It’s better for everyone – the brand, the customer and your organization.

I attended the biggest social media marketing conference in San Diego recently and its clear the tempo and direction of social media is changing. If you thought the digital age had been and gone, well you are gravely mistaken.

“This is the fastest change I’ve seen in social media in eight years.”

Michael Stelzner, Founder of Social Media Examiner and Social Media Marketing World and author of Launch

Social media is here to stay. Let’s establish that fact first. But more than that it is growing in prominence, relevance and even necessity for many organisations – public and private, for profit and not-for-profit.

Social media is not just for kids, for egotistical bloggers or for celebrities or big brands. It’s for everyone and in my own mind especially for public sector organisations. I believe social media is a fundamental way in which we communicate and is relevant to all industry sectors.

In the past year I’ve introduced social media strategies into policing, religious and educational organisations – none of which are interested in making profit. The core objective for each was to enhance their existing work and to align with their business goals through their channels of communication. Let me give you an example when I worked with the policing organisation they expressed the need to communicate with all their stakeholders on urgent messages and in real-time social media provided them with the perfect channel. Another example is educational organisations who wanted to appeal to prospective students by showcasing the experience of attending their college. They knew their target market and that social media is where they could have conversations with them.

There is no place for excuses in pursuing a social media strategy.

“You don’t have a choice of whether to do social; it’s a case of how well you do it.”

Erik Qualman, Social Media award-winning author and strategist

I recently attended a doctor’s appointment and was pleasantly surprised to find out that he was on Twitter and an avid an enthusiastic user of it. Following my consultation I followed him and in actual fact it’s been one of the most useful follows for me in recent months.

During my consultation he was describing my ailment and proposed treatment, based on current research and the results of studies. Now if you are like me, when I’m in a medical appointment, much of it can go over my head and once outside the door I’ve forgotten most of what my doctor has said.

I was anxious to get to the root of my problem and even more anxious to get a speedy remedy.

Later that night I went on Twitter and searched his Twitter history only to find the source of the research he had mentioned during my consultation, the stated remedy and links to much more relevant information that I began to read.

It resulted in me taking more charge of my ailment, researching it in my own time, and being more encouraged to commit to his prescribed recommendations. So I asked myself? Why can’t all medical, educational and public sector employees communicate on social media to benefit the customer just as profit making companies do?

I know there can be challenges to all companies engaging in social media such as an understanding into what social media is, policies or procedures that need to be in place that prohibit its use and even fear of how to handle a crisis or conflict.

However I really do believe that it’s time to hand over the reigns of social media to your staff. Take full control away from your PR advisor and empower your team with knowledge and skills. I understand that this takes time and in a lot of cases training. But how can you be more human if your social networks are being run by bots or PR advisors only?

You are in a people-centered job and conversations are at the heart of it.

So how does a large, conservative and reluctant organisation such as the HSE get their staff front of screen on social media – consultants, GPs, nurses, radiographers, and administrative staff?

You simply begin to work on creating a culture that espouses transparency, connectedness with patients/customers and a realisation that social media is and will be a fundamental way in which we communicate, just as email was when it was mainstreamed in the mid 1990s.

Using social media the HSE can succeed in so many ways, from customer satisfaction to reduced in-bound calls, to greater participation in their health roadmap to closer relationships and greater transparency.

I remember working as a broadcast journalist in a local radio station and learning the importance of being engaged and involved in stories that affect your company. In helping to tell the story I sought responses from relevant organisations and even with a ‘no comment’ response, the story was still broadcast but without the voice of the company.

That worked to a certain extent years ago but now and in health there are already citizen journalists (patients with recording devices and voices on Twitter) so ‘no comment’ won’t fly anymore. This is not an option anymore for organisations, the culture has to change.

I strongly believe its now about conversations as opposed to comments. Wouldn’t you like to let the world know how hard your staff work, how committed they are and what the HSE does for this country?

The day will come, but why wait? I think it’s great to see the HSE taking control of their own future with their #eHealthHour and #IrishMed that they are involved with. I encourage them to continue with their digital journey and get more social. We as customers want and expect it and I suspect many staff and managers do too. You just need the ‘how to’ and well that part that can be learned.

About the author

Joanne Sweeney-Burke is a communications professional having worked as a broadcast journalist, PR practitioner and lecturer as well as CEO in various business roles.

She is CEO of Digital Training Institute and is dedicated to bringing individuals and organisations into the digital age with her consultancy and training services. She is the author of Social Media Under Investigation, Law Enforcement and the Social Web, which takes a forensic look at how police forces are using social media. She is currently writing her second social media themed book.

Joanne is a regular speaker at major social media and digital marketing conferences including Social Media Summit (Dublin), Big Data Retail Analytics Forum (London), SMILE conference (social media, the Internet and law enforcement – Phoenix, Arizona) and Digital Citizenship Summit (Bournemouth University). She has also taken to the TEDx stage in Omagh.

Follow Joanne on Twitter @tweetsbyJSB

Add her on Snapchat jsbsnaps