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Social Media Playbook

Turquoise image with "Social Media Playbook" written on it.

This post is now out of date. Please look at the updated version.

In this guide:

A Playbook is “a notional range of possible tactics in any sphere of activity”;  and that’s what we’re trying to share here.

It outlines how we at GDS use social media, what we’ve grown to understand as best practice for the channels we use, what we've learned and what we're planning to do in the future. We’re hoping it will serve as a resource for anyone managing social media in the UK government. It’s not a definitive article, as a good social media strategy will always be bespoke to individual needs.

We talk about: setting objectives; listening; community management; the creation of content; social media at events; evaluation; a few general social media channel tips, and outline our own approaches with examples.

The GDS approach to social media, is the same as the overall GDS approach: simpler, clearer, faster. Our focus remains fixed on meeting user needs.

We're not interested in campaigns with dancing ponies (although we think they’re great). We're interested in connecting with the people who care about what we're doing, sharing the learnings from the work that we do, and helping our users as promptly and effectively as we can.

If you want to get in touch with us about anything you read here, please tweet @gdsteam or contact us.

The case for social media

In the UK, Facebook has over 28 million users (Comscore Q3 2014). There are over 13 million UK users scrolling through Twitter’s newsfeed (80% of them via a mobile device). LinkedIn acquires two new users every second. The average Instagram user spends 21 minutes per day using the app. And, according to Snapchat, the instant messaging platform has managed to notch up an impressive 100 million monthly users worldwide.

Social media is everywhere. It's becoming more and more a part of how we live our lives today, and as government we can't afford to miss the incredible opportunities it affords us. From open policy making through to customer service and user insight, social media is a valuable tool for the public sector.

Getting started on social media

Defining objectives

These may change over time, but your objectives will underpin your entire social strategy and inform your key performance indicators (KPIs) and all social tactics, so it’s really important to have them defined before you go any further.

A good place to start is by identifying the role you want social media to play across your organisation.

Will it be used for customer service; for pushing out information; for campaign and/or policy engagement; for research and development; for individual profile raising? It may be one or a number of these and from here you can start to formulate your objectives.

Next, you should decide which social media channels best help you achieve those objectives but do make sure these are the same channels where your target audience/s spend time.

For example, the role social media needs to play for GDS is to inform and engage.

Our primary objectives are to raise awareness of the digital transformation of government services and also to share GDS best practice, our processes, and expertise across government. We have a number of channels that help us communicate in different ways to different audiences – these too will have their own objectives to ensure we are communicating key messages consistently.

Listening (also see measurement and evaluation)

When planning a social strategy, listening to online conversations should always be your step one. Insight generated at this stage should be helping to inform your objectives, channels, the profile of your audience, and the tactics you could potentially use to engage them.

There are a number of monitoring tools on the market that can help you do this. Currently a number of government departments are undergoing trials with Brandwatch, Ripjar and Sysomos. It’s worth noting though that most good tools ultimately all do the same thing. Your choice will be defined by the volume of mentions you want to analyse each month, as well as the number of admins you want to have access to the data. These are the factors that typically impact on the monthly fee you will be expected to pay.

At GDS, we use Brandwatch and are analysing over 15,000 mentions of both GOV.UK and GDS per month. This is across all digital channels including mainstream media sites, blogs, forums, and social media. This allows us to:

  1. Feed into our planning and social media strategy. Are we doing things right? Do we need to concentrate on other content areas to help inform users?
  2. Provide real-time insights across government services so we can respond quickly to users plus anticipate future issues
  3. Evaluate campaigns/programmes of work

When we want to report back on the progress of our owned social media channels, we use both Brandwatch and the native analytics platforms of each social media channel. We try not to over-complicate monitoring and evaluation by using multiple tools. This helps to ensure consistency and accuracy in reporting.

If you have any specific questions about social media monitoring which you want answered - we’d be happy to advise. We’re already working with a number of departments (HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice) to support them with online monitoring and evaluation, as well as providing reports and insights.

Audience insight

Monitoring tools can provide audience insights including demographic data, location and interests. Whilst this data is predominantly taken from Twitter biographies (so accuracy cannot be guaranteed), it does provide an overview on who is engaging with your content. For example, we have been running an audience trend analysis for Cabinet Office's Individual Electoral Registration (IER) team. This has included reviewing professions and interests of users online as the IER team have been tasked with engaging key user groups including students and ex-patriots.

