Social media – How to

It is important to remember that social media are not one-way communication channels. Even if your agency wants to use social media to draw attention to the latest media release, people will still expect a certain amount of interaction or engagement.

Introducing social media into your agency

Review your policies

Your agency should review and update relevant policies (including computer-use policies) to include social media. Your agency should also provide relevant social media guidelines and publicise them internally. The Australian Public Service Commission has released Circular 2012/1: Revisions to the Commission’s guidance on making public comment and participating online to assist in developing appropriate guidelines.

Risk management

Complete a risk assessment to get a realistic idea of what is involved for your agency. By doing this you will be able to ensure your agency has considered and documented the major problems that might arise when using social media and ways of mitigating them (e.g., increased anti-virus protection, new guidance or training modules). Your agency may already have appropriate mitigation strategies.

Make sure your staff are familiar with the tools first

Agencies are being encouraged to use Web 2.0 tools. Make sure staff are familiar with using these tools before engaging with the public. This way your staff and your agency will understand how social media and Web 2.0 tools and techniques can be effectively incorporated into agency work.

Train and trust your employees

Provide your employees with the guidance they need to use these tools appropriately, including their responsibilities under the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct, but demonstrate trust in your employees. Make sure that they know where they can go for guidance and help when they need it.

Recommend employees maintain separate social media profiles

If staff wish to use social media both for work and privately, they should create separate profiles for each. This makes it easier for people to manage the boundary between their role as a public servant and their private life. Even so, remind them of the need to be careful about the material they post on their personal profile as well as any work profile.

Using social media to engage

Before you start interacting with your stakeholders through social media you need to consider:

Purpose and choice of tools

It’s an obvious but important first step: think about what your business objective is before determining the most appropriate way to reach the stakeholders you wish to engage. You should consider why you are engaging online, which audience you are targeting and what you want to achieve. The answers to these questions should then inform which tools and approaches are chosen to engage with the public.

So, for example, the need to allow group creation and editing of documents might lead to the choice of a wiki, while the desire to share content as a means of sparking discussion and seeking feedback might lead to choosing a blog. Or you may identify the need to engage with stakeholders on existing social networking sites or other online communities.


You will need to consider the ongoing resource implications of engaging in social media, including staff time and in some cases investment in infrastructure and software. You will need to ensure that staff receive training in both the use of the social media tool and your agency’s policies associated with its use. You will also have to make sure staff have enough time to monitor, moderate and respond to comments (including any associated clearance processes). Don’t be surprised if your stakeholders expect a high level of responsiveness when you use social media.

Security and privacy

Think about your privacy and security right from the start as it is much easier to build any required controls at this point. What about anonymous and pseudonymous participation? Do you really need people to create an account just to comment on your blog? Don’t forget to update or create a privacy notice explaining what happens with personal information and what choices people have.

Take stock of what kind of information you may be collecting from others and keep this in mind when selecting a service provider. Some questions you may need to ask are:

  • How much influence will you have over the service provider and their processes?
  • How secure is the service? Does it provide the amount of security necessary?
  • What mechanisms will be used to avoid spam, hacking, etc?
  • Do you know where people’s information will be stored and what happens to it?
  • Will people’s information be stored off-shore?
  • Is there a risk that the service being considered will change or be discontinued?

What will you do with comments and suggestions?

This can be divided into three broad areas: moderation, response and use of comments.


When and under what circumstances will you vet or moderate comments? Comments can be moderated before or after they are published on the site. Moderating before publication (pre-moderation) gives you greater control but it uses more resources for moderation and diminishes real-time interactivity. Moderating after publication (post-moderation) may create a more open atmosphere but can allow inappropriate comments to be published (although these can be edited or removed later). We use a post-moderation approach on the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) Blog.

You will also need to develop a moderation policy that is consistent with applicable Australian law, and the APS Values and Code of Conduct, so visitors understand what kinds of comments are acceptable and unacceptable (see the link to the AGIMO Blog, above).


You do not have to respond to every comment you receive. When and how you do is really a decision to be made on a comment by comment basis. This Web Posting Response Assessment PDF (1 MB) , developed by the US Air Force, may help you develop a simple process for when and how to react to comments.

Use of comments

Will public comment be an influence on your work? Will you be publishing comments in a report or other publication? Be clear and upfront with people about how comments will be used. Whenever you can, give people the option for their comments to be excluded or included anonymously.

Last Reviewed: 2010-08-31