Skip to main content

What's a Playbook and why do I need one?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Guidance

Keep Things Simple - GDS Social Media Playbook

Today, we publish the alpha version of the GDS Social Media Playbook.

When talking with people outside of the social media community we realised that “Playbook” is not a widely used term. There’s a brief explanation in the document, but we thought it might be useful to explain what we’ve written and why more fully here.

Playbook comes from a sporting term, meaning various strategies for the team that, when employed, would hopefully result in a win.

These days, it’s more often used to define an organisation's approach to things, one of these being social media.

This playbook was written to help new community managers coming into GDS learn how we do things. Social media in government demands a slightly different code of conduct than it does in the private sector. This is our first attempt at defining why and how GDS uses social media, and also the things that we’ve learned work for us.

When reading the playbook, please bear in mind that this is an alpha version. We'll be editing and adding to it to reflect our continually evolving social media strategy.

We hope that this guidance will be helpful to community managers working across government and we welcome feedback.

Join the conversation on Twitter.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Julia posted on

    Curious you decided to publish the playbook itself as a blog post (no date or author in that page), but with no comments box, so you can't ask questions when on the page. I noticed the request to tweet GDS team - but that is quite a limiting comms medium, especially after you have to include the context.
    I discovered this page second - because it appears in the "recent posts" box - but guess over time that box will contain other posts, while the playbook will appear in search results.
    The intro states that we can expect updates - will these be incorporated into that monster long page, or appear as individual posts?

    • Replies to Julia>

      Comment by Kim Townend posted on

      Hi Julia
      Thanks for your comment.
      This is a temporary home for the Playbook, we felt it was important to publish it asap, while we look for a more permanent home.The reason for not allowing comments on the Playbook itself is that this is published as a page (a document) and was made available for feedback (through the digital leaders network) before it was published. We're happy to receive feedback on Twitter, and all of the blog posts allow comments.
      I suspect you came through a link we shared with gov colleagues, which went direct to the Playbook, on Twitter we shared the link to the blog homepage - so finding the blog posts shouldn't be a problem going forward.
      We'll be updating this document and adding chapters to it over the coming weeks, so it should be easier to navigate.
      Hope this answers your questions, and please don't hesitate to let us know if there's anything else we can help you with.

  2. Comment by Karl posted on

    Really excellent stuff guys, well done.

  3. Comment by simonfj posted on

    Hi Kim (Julia)

    Personally I like the approach of starting on blog entry, so long as we don't lose the comments about it's beginnings as things shape up. (of course with an intro as pleasant as that you know I'm going to be critical:)

    "Playbook comes from a sporting term, meaning various strategies for the team that, when employed, would hopefully result in a win". No, (In my social media world) a playbook is just the rules of the game, and this one we're making up as we go, like everyone else. You've taken the American definition, which won't work very well in the UK and Europe. i.e. It works fine for the US National sports of poker and gridiron, but not for football (with a round ball) and Scrabble.

    So far as "the aggregation of third party content" (in the .gov space), the GDS (and their National equivalents) are coming in quite late in the day. So much has already been developed in the space (and areas in federated Nations). So I'll be interested to see what your National 'environmental scan' turns up. e.g. I remember Scotland had something similar about 10 years ago.

    I'll be interested to see how this playbook will be incorporated courses like these and takes advantage of experienced community teams, and social environments like this one.

    We seem to be at the point now where .govspaces are catching up with .eduspaces, in their reinvention of how marketing is done. i.e. bringing inter-institutional peer/topic/specialist groups together. And they are making the basic mistakes. e.g. Flipping the 70/30 % rule is always something one must discipline a team to overcome. It always encourages a team to think they are at the centre of things - rather than starting by doing an environmental scan, and trying to understand how they "fit in" to existing communities, and their preferred platforms.

    Let's face it, the GDS service has yet to introduce its teams, which is always rule number one when starting in a social space, especially when attempting to cover such a broad constituency. Users don't want to be talking IA to the Inclusion team, or condemning someone to being a receptionist.

    After all that. Nice advice! (so far as using the privately-owned/outward-facing social media platforms). I'd be interested in what advice you may be giving for the "internal communications" teams and what level of security you might advise for separating the two channels. Cheers!

    • Replies to simonfj>

      Comment by Kim Townend posted on

      Hi Simon

      Thanks for your comments, which we'll take on board.

      Many of the teams within GDS are blogging on separate, more specialist blogs on our platform, a list of which can be found here: We encourage users with questions to contact us via our Twitter channel (@gdsteam), where their enquiries will be dealt with by the most appropriate person. Hope this helps.


  4. Comment by Stefan Czerniawski posted on

    I think this is a generally excellent document, so forgive me for seeming a bit pernickety about a point of detail - though one where I think there is an important principle involved.

    You say that

    <blockquote>"when tweeting ensure all links are shortened and tracked with or another URL shortener, that provides information about clicks</blockquote>

    I can well understand why you would want to do that as a provider, but in my experience there is a signficant detrimet to user experience. There's isn't much space in a tweet for information, so sweating every detail to be informative as possible really helps. One way of doing that is to let the reader see where a link is going - is it a blog, a newspaper article, an academic article; is it behind a paywall; is it - critically - something I have already seen?

    So as a user, there is a real downside to being confronted with a link and I can't offhand think of a single countervaliing upside. The line from the playbook reinforces that: the reason given for doing it is that it provides a producer benefit (and I fully recognise the value of that), there is no suggestion that it adds value for users.

    I know I am less likely to click on a link if I can't see where it is going, but it may be that I am just odd that way. So is this an example of producer needs trumping user needs? Or do you have clear evidence that users actively prefer shortened links?

    • Replies to Stefan Czerniawski>

      Comment by Kim Townend posted on

      Hi Stefan, and thanks for you comment.

      We don't have clear evidence that the users prefer shortened links, no. By shortening and tracking the links, we're able to see how many clicks each of the posts is getting, and thereby can tailor our content based on these learnings. So we're consciously trying to create content that meets user needs, and at present URL shortening is the best way that we can do that.

  5. Comment by Marisol posted on

    Hello Kim. I think it's a brilliant and articulate document with loads of useful insight. Thanks for sharing it! I really appreciate in the intro post you referencing the fact that social media for gov departments has slightly different demands.

    You set out very fine principles which will help gov communicators everywhere. I've tried to pull out some highlights for Anthony's document which will hopefully reach directors of comms. I tried to mail you via your website, but don't think it got to you! I'm back today after a week in Chile, so will mail you on the cab office address today. Thanks again!