We also use insights to identify audience groups we should be talking to.

For example:

Our @gdsteam followers, as you might expect, tend towards an 18-35 male demographic. We know how to keep these people engaged, they are, after all representative of the bulk of the tech community. We realised that we needed to speak to more women, so we added "Women in tech" as one of the themes of our content strategy.

Influencer engagement

An influencer is a person, group, brand or place who can share your messages across their networks to help you reach a bigger audience and create more engagement online. When budget is tight (or non-existent), building a network of relevant influencers is a powerful way to get noticed on social media.

Deciding on who your influencers should be will depend on your organisation, campaign objectives and messaging. Having a large following on social media is not always a prerequisite of a good influencer. Although this can generate a ‘quick hit’ should your message be shared, it may not provide you the same credibility compared to an influencer, with a smaller network, who carries particular authority in a niche interest area highly relevant to your campaign.

Whilst there are many tools that can help with influencer identification (we use Brandwatch for an initial sift), nothing compares to desk research and manually reviewing user feeds, networks and forums. This is invaluable for when you make an initial approach, as you need to know exactly how your content is going to fit. You can also gauge the quality of their content, how engaged their followers are (i.e. blog, forum comments, shares, likes, re-tweets) and whom else they are connected to. Having a smaller list of well-curated influencers will be of greater use than one which is automatically generated using influencer tools such as Klout, Keyhole or Buzzsumo. Remember, quality over quantity.

Before contacting anyone, refer back to your objectives. What do you need to achieve by engaging this particular influencer? What do you want them to do? And importantly, what’s in it for them? If there’s no budget, think about the quality of content you are providing them. If you have time, ask for their input – what would be of value to them? If you do have budget, then make sure your brief is clear.

Remember that influencer outreach is not easy. It takes time to build mutually beneficially relationships. This is not a blind email going out to 100 individuals. Each approach needs to be genuine, relevant and tailored with a focus on collaboration. Plus, don't think that these relationships exist purely within the confines of the internet. If you can (and they are up for it), set up meetings face to face. Make the effort, because great online partnerships can be hugely beneficial when you have great content which deserves to be amplified.

Which channels should you use

At GDS, we manage 5 different Twitter accounts, YouTube, Instagram, Flickr, and LinkedIn.

Is there any need for us to have this much social output?


The setup of each channel was based upon our overall objectives, the role social media needs to play in delivering our messages, the different programmes of work we need to support, and the different audience groups we are speaking to. For instance, our Twitter followers on @GOVUK are very different to our followers on @gdsteam and so different content and tone needs to be developed. Also, think about the type of content you’re currently creating as this will dictate which content hubs (e.g. YouTube, Flickr) you’ll need to use.

It’s worth noting however that setting up a new channel just because your audience is there may not always be the best decision. Having the resource to manage a new channel has to be a consideration as you will need to create additional posts and content, plus ensure the correct moderation is in place.

Running one channel well is better than running 5 channels poorly.

Creating a content strategy

Now that you're learning about your audience and have chosen your social media channels, it's time to devise a content strategy. This should be informed by a number of factors:

  1. Listening to online conversations. What do your users want to see/hear/need help with?
  2. Messaging/campaign priorities for your department
  3. Pan-government messaging/campaign priorities
  4. Relevant calendar dates and awareness days which make sense for you to leverage
  5. Historical data on how previous posts have performed (i.e. should you run that activity again?)

Aligning what your users need alongside the needs of your department can sometimes be a challenge but it’s important (and essential) you consider both. Using an editorial calendar will help you get the balance right.

Community management


At GDS, we’re firm believers in accountability on the web. Once you start using social media to talk to your community and spread your story, you become accountable and have a responsibility to engage. You have to take part in the conversation, especially when people are asking you questions. If you don’t have the resource to answer enquiries, then you don’t have the resource to use the channel.

Day-to-day management

If you have a number of live social media platforms, it is essential that community managers are continually monitoring for user interactions. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what kind of social interactions demand a response and, if they do, what kind of response is appropriate.

