and wandering around the house - Has anyone any experience of this and what is the best solution?' They are answered by staff and fellow fosterers.
  • Polls: for example on where the best place for a meeting and what suits people most.
  • Conversations: about things foster carers care about e.g. “Okay, so how many kids need to pass through our lives before we become acclimatised and it gets easy to move them on?”

It's been heartening to see how supportive foster carers are of each other and how much knowledge they have to share.

Idea Street

Put simply, the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) internal crowdsourcing platform, Idea Street, is helping to revolutionise the way the Department and the Government interacts with its staff and the public.

The challenge was to encourage staff not only to crowdsource new ideas, but also to work together to drive those ideas forward to implementation. The project had to find a means to engage a broad cross-section of staff, and appeal to their intrinsic motivation to devote their own time to make change happen.

DWPs Innovation Team decided to use a social media platform (Spigit) and introduce game mechanics to design an online marketplace where people present and “trade” ideas.

When an idea is posted on the site it goes through three stages:

  • Buzz –  if an idea receives support from other users it will progress to the next stage. This relies on being social – you need to encourage others to comment and vote on your idea.
  • Teaming – the person who has put forward the suggestion uses a profile directory and leaderboards of innovators to find the team who will help them take the idea forward.
  • Investment Time – an idea is “floated” on the Idea Market and anyone can buy and sell shares using DW Peas, a virtual currency. The idea is also developed into a light business case and presented to an investment board which will decide if it should be implemented
  • The most successful ideas result in changes to DWP’s policies or services.

Idea Street was initially launched as a beta to 8 people, but has spread virally through peer networks - staff receive credits for recruiting new members and within DWP there are now more than 6500 people playing the game. Between them they have lodged more than 1,800 ideas on how to save money and improve services to customers and staff.  Over 70 of these ideas have already resulted in business and policy changes as well as savings of £20 million in DWP alone.

Ideas include:

  • A ban on first class travel and cutting down on travel costs by increasing the use of video and teleconferencing
  • Saving on printing costs by switching to Duplex printing and avoiding prints of in-house magazines.
  • Promoting the use of shared meeting rooms across government departments to save money on external meeting facilities.

The game has proven to be very engaging, with participation rates much higher than traditional social media channels. It also provides a way for all staff to be engaged – you don’t have to come up with the idea yourself, but can contribute by voting, commenting, or reviewing other ideas.

Idea Street itself has now been franchised across 10 other government bodies, with more than 12,000 users signed up across government.  There is also a citizen facing version, DotGovLabs, to crowdsource digital innovation.

Live Q&A Twitter sessions with cabinet members

We wanted to raise awareness of the role of the council and encourage participation in democracy.  We also wished to build the council's reputation as approachable and run by 'real people'.
Our aims:

  • Increase the level of engagement the council has on Twitter
  • Open channels of communication with hard-to-reach groups
  • Give councillors a better understanding of social media

We decided to run a live question & answer session with cabinet members via Twitter. Cabinet members can speak on behalf of the council and have insight to the issues in their portfolio, so they could handle a wide range of subjects. Cabinet members were advised they would need no technical skills and being open and expressing personal views would improve the reputation of the council.
Residents and partner agencies were asked to tweet questions to the cabinet members in the two weeks before the session – via the local press, twitter and the council blog itself. Residents not on Twitter could ask via the comment function on the blog. Residents were told to ask any question of the council.

For the live session, cabinet members operated from a room in the council headquarters. One of the cabinet members joined in from home via web cam. They answered questions that had been put to them in the previous two weeks, as well as questions received during the session via Twitter. The session was conducted in the evening to allow people who work during the day to take part. When we received a question, a communications officer typed their answers into a blog post and then tweeted a link to that answer to the person who asked.
You can read the questions and answers from the first two sessions here:

Cabinet members were encouraged by the communications officer to answer pulling in experiences from their own lives and from knowledge of the council.  The process of asking residents to ask by tweet and get answers by blog was a novel way of getting quick questions answered in some depth.
As a training session for members, this was an innovative ‘real-life, real-time’ way of learning the mechanics of social media and the power of communicating in an informal and succinct way without management speak or council jargon.
The exercise showed staff and members how potent a tweet can be.  For example, we have a few ex-pat followers who have said they pass on information to their (non-tweeting) family members still living in the county. 


