‘It can really bring to life the work we do’ – how the DWP got social media savvy
Digital engagement leaders tell PublicTechnology about the department’s use of Twitter and LinkedIn to interact with citizens and potential and current employees
Earlier this year the so-called beast from the east prolonged the UK winter well into March, with several blasts of freezing weather across the country.
The storms and snowdrifts closed roads, stopped many train services between England and Scotland, and even caused the economy to practically flatline, with the cold weather being a key contributor to GDP growth slowing to 0.1% in 2018’s opening quarter, its lowest level in more than five years.
But, while some of the effects of the cold weather were unavoidable, others were able to take steps to manage the impact.
Even if their staff found their journeys to work disrupted or delayed, the UK’s network of Jobcentre Plus facilities were able to use Twitter to keep users informed of whether or not they had been affected by the big freeze and answer queries from the public.
Kailesh Sudra, social media lead at DWP Digital, says: “While we cannot handle claimants’ specific benefit-related queries, social lends itself to being a good way of responding. We had a really good example during the beast from the east, where we had customers tweeting the job centres asking whether they were open. Previously they would have walked down, or rung in.”
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There are now 95 active Jobcentre Plus Twitter accounts in the UK, each of which serves a cluster of job centres across a city, town, or region. The accounts are all verified, with consistent descriptions and handles that have been standardised under the @JCPin banner. All of them tweet news about “jobs, events and essential careers advice” from 8am to 11pm seven days a week, and are “live and social” from 9am to 5pm on Monday to Friday.
Number of DWP Digital employees, out of a departmental total of about 84,000 staff
Number of Twitter followers for @DWPDigital
8am to 11pm
Hours of operation every day of the week for @JCPin Jobcentre Plus Twitter accounts
Percentage of people you follow who should be “directly relevant to your work”, with the other 30% coming from “outside your comfort zone”, according to @DWPDigital advice for the ideal Twitter feed
A couple of years ago, there were over 700 active Twitter accounts linked to job centres, with little or no consistency in how the accounts were used and how often, nor in their branding. But over the course of a year-long initiative, the Department for Work and Pensions Digital team led a drive to reduce the number of accounts, while introducing usage training and guidelines, and boosting service levels.
“We have dedicated, trained teams who serve customers that want to use [Twitter] for job seeking,” Sudra says.
Michael Connolly, head of digital engagement at DWP Digital, says that Twitter is not yet “one of the main ways” in which citizens make customer-service enquiries. This, he says, is partly down to the nature of citizens’ relationship with the department – the details of which people are far less inclined to discuss publicly than, for example, their gripes with a train company or retailer.
“Also, social media, if you are talking to a mass audience, becomes a bit more of a broadcast tool. But if people contact us, we try to respond,” Connolly adds.
This responsiveness extends not just to service queries, but also to those occasions where people take to the internet to voice vexation or complaint with the DWP or one of its representatives. When this happens, department-linked accounts should be polite and contrite in their responses to citizens, according to Sudra.
“The fact we have acknowledged it often gets a thank you or a like,” he adds.
The DWP Digital team also uses Twitter – and other social channels – to interact with the department’s employees, and the wider civil service.
“We have a really important role in helping our colleagues across DWP to understand what we are doing,” Connolly says.
The @DWPDigital account, which has more than 10,000 followers, tweets about government events and initiatives, programmes of work, and news and blogs from around Whitehall and the technology sector.
It also aims to help its colleagues across government get to grips with social media and get the most out of it. According to Sudra, one of the department’s most widely shared and liked posts (pictured above) is a one-page document called ‘Come fly with Twitter’, which offers a beginner’s guide to how to use Twitter and the benefits of doing so.
“We had digital agencies tweeting us saying ‘could we take this?’,” he adds.
The DWP Digital team last year also established a cross-government social media forum under the banner of #SocialAboutGov. The group, which Sudra says enables civil servants to “share stories about what they are working on”, was launched in November with an event co-hosted by DWP Digital and GDS, at which more than 30 central-government agencies and other public-sector organisations were represented.
The department is also using social media to connect with potential, as well as current employees. Part of this is a dedicated @DWPDigitalJobs recruitment-focused account. Social media is the DWP’s “primary channel” for building its profile and reputation as an employer, as well as helping “shake off” preconceptions about working in government, Connolly says.
“We see LinkedIn as a really important channel for us in identifying talent to bring into the organisation. And YouTube can really bring to life the work we do; it might be a complex technical environment, but it is about people,” he adds.
"We see LinkedIn as a really important channel for us in identifying talent to bring into the organisation. And YouTube can really bring to life the work we do."
Michael Connolly, DWP Digital
In the future, Sudra says he would like to see the DWP Digital team explore the possibilities of using chatbots to handle “simple customer queries”, but adds that “we are very early in our thinking” in that area.
Sudra says the role that social media plays in the DWP – and the wider civil service – can ultimately be broken down into three key strands.
“The first is [help] the department using social media in a safe, secure, and transformative way, and develop social-media channels to deliver services to customers,” he says. “The second thing is that we have got a responsibility to see how we can build digital skills… and make the civil service more outward-facing. The third is giving [civil servants] the opportunity to share some of their stories, and ways of working.”
As more and more government representatives explore the possibilities of social media, there will surely be a lot more stories to tell – whatever the weather.
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