At GDS we work from a set of rules which covers exactly what enquiries we can deal with, which enquiries we need to direct to other departments and which enquiries we simply cannot engage with. We also have a standard responses document listing regular queries and responses. These can then be used to tailor responses to individuals. Having these in place allows for consistency in messaging and tone of voice.

We tend not to favourite or re-tweet users as this can be perceived as an endorsement or self-congratulatory. We would only re-tweet if we considered this of value to our followers. That’s not to say that this would be inappropriate for your department/agency. It just depends on the role social media plays and the tone of voice you have chosen to adopt.

Social customer service

More and more, people are turning to social media to air their grievances or to ask for help with a service. As many of us are service providers we have a responsibility to extend the customer/user experience online otherwise issues can quickly escalate and become problems for other teams and channels (i.e. Press Office, operations, call-centre staff). Providing a quick and effective service should, therefore, be a goal for everyone. Alongside alleviating issues and just being helpful, it’s important for building trust within your community and helping to position yourselves as experts.

At GDS, we aim to provide an initial response to all enquiries within 4 working hours. We use Sprout Social to track Twitter enquiries, assign them to individual community managers, and ensure a good response time. There are also other services available including Conversocial and Hootsuite. We also integrate our social media with Zendesk, our GOV.UK helpdesk. This allows us to open technical support tickets from within Sprout Social but importantly remain the point of contact with the user.

This is part of a wider programme of work we are doing in delivering better user support across government. For @GOVUK on Twitter, we are the face of government services but we (GDS) don’t deliver them. Therefore, we have to work closely with other departments (HMRC, DVLA, Cabinet Office, HM Passports Office) to help streamline the response we provide for users.

If you’d like to hear more about the work we are doing in user support or think that your department/agency would benefit from being involved, then please get in touch

Dealing with detractors

It is unfortunately a fact that as soon as you become active on social media, there are going to be people who aren’t happy about it. These aren’t to be confused with people who have valid complaints or questions. Instead, they are people who continually talk about your account in a derogatory fashion for no good reason.

There are a number of ways to deal with these people.

Firstly create some rules of conduct for your social media channels. This will be a list of behaviours which you will not accept from users. For example this will include comments which are:

  • abusive, defamatory or obscene
  • fraudulent, deceptive or misleading
  • in violation of any intellectual property rights
  • promoting other social media channels, websites or content considered spam
  • flame-baiting in which the aim of the post is to start a fight

Within these rules of conduct, you will also state what the consequences are should these rules be broken. For example, when dealing with detractors on @GOVUK we will always try to help on the first message. If the user continues to tweet without engaging with our offer of help, we will ignore these subsequent tweets.

Your rules of conduct can either be posted directly onto your social media channel or hosted elsewhere. You can then direct users to this should they behave in an unacceptable manner to community managers and/or other users. GDS’s rules of conduct are hosted on a separate webpage.

Banning people on social media

This should always be a last resort when dealing with users. However in some cases this is a necessary action. If a user continually breaks your rules of conduct, you have every right to ban them from your page or block them from Twitter. We will do this if users are abusive to us or other users.

Escalation policy

It is important to have an escalation policy in place that all community managers are comfortable with. This should include a list of known subject areas/scenarios which should be continually monitored for and a procedure on how to deal with them should they arise.

For example, we use a traffic light system that identifies the levels of severity for an issue. For low levelissues a standard response may suffice. For high-level issues, there may be particular individuals/departments who need to be made aware of the problem and an official statement may need to be drafted and shared promptly. These documents should be regularly reviewed, updated and re-circulated.


Social media and storytelling

For brands, social media is all about crafting a story for your fans and advocates to buy into, therefore (hopefully) ensuring increased sales and loyalty. For government it’s a little bit different in that we’re not selling anything, or asking people to give us anything. In fact, in many cases our “users” have no choice but to interact with us.

For @gdsteam, our storytelling is focused on transparency; keeping users informed about the transformation of online services, how they’re built, who was involved, the various iterations. Blogging is also an incredibly important way that we can share stories. We encourage all the teams within GDS to blog updates on their team blogs while we reserve the main GDS blog for the bigger stories with broader appeal. We run themed weeks around our processes such as #agile week and #userresearch week to showcase expertise (both within GDS and across government), test new tactics, plus help with recruitment.


