A blog about digital government, communications, citizen satisfaction & engagement, GovDelivery, and other e-government issues

google_plus_logoGuest Post by Dan Slee

Ladies and gentlemen, I admit it. Google+ is starting to become a contender for comms people. 

Yes, it’s true that it has only a percentage of the users that Facebook has. But when the bottom line of that percentage is 230 million that’s a significant figure.

It’s also true that some people have been evangelising about what Google+  can do for a long time. For a quick catch-up try Stephen Waddington herehere and here.

As someone who dodged the hype of the ill-feted Google Wave I hung back when Google+ was launched as a local government comms person. A couple of things have made me re-think things.

Firstly, there is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Google+ page that has racked-up more than 200,000 likes. Shane Dillon has been a real evangelist for the platform and as one of the pioneers he deserves credit and wrote a fine post on the page here.

Secondly, there was a hugely fascinating chat with Shane as well as community web evangelist John Popham, Leah Lockhart from Scottish local government and Phil Rumens from localgov digital who wrote this fine post on what it can offer. That chat really offered up some insight.

Thirdly, there’s the Birmingham City Council Google+ page with more than 24,000 users. That moves the bar from being a global brand thing and one that my corner of local government can take a look at.

So, in Janet and John terms, what’s Google +?

For me, it’s an intelligent Facebook without the farms or a slightly longer Twitter. It’s ad free for now. It’s a place to start a discussion or share a link, a video clip or an image. When you start an account you can create circles where people from different interests can be placed so you can more easily drink from the firehose of information.

When you have your own account you can then create a page that acts in the same sort of way that a Facebook page does for the Google+ community.

So how has this big corporation attempt at social sneaked-up up on us all?

The reality is that since it was launched in summer 2011 there has been a devoted list of people who have been using it and enjoying. Niche perhaps at first but they’re growing and as Google+ develops and keeps adding features that are rather useful those numbers will grow.

Many were sceptical at Google’s record in the field. Great tech but poorly presented. Besides, this felt like a top-down invention from big business rather than something that emerged from a start-up’s bedroom. The counter argument is that neither Facebook or Twitter are exactly small business these days.

Cadbury-Dan Slee Blog

Where are the good examples?

When I asked the question 12-months ago there were few if any pages that you could look at and feel as though new ground was being made. But here are three good pages.

With more than 3.2 million followers (or maybe they’re likers? Or plus-ers?) the Cadbury page  is witty, imaginative and engaging. It’s a soft sell. There is sharable content aimed at people who like chocolate. Look hard enough and you’ll see the purple and white branding.

Furniture made out of chocolate photographed and posted, for example.

Odd as though it may sound, amongst the corporate pages there’s a rather lovely example from little business too. Ladders Online are a company that supply extra big ladders. Their page features content of inappropriate ladders badly positions and other trade advice. If ladders can be made to be engaging what is the rest of us waiting for?

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office page for me is the gold standard. There’s senior buy-in. There’s updates from the Minister and good content.

Birmingham City Council’s Google+ page went into orbit after Google reached out and made contact, verifying it and then promoting it. As I understand it from Guy Evans, the council’s social media officer, content is linked to Facebook.

When the Shropshire Family Information Service wanted to reach more more they chose Google+ as a way to do it. More knackered dads use the platform that knackered mums and elsewhere North Yorkshire County Council are starting to make some sense of it while Toronto Police used the Google hangout functionality to livestream a press conference here. In New Mexico in the US Governor Gary Johnson staged a hangout with some residents. 

Birmingham City Council-Dan Slee BlogWhat’s good about Google+

  1. Google juice. There’s extra brownie points in the search rankings for a link from Google+.  For the most part, my corner of local government doesn’t have to stress too much about such things as SEO (that’s search engine optimisation, the art of getting a website up the Google search rankings.) But for micro-sites and other projects this is rather good.
  2. Google hangouts. Back in the day video conferencing was an expensive business. With Google hangouts there is built-in video conferencing between users and the ability to run it via YouTube to larger audiences.
  3. It’s not got adverts. A refreshing change after spending time on the hyper-targeted world of Facebook. Google makes it’s money via search, mainly so doesn’t need to spam users just yet.
  4. Images and video. Realising that good images get shared it’s clear that they’ve put images at the heart of things. You post a link and the image gets posted prominently to catch the eye.
  5. How to use it is largely a white piece of paper. Because it’s new it’s not blighted by people who claim to know what they’re doing and where you’re going wrong. 

What’s bad about Google+

  1. There aren’t the numbers of Facebook or Twitter. They have big numbers but not really, really big numbers.
  2. The mobile apps aren’t great. Certainly the Android app is a bit clunky for pages although this may change.
  3. It’s 50-50. Blogs knocking it sometimes seem equally balanced with those gushingly praising it.
  4. Anyone can add your personal profile to their circles. So be careful about dissing your boss thinking you are behind a walled garden. You’re not. There are some excellent comments on this theme on this blog post here.
  5. It doesn’t have the stickiness of Facebook. People don’t stay on it for long. Just three minutes or so a month in this study compared to more than seven hours with Facebook.

In the changing landscape, Google+ is now a feature. It’ll be interesting to see how this develops.

Huge thank you to Mike Downes for contributing to a Google+ discussion asking for good examples and to Leah LockhartPhil RumensShane Dillon and John Popham for their continuing inspiration.

To read the original post, click here.