The deputy leader and leader of the council now tweet regularly and understand the medium as one for two-way dialogue, not just broadcast.

In the two sessions 232 mentions (including retweets) of the Q&A were tweeted.  In the week of each Q&A the councils’ overall Tweetlevel score rose from an average of 60 to a score of over 70 in both cases (with a particular improvement in the ‘engagement’ score category).

26 questions were answered in total with an entirely positive response from every resident who had their question answered.

Met Office - Social Media 'When it Matters'

This nomination deserves to win as the Met Office have used a range of integrated social media channels and IT to create a social community to help keep people safe and well, informed and educated about the weather across the UK and beyond when it matters.

The Met Office utilise Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and our blog to help keep people up to date about the latest weather so that they know what to expect and how best to deal with all that the British weather can throw at us as a nation.

The Met Office is a world leader in weather and climate services and through our social media channels, we’re reaching over 75,000 people every month so that we can explain our science and keep people up to date with the latest weather news.

Our @metoffice Twitter channel has 40,000 followers, and we are available to respond to weather queries 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so that our followers are only one tweet away from the latest weather information.  Our team of weather experts build engagement with our followers, making sure that they know everything from if they can hang their washing out, go walking on the moors or if there is severe weather expected.

Our blog – www.metofficenews.wordpress.com – which gets up to 2,500 visitors a day, helps us to dispel myths and provide balance on extreme weather stories in other parts of the media. These can often confuse or can even scare vulnerable people. Using the blog in association with Twitter and Facebook allows us to share more in depth messages integrating our social media with the suite of digital and traditional communication channels used by the Met Office.

During times of severe weather, we use social media for communicating messages quickly and raising awareness. When hurricane Katia crossed the Atlantic, reaching the UK as a post-tropical storm in September, we kept people up to date, day and night, though Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and our blog, Through our 24/7 twitter presence we were able to provide reassurance and updates on current conditions. Our messages were retweeted over 600 times, helping us to reach an even larger audience.

We produced and issued two YouTube forecasts directly from our forecasters to update audiences on the progress of the storm - these were promoted through our Facebook and Twitter accounts and were watched over 65,000 times. We also provided advice on staying safe in extreme windy weather via our blog.

This was integrated with our traditional media communications and online marketing plans to ensure maximum reach of our messages that would help to inform and educate our audiences as severe weather affected parts of the country.

Social care recruiting using YouTube

In order to give candidates an enhanced understanding of the vacant post, it was decided to provide communication that would give an in depth and informal insight than possible with a standard j0ob description.  The lead communications officer for social services developed a plan to create content that would be easier to share on internet networks using short YouTube videos.
Our target audience: professionals working in social care across the UK.

Four short clips were filmed

  • An introduction to Monmouthshire Social Care and Health Directorate from the potential boss
  • The current Head of Children's Services, talks about her last three years in the post and the pros and cons of the job.
  • A social worker, potential staff member,  describes what it's like working in Children's Services
  • Head of Adult Services, potential colleague, talks about her experience as a member of the Directorate Management Team.

It was decided that factors that would influence perception of a job were the culture of the organisation, the requirements of the job and the kind of people we would work with.
It was important to the social care team that the appointed candidate was happy in the job and could be retained for as long as possible.  To achieve this staff in the films were encouraged to be truthful about the positives and negatives to make sure candidates had an accurate picture.

For example, the post is a bit more 'hands-on' than it would be in many other larger authorities, and the previous person in the post, Tracy Allison, explains this in her video. This is worth knowing – of course the job is strategic but there are other responsibilities that might not be appealing to one person but would be a main draw for others.