An infographic comparing percentage of users accessing GOV.UK on a desktop vs mobile/tablet
For @GOVUK however, it’s different. We don’t do storytelling. Users follow us for updates on services and information. And that’s it. So you will rarely see us campaign. Our content is designed into small nuggets of information which can be quickly digested in the social media (mobile) newsfeed.
A graphic illustrating the abolition of driving licence paper counterparts

Graphic reminding users of the changing of the clocks

Creative production

Having a team dedicated to creating content is incredibly helpful as many social media channels require good quality visuals if you want to make an impact and engage users. This team doesn’t have to be huge; someone with some content creation skills, a social media manager, and some design resource would be optimum. Plus, it needs to be built in a way that makes it adaptable to the different social media platforms and devices on which it will be consumed.

Digital content, if done well, can be shared thousands of times, plus be repurposed and embedded elsewhere (for instance, an image on Twitter can be used to illustrate a news article). Therefore, an image must always communicate its source - either through branding (i.e. HM Government) or by having a consistent look and feel (particularly important if you are creating a series of images).

Great social content will drive more traffic than almost anything else. An example of successful traffic-driving activity is the use of Twitter Cards we adopted to support Individual Electoral Registration. A simple image, with simple call-to-action copy led to 20% of users going from this Card through to complete the registration process.

Register to vote tweet with 973 retweets (at time of tweet)

However, it’s not all about chasing clicks. If you can tell your story in 140 characters, or with an image or a short video (and no supporting blog post/press release) then all the better. It means that your users won’t be taken away from the social media newsfeed.

Tips for digital content production

  1. Do provide your designer/s and videographers with a clear brief and get them involved in the planning stage. Their perspective and expertise will be invaluable, particularly if content is running across multiple channels (not just online, but offline too).
  2. Think about the user needs on the different platforms. For instance, for online media an image can hold more information as users have time to read, engage and explore; for Facebook and Twitter, where users will be scrolling through a newsfeed, your content will need to engage in that moment.
  3. Keep things simple. If the image doesn’t sell the story or convey the message on its own, it hasn’t worked.
  4. Remember, one size does not fit all. Imagery and file types will need to be adapted depending on social media platform specifications.
  5. Start by creating a larger infographic for media and then consider how it can be repackaged for other platforms (i.e. split up the image into a series of smaller assets).
  6. Consider whether you want to amplify your content (i.e. use it for advertising). For example, Facebook will only let you do this if the image you have created has no more than 20% of text in it.

Infographic showing the breakdown of visits to various places across GOV.UK that made up the 1 billion visits since launch

The GDS Design Principles are a great place to start when considering best practice content production and can help focus your thinking on what’s important, in particular, points 1 - 7 and 9.

Creating an editorial calendar

To help manage when content should be published, and to avoid missing any major events or news announcements, we have an editorial calendar. This maps out exactly what needs to be discussed in social media, plus some pre-drafted posts (when possible).

To ensure we are not missing anything across government, we use Basecamp. This allows us to stay in contact with other community managers in other government departments so that we can help support some of the communications and marketing campaigns they run.

Tying your content into events and calendar dates that are happening outside of government can also make the message more relevant and accessible for users. We use this tactic on @GOVUK to showcase GOV.UK services and information. For instance when the clocks go backwards/forwards, local school holiday dates, and firework laws.

Image of firework with the words 'Familiarise yourself with UK fireworks laws'

We will also support national awareness days such as Remembrance Sunday and Get Online Week:

Graphic depicting an illustration of a computer and reminding users that "Get online week starts today"

The key thing to remember about editorial tie-ins, is that you must have content that adds something to the user. A rule of thumb for us, when we’re tweeting from @GOVUK is that it points back to information on GOV.UK.


Having an editorial calendar in place can allow you to schedule posts throughout the day. This can be incredibly useful if you are under time pressures and most good community management tools will help you do this.

However, we wouldn’t recommend relying on this as a way of publishing content. Community managers need to be in total control of when content is being published and then subsequently engaging with user reaction. Too many scheduled posts, which have little relation to a wider context or event can be perceived as lazy community management.

Sourcing content

For GDS, we have a lot of output from our multiple blogs/videos and content crafted specifically for social. We also have a number of news announcements and events that we need to support.