Last week, Kristy Fifelski, known as “GovGirl”, shared tips and tools for government organizations looking to take their social media efforts to the next level in a GovDelivery-sponsored webinar titled “You’re On Social Media…Now What?”. The upbeat presentation provided useful ideas beyond the simple how-to’s of setting up a social media presence, offering actionable tactics for government organizations looking to expand social media efforts to reach new audiences, better connect with existing audiences, and create real value through content that citizens care about.

Key takeaways for the audience included ways to engage citizens to get views, likes and comments, how to respond to negative users and downbeat comments, and tips for successful ongoing management of government social media. For those unable to join us for the event, here is a countdown of the top eight ways government can give their social media presence a boost.

8 ) Review social media policies. It is never too late to draft your organization’s social media policy, and if you have previously created one, it is a good idea to update your policy to help clarify best practices in using new or updated social media tools. Be sure the policy identifies who is authorized to post and when they should be posting information. Clear up any vague terms around who is authorized and responsible for creating content and how they should identify themselves on social media platforms, including on their own accounts. Do not forget about staff and elected officials that represent your agency. Those that feel comfortable with social media may not be aware of the need to align their social media presence with your agency’s online image. Within your policy, clear terms can help protect your agency, inform users of your social media channels about acceptable use, and invoke your ethics policy within your social media policy.

7) Repeat and reinforce staff training. Sit down with your staff and review training beyond basic procedures and be sure to include elected officials. Employees will need a regular review of best practices – train early, and train often. Teach employees how to engage using social media beyond using automated tools. Relying on automation to deploy content can alienate citizens and make your content boring. Having a “conversation quality” to your tweets and posts encourages your audience to interact and add to the dialogue. You can create this quality by directing employees to create custom content and reply to users that get involved in the conversation.

regulations.gov tweets

Automated social media results in repetitive, unrelatable content



Staff-generated content invites citizens into the conversation


6) Expand to new channels. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, have you thought about Google+, Quora or Pinterest? Google+ is relatively new but is quickly becoming a more viable tool for engaging with a new and expanding audience with the addition of brand pages. Quora is a social question-and-answer tool that can allow your organization to pose questions and receive answers from citizens. The answers can be ranked and voted up or down, allowing your agency to “crowd source” solutions. You may not connect with the bulk of your constituents, but it can be an interesting way to get a new perspective on the public’s viewpoint. Pinterest is a visual social tool that allows users to share images that interest them, which can be useful for your organization if you have a highly visual story to tell.

5) Integrate – EVERYWHERE! Include icons and links to your social platforms on organization websites, emails and digital communications. Twitter provides tools that allow you to share your Twitter account and feeds right on your website and even allows you to set up widgets for others to use and share your feeds on their websites and blogs.

multi-tweet visual

How the State of California integrates multiple Twitter feeds on its website

Include links to all of your accounts – Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn – and cross-reference each of these platforms across your multiple accounts. For example, write about your Facebook on your Twitter, and write about your Twitter on your LinkedIn page. Encourage visitors to “like” related agencies and their social media accounts, too!

social media cross-links

Include cross-links to social media accounts across your website

4) Incorporate mainstream references. Including things that citizens enjoy, relate to and are paying attention to will enhance citizen connection and interaction with government social media. Tying pop culture references like movies and TV shows to your content can direct new users to your content in an entertaining way. The CDC blog used the popularity of zombies to promote disaster preparedness awareness, and received so much attention that the website crashed!

3) Solve real problems that people are frustrated about. The so-called “Negative Nelly” draws attention to a problem that they feel is being ignored. Your social media response creates an opportunity to personally addressing citizen frustrations, change perception on public administration and public service, and create a real return on investment in government social media efforts. For example, a tweet from a citizen frustrated about construction affecting their family business exposes an opportunity to form a win-win plan to redirect traffic to their establishment. Use your social media platforms to acknowledge the information you receive from citizens and follow up when you investigate the issue. Residents will be surprised when you are actually able to solve their problem and may even share the good experience with your agency over the same social media channel they used for the initial complaint!

City of Reno Twitter feed

City of Reno Uses Twitter to Respond to Real Citizen Concerns

2) Plan for emergencies. Social media is incredibly important in emergency situations because it offers an outlet for real-time, instant communication with the public. Develop and document a social media approach in case of emergencies, and practice the procedure before a real emergency happens. Government webmasters and managers in charge of social media channels should have a seat in Emergency Operation Centers to integrate communication efforts with other government functions and be a direct part of the response effort. Government-run social media can broadcast corrections to misinformation, create an official hashtag to distinguish information on the emergency situation, and respond to social media users sharing out-of-date information.

1) Celebrate success! Management and officials need to be informed and understand the value of social media. Demonstrate real problems you have solved using social media (see tip #3) and how social media has positively affected the public’s perception of your department, no matter how small the success. Forwarding positive feedback to department heads or individuals in charge of department-wide communication is a great way to share the impact of social media interactions. Help public officials see that allocating resources to social media is a good decision and creates real solutions in the community.

If you have enjoyed these tips and want to find out more, check out Kristy’s website for more information. If you’d like to be notified of upcoming GovDelivery events or webinars, let us know at info@govdelivery.com. Also, you can view the webinar recording online and download the slide deck from Kristy’s presentation on SlideShare.

Have you applied any of these strategies to enhance your organization’s social media presence? What will be your next step to further leverage your social media efforts? Let us know what you think or celebrate your most recent social media success in the comments!


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