The communications officer embedded the YouTube clips into the careers page. She then posted links on Twitter (with hashtags #socialcare and #social services) and Linkedin groups (Advanced Social Work Practice Network, Network for professionals working with vulnerable children and young people, Social Services UK, Social Work Network and The Social Care Network) to draw people's attention to the page. This was in addition to the more traditional methods of advertising but adverts pointed to the page with the videos too.

This nomination deserves to win as it uses social media in an innovative way to meet objectives (not using it for its own sake), to save money and to truly engage not just broadcast messages.

Screen grabs, videos and case study blog: http://helenreynolds.posterous.com/social-care-recruiting-using-social-media-how

South Yorkshire Police - Inspector Forrest

South Yorkshire Police has embraced the use of social media as a way of engaging with the communities of South Yorkshire.

Initially implemented during the Lib Dem Conference in March 2011 the use of social media played an important role in engaging with key nominals involved in protesting and was instrumental in key decisions being made in consultation with protestors. For example the route of the protest march was agreed ahead of the actual Conference. SYP was highlighted as using social media as best practice in book 'Intelligence Management' by Professor Dave Waddington, Hallam University.

Building on the success of the Conference social media now forms an established aspect of planning Police operations and activities. For example football matches, concerts and the recent teachers strikes as well as being adopted by operational members of staff to keep in touch with the communities they serve every day - updating members of the public about local issues in a timely way.
Inspector Jayne Forrest was recently invited to speak at the Blackberry Innovation Forum in London in October where she shared the experiences of SYP and demonstrated how social media is key as a tool to engage with communities responsively and quickly.

South Yorkshire Police with mobile social media on BlackBerry

A difficult year for police

2011 has been a turbulent year for British police, with summer riots and student protests. The Liberal Democrat party conference in Sheffield in March could easily have seen the same tensions; South Yorkshire Police were aware that over 5,000 protestors would be present. For the first time, police used social media beyond use on the ground to control the situation.

Exemplary protest control

A coordinated mobile social media campaign by South Yorkshire Police throughout the conference weekend meant that police at the scene were able to use social media in the form of the Facebook and Twitter apps for BlackBerry smartphones to reassure, respond to and engage directly with protestors and the general public. This helped to diffuse potential flash points with the result that only one arrest was made throughout the entire weekend.

Establishing a new communications channel

In order to establish a meaningful dialogue with protestors, police needed a way of communicating directly with them other than the usual megaphones.

Inspector Jayne Forrest established the Twitter hashtag #libdempolicing to facilitate the fast sharing of information and alert other police to issues. Police could use it to tweet status updates from their BlackBerry smartphones, which were then immediately re-tweeted by other police officers and picked up by protestors. Information spread instantly and police posted immediately to potential problem scenes.

Ability to monitor online discussions around the demonstrations meant that police could immediately correct any untrue rumours, often uploading photos on the move to dispel them with credible evidence. When demonstrators began to spread information accusing the police of posting snipers on roofs near the protest, police were able to immediately respond to let people know the police on the roofs were ordinary officers, not snipers. When protestors mistook the demonstration area that had been set up for a “kettling” setup, police were able to respond in real time from BlackBerrys to let them know that the area was actually a safe area for demonstrating. Aggression against the police turned into thanks for the information, and potential clashes were consequently avoided. When demonstrators uploaded images of flares and threats to use them, police responded immediately to remind them of the dangers and potential police action.

Into the future

Since the protests, the mobile social media techniques employed have continued to work well. Police find that any crowd includes several Twitter users, giving police a unique way to spread information to demonstrators via people at the centre of the action. Having previously struggled with crowds behind picket lines, finding a way to reach core protestors instantly and without confrontation has proved an invaluable method of peaceful engagement.

Real results

Inspector Forrest credits the fast responses afforded by mobile social media as a key part of helping Sheffield to escape the riots that hit London and other cities throughout the summer. Using facebook and Twitter from BlackBerries during the Liberal Democrat conference proved so successful that the force is rolling out Twitter and facebook on BlackBerry more widely, including training in usage. In addition to continued use around major events such as football matches, police often tweet (for example) about roadside dangers such as fallen trees to ensure safety information can be circulated quickly, as well as quickly sharing information on investigations on crimes such as stolen cars.

The Healthy Passport Club

NHS West Kent wanted a social networking system website to awareness about the importance of healthy living, diet and exercise and support healthy lifestyle behaviour changes. The project is part of the national Change4Life programme and the first site of its type.

The site, called The Healthy Passport Club, is now available to members of the public, staff, health care professionals and other key stakeholders in West Kent.

The key elements include:

• Secure log-in
• Profiles and status updates
• Document upload facility including personal photo albums, video, audio, podcast sharing
• Groups, blogs, forums
• Directory of services and activities
• Live messaging and mail
• Calendar
• Ability to target email correspondence to all users, feedback forms, questionnaires/pop‐up surveys
• Interactive passport for members to log their steps
• Calculator of activity to convert into steps around the world e.g. 30 minutes of dance = 4,740 steps, and 372,000 steps = distance to Paris. When targets are reached they are plotted on a map of the globe
• Step Tracker - activities/healthy-eating graphs to monitor progress
• Interactive five a day fruit and vegetable plates – e.g. click for portion sizes, ratio of vegetables, carbohydrates, protein
• Interactive snack swaps using a ‘swapathon’ wheel.


The Healthy Passport Club encourages people to eat well, move more and live longer and supports these changes through a website and variety of tools – social media is at the heart of the project.

By using the Healthy Passport Club, members can identify behaviours in their current lifestyle that could be changed, set goals and check-in dates and measure each small step of success. Every member has an online passport - a fun way to set goals and track their progress.

The idea behind the website was to help people collaborate and communicate their way to a healthier lifestyle. It is a ground-breaking project that uses social media and social media applications. A Facebook page and Twitter feed is managed by the NHS team to complement the Healthy Passport Club’s social network.

Netsite, who developed the site for NHS West Kent, had to create new ways of working. From the outside, the site looks simple to use but aspects like the passports, which are unique to each person who registers, were complex to develop.


The look and feel of the site was also important and the design needed to be fun and engaging, while complementing the national Change4Life programme.

At the beginning of April 2011, the Healthy Passport Club was launched with an Urban Blue Bus tour of West Kent and a day of dance at Royal Victoria Place, Tunbridge Wells, with celebrity dance group Taboo.

Support has come from a wide range of ‘Health Hero’ partners, such as Asda, Tesco,  leisure centres and dance studios, who are offering incentives and rewards to encourage people to start their journey.

Dr Marion Gibbon, Consultant in Public Health at NHS West Kent, said: "The Change4Life programme offers great opportunities for people to look at changes they can make to be healthier. Small changes can lead to a big difference."

Government Digital Service

The Government Digital Service is a new team within Cabinet Office tasked with transforming government digital services.

Established in response to Martha Lane Fox’s report, ‘Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution’ (download the PDF, 2.7MB), our core purpose is to ensure the Government offers world-class digital products that meet people’s needs.

There are two key implications of the strategy of Digital by Default which came out of the government’s response to Martha Lane Fox’s report. The first implication is that government itself needs to become digital in thinking in order to deliver services which are suitable for users. The second implication is that as digital by default comes into effect the scale of government service provision will grow dramatically and the quality and user centricity of major commercial internet properties should be our minimum goal. We aim to make the products and services built by GDS not just best in class, but stand shoulder to shoulder with the sort of digital experience that users come to expect from daily interaction with the giants of the web.

Our aim is to be the unequivocal owner of high quality user experience between people and government through being the architect and the engine room of government digital service provision.

Government service delivery is like a supertanker we must turn. We may not be able to fully fulfil our aims on all of the existing services for a multitude of reasons, however everything we start afresh will be built with this core ethos in mind.