Our approach for GOV.UK is different. As a rule we adopt an 80/20 rule for content so 80% is content which we create and 20% of content is curated from elsewhere (for example, via a re-tweet or linking to another department’s content). Our focus will always be on creating and sharing our own content using the visual style we have adopted. This is so we can continue to build our identity and subsequently trust. This doesn’t mean we don’t support other departments. In fact, we work closely with the likes HMRC, DWP and UKTI to take their messaging and repackage it (with their approval of course).

Graphic reminding users that there's a week until the Self Assessment online deadline

 There are other tools available should you need inspiration for posting. You can use an RSS reader such as Feedly which keeps you up-to-date with relevant blogs. It also offers you suggestions based on areas like tech or social or anything you’d like to search for.

Generating content from events

Events provide excellent opportunities for sourcing content and positioning yourself as an expert in your field. At GDS we host a number of internal and external events which we tweet from. For instance, we hosted Sprint 15 in February 2015. This provided us the perfect opportunity to tell the story of GDS, where we had got to in the digital transformation of government, and our future strategy. A plan was put in place to build awareness, to support registrations, to engage and then feedback event successes.

Sprint 15 logo

We did the same, working with Cabinet Office to produce content for D5:

Graphic relating to the D5 London event - featuring the names of the participating countries: UK, South Korea, Estonia, Israel and New Zealand

As with everything, you need to think about your objectives for sharing event details. Below is an example of the roles social media can play in supporting these:


Action Engagement/


Letting relevant people know that the event is happening
Giving people enough notice to be able to attend
Making people aware of registration deadlines
Showcasing speakers and event activitiesDirect invites
Encouraging people to registration site (if applicable) Inviting people to participate in event activities
Engaging people with online conversations about the event
Sharing event content
Capturing positive sentiment and playing this back to attendees
Measurement and evaluation

Some things to consider:

  • who are you talking to? It may be that the event has a niche audience so pushing out content on your main Twitter feeds and LinkedIn may not be appropriate. What other channels are available to you?
  • is your venue social? If you want to have a social element to your event plus encourage interaction amongst attendees, it’s worth checking that your venue has good Wi-Fi facilities. Also consider how this is communicated to attendees on the day. For instance, at check-in/registration, make sure that the Wi-Fi name and password are clearly communicated. This should also be communicated throughout the venue as well as where you’d expect attendees to tweet/take photos/video (i.e: presentations, panels, entertainment points).
  • what are your wider communications plans? Social media needs to align with these. Make sure your social media team are involved with overall event communications discussions. These initial conversations should happen at least six weeks in advance so there is enough time to plan and produce supporting content.
  • will you require live commentary throughout the event? If possible, ensure that any speeches or presentations are given to your social media team in advance. This gives them the opportunity to pull out key messages and if necessary, create supporting visuals. It also provides them the opportunity to consider video/streaming services.
  • are you being joined by external parties? If external organisations and/or speakers are joining you make sure you distribute a social media briefing sheet. This is to ensure that all communications are consistent. This should include:
    • what your plans are throughout the event
    • official hashtag (try and keep this to one)
    • sample tweets/posts for other social channels

Measurement and evaluation

As discussed in the section on Listening, we use Brandwatch and native social media analytics to measure and evaluate our performance.

To ensure evaluation is based upon our objectives, we adopt a three stage approach:

  1. Identification
  2. Analysis
  3. Insight

The identification stage should be completed before any activity takes place. At this stage you should have agreed your objectives, the metrics you are going to use to measure your activity, and any KPIs and/or benchmarks.

Don’t forget your KPIs or benchmarks. You should have a clear marker of what success looks like.

For the analysis stage we have created a measurement framework which we follow. There are other frameworks and guidance available from the Government Communications Service.

Objective Metrics Data Source
Awareness Number of online mentions across all channels
Reach of content on owned social media platforms
Impressions generated by content on owned social media platforms
Reach of hashtag
Social monitoring tool
Social media platform’s native analytics tools
As above
Hashtag tracking tool/Social monitoring tool
Engagement Social media likes and comments
Social media shares (including Twitter RTs and Favourites)
Video views and subscribers
Blog subscribers
Number of users adopting campaign hashtag
Social media platform’s native analytics tools
As above
Blog analyticsHashtag tracking tool/Social monitoring tool
Action Clicks to website
Downloads/requests for information
Number of times owned content has been embedded elsewhere
Google Analytics
Google Analytics
Social monitoring tool
Advocacy Sentiment
User generated content developed outside of owned channels
Social monitoring tool
As above

Data should be reviewed regularly and whilst it’s important to update wider teams on how your channels are performing, real value is gathered from understanding which activities have not been effective and why.

Your focus should always be on getting better next time round.


Accessing government information is often not a choice - in many cases our “users” have no choice but to interact with us. We should therefore ensure our information is as accessible and inclusive as possible.

And the law agrees. The Equality Act 2010 states that Government bodies should provide information that does not exclude anyone from accessing services or information based on disability.

This hasn’t always been easy in social media - and certainly it raises questions about how to drive engagement while still ensuring our information is accessible. But there are steps we can take to try and ensure our information is more inclusive, considering the needs of all our users.

You can read more about the research we did for these accessibility guidelines in our blog post, making social media accessible. Thanks to Joanna Goodwin from the Office for National Statistics who led the research.

Written Content
Accessibility is about more than ticking the compliance box. When writing content, we need to consider what information would be useful to people with accessibility needs.

We endeavour to ensure our content is written in plain English and use the guidelines in this playbook. This is especially important in our primary citizen-focussed social media channels, such as @GOVUK, as we have a duty to ensure all users can reach government information and services.

There may be occasions, such as on specialist channels such as @gdsteam, where the topic and audience require more technical language. We will make efforts to limit this within social media as far as possible, while maintaining the integrity of the message.

Acronyms should also be avoided as many users may not understand the wealth of acronyms government use.

GOV.UK guidelines advocate that written content should meet the minimum reading age of 9 years, to ensure it is easily understood. You might consider an adult with additional learning needs or an elderly relative with dementia trying to understand your information.

This can be challenging if the content you’re publishing is complicated by it’s nature - for example government statistics may be complicated at that reading age. It’s key to understand your users and their needs and then be consistent.

You can check the reading age of your content using Flesch–Kincaid readability metrics or

Images, animated GIFs and infographics
When creating images, graphics or infographics for social media, it's important to consider the colour palette used. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 guidance states there should be a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 to meet the minimum AA level standard. Here’s an online colour contrast checker you can use.

When we’re using images, where possible, we include alternative text (alt text) for users of screen readers or assistive technologies - particularly if the image itself includes text.

Alt text should also be kept short and only contain important information the user needs to know. If an image is being used for decorative purposes only, then it is more appropriate to leave this blank.

For example:

We ensure the key message is in the body of the post or add a hyperlink to a webpage where the user can access the information in HTML.

For infographics or images with a large amount of information contained in the image, a text alternative should be provided in the body text.

Animated GIFs and moving images can be distracting to some users. The speed of a GIF with information or data is also an issue as some may need additional time to understand the image. We will therefore aim to use animated GIFs only occasionally, when there is a particular need and will ensure that the message is well conveyed in accompanying content.

Video and audio content
When producing audio only content, such as a podcast, a transcript (or audio description) will be provided. It should be available in HTML or as website content.

When we produce a video with audio, we add subtitles and/or closed captions and the text transcript. Social media platforms such as YouTube allow you to add subtitles and captions easily for free.

If we produce a video without audio, we will also supply a video description to ensure people with visual impairments are able to access the content. A video description is a body of text written in plain english to describe the key visual elements in the video, so the user can have the same information as someone who is able to watch it. Another option would be to provide an audio recording of the video description to be played by a user with low or no vision.

Live streaming
Live streaming is becoming increasingly popular on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. When creating live video content, it is important to consider how to make the content available in alternative formats.

You can do this:

  • during the event, by using live captions alongside the streamed content and a British Sign Language interpreter
  • after the event, using a text alternative, as soon as possible after the event finishes.

We have been using Periscope to live stream interviews with various experts across GDS. Periscope isn’t as accessible as we’d like yet, so we have trialled a new solution to ensure the conversation is streamed using text directly onto the screens, in addition to posting the transcript online as soon as possible after the event. We’ve written a blog about how we hacked Periscope here.

Hashtags and Links
Hashtags and links are useful to provide the user with context or a method of finding further information - but we keep this minimal to avoid confusion, using a maximum of two per post. We only use hashtags for campaign material, to draw it together - we don’t generally use hashtags for day to day content.

Our research shows that people who navigate the website via keyboard shortcuts often find it frustrating to navigate multiple links within one social media post, so we only use one contextual link. This link would be the full link - not a shortened version - as this includes a description of the content itself and shows where the user will arrive to view the content.

Where you can find GDS on social media

Currently the bulk of all our social activity takes place on Twitter, we use 5 different accounts each with distinct audiences and supporting different programmes of work and objectives. With the exception of LinkedIn, all our other channels play a supporting role to Twitter (Instagram, YouTube, Flickr and Vine).


A quick note on Facebook

GDS don’t have a Facebook page. Initially this was a matter of resource. But as time progresses, with every new update to the Newsfeed algorithm it becomes increasingly difficult to get your content seen unless you’re willing to advertise.

That’s not to say we are not fans of Facebook. The huge, and if necessary, targeted reach of the platform makes it the perfect place to promote campaigns and engage users. The Cabinet Office digital team has recently set up a pan-government page to support departments in this way.

General channel hygiene

Do not attempt to put a channel live without the correct branding, messaging collateral or an initial post. No one wants to see default logos, empty or incomplete ‘about us’ information or a community with no content. Also ensure that your logos and background images are consistent across all communications channels.

Make sure communities are always kept up-to-date using an editorial calendar and that content is reviewed to assess effectiveness.

Each community should be governed by your rules of conduct.

Regularly refer back to your social media objectives to ensure that all activity is on track and accountable.

Make sure you have re-familiarised yourself with the latest guidance for Civil Servants on social media.

Channel guides - Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube

A brief GDS Guide to Twitter

We’re not planning on writing a Twitter guidebook as there are many already available online, one of the most inclusive coming from WebTrends. The Government Communications Service also has a number of comprehensive guides for all different level of Twitter user.

Instead, we’ll talk about techniques we’ve found that work for us, and how we use them.

Image of the GDS Twitter information

Getting verified

Being Verified on Twitter (a blue tick on a profile) shows your followers that they can trust that you’re the official voice of your department. Details on how to Verify your account can be found on the Twitter site.


When we are linking to content off Twitter, we ensure that full URL links are displayed as users should see where they are being taken to. This is important when it comes to building trust. It also reduces the chances of link corruption. URL-shortening services such as or should, therefore, be avoided.

URL links go 25% of the way through the tweet if possible (this gives far higher click through rate).

Keep tweets short: under 100 characters gets up to 17% higher engagement.

Visual imagery is the lifeblood of Twitter. Share visuals on Twitter natively or use Flickr for higher engagement - more than Instagram.

80% of UK Twitter users access the platform via mobile - this has huge implications on the content you develop. After all, no one wants to view a huge infographic on a phone screen.


Use hashtags (as part of the text) when relevant but never more than two, and keep these short. For specific events, make sure there's only one hashtag promoted. Remember, hashtags are a tool to share and connect with others around a topic or subject. They also allow users to see what is 'Trending'.

When using hashtags try to keep the tweet character count as low as possible to allow followers to contextualise the RT without the tag dropping off.

Through the effective use of hashtags, government departments can track awareness and engagement for campaigns. There are a number of free and low-cost tools available to do this (such as keyhole and

Additional tools and services

Sign-up to Twitter Alerts: this is a breaking news service available to certain local, national and international institutions that provide critical information to the general public. The service is only available to people using the official Twitter app for iPhone or Android. Check out @FCOTravel and @Envagency who are already using this service.

Use Twitter Cards when you have a strong call to action. 'Cards are the mobile language of the web' and allow for a choice of videos, images and product information to be embedded right into the Card within a users’ newsfeeds. Cards have proven to be very effective for some of the activity we currently run on @GOVUK. For example, we have been working with DVLA to test direct calls to action for their #nomorecounterpart campaign.

Example of a @GOV.UK tweet and Twitter card about the abolition of the driving licence counterpart

Twitter recently launched a native video player allowing users to capture, edit and share videos directly in the Twitter newsfeed. The 30-second video is then displayed into users timelines. This new feature comes just as it’s been reported that by 2017, video content will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic. We use this player option frequently for soundbites and event clips as users accessing content via mobile are not taken away from the newsfeed into a third-party video site (i.e. YouTube).

Live streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat provide a way to stream live video over the Internet. The opportunities to use this tool are endless - