Many of you will already be familiar with GDS’s guiding principles; to deliver digital services, designed to be simpler, clearer, faster; that put user needs first.
When you put user needs first, the channel for digital engagement is the service itself. You move away from persuading users to use that service ‘my service is better because…’, to focusing on how social media can simply support better service delivery, i.e. helping build better experiences for our users.
Now, this doesn’t mean that it’s just down to the product teams and service design teams to make great stuff. The role of digital engagement and social media is also important. In signposting to great services through engaging content and strong calls to action; providing a user support function and listening to users’ thoughts and concerns; using digital monitoring insights to feed back into iterating better service delivery and design.
Because of this, we don’t campaign on our GOV.UK channels. Content is simply designed to take users from A to B – from the social media newsfeed to government services and information – individual units of delivery. Our aim is that social media for GOV.UK should be an extension to great service delivery. We’re not there yet, but that’s the ambition.
The GDS Design Principles and digital engagement
So, if social media is to be an extension to great service delivery, we always adhere to the GDS Design Principles when it comes to content creation. Originally these were created as a set of rules that govern how we build and design better digital services (i.e. GOV.UK). When it comes to social media, many of them also work for creating engaging social content; focused on meeting user needs; designed purely to deliver government information and services into the social media newsfeed.
The five things that are important to us when it comes to social media content design are:
Start with user needs
From a social perspective how can we better understand what motivates our users to share. Our approach is to break this down into 4 categories (also discussed here):
- Information – content tells me something I don’t know, makes me feel smart, will help my friends/family, directs me to a place online I need to be
- Reinforcement – this is who I am and what I’m about, content that demonstrates my interests, my character and the principles I stand for
- Enhancement – content which projects a certain identity, who I aspire to be, who I’d like you to think I am
- Incentivisation – content which gives me something in return, be it competitions or receiving some kind of recognition
Clearly as government, our content sits firmly within category 1. That doesn’t mean that we ignore these other motivations, as this is what our content is essentially competing against in the newsfeed. It’s important that we find our niche - our identity in terms of the visual imagery we post via our channels.
Our strategy is simple - to signpost to government services and information on GOV.UK. Making sure users are aware of these services at the right time. Nothing more, nothing less.
What you won’t see from us is the extra stuff. The animated infographics, talking heads videos, or gamification. Whilst there are clearly contexts in which these tactics work, they don’t for us. And we see this in the analytics.
Our focus as a social media team is to use our creativity in doing the hard work to make it simple – de-cluttering the message so we can take users where they need to go. Twitter Cards are an example of tactic that ticks this box for us.
Design with data
This is important when we look at just how our users are engaging both with social platforms and GOV.UK. There are now a number of services on GOV.UK that see most of their traffic from mobile devices (e.g. booking a prison visit, reporting benefit fraud, changing a driving test date). 80% of Twitter users access the platform via a mobile and as for Facebook, the latest stats speak for themselves. Ofcom confirms that ‘the UK is now a smartphone society’.
Gone are the days of lovingly created brand pages and profiles. Our users’ lives are lived in the scrolling of the social media newsfeed and so the time to engage is becoming shorter and shorter. This means, the concept of storytelling doesn’t work for us. Our users don’t want a long dialogue with government. They need relevant information to take them to where they need to be on GOV.UK. Small nuggets of information with a clear signpost. That’s it.
Iterate and iterate again
Our approach is purist but it doesn’t mean we don’t test. We need to know what works and what doesn’t, and build on what we learn. Also, the platforms keep changing and introducing new – possibly valuable – tactics. So, we’ve tested Vine, animated GIFS, and embedded video content but we just didn’t see the engagement rates compared to serving static images. You can read about an example of a tactic which perfectly meets the user need, which brings GOV.UK direct to the Twitter newsfeed, in this case study here.
Be consistent, not uniform
Whether it’s advice on student finance, adverse weather conditions or UK Firework laws we have a consistent style in how we communicate this information. This is important because content is shared/repurposed/embedded elsewhere. We must always communicate the source. It’s also vital for us in building trust with our users and aligning everything we do with the GOV.UK service. You can see our visual identity clearly in the content we publish via our GOV.UK Twitter feed.
These 5 points cover our approach when it comes to content on GOV.UK – straightforward signposts, taking users from A-B; meeting their needs at the right time.
The [social] strategy is: [service] delivery.
Further to social media content, we still have some work to do in building social media user support into our overall GOV.UK support offering – but this work is happening and hopefully we’ll be blogging about this soon.
For further tips on social media content production take a read of the Social Media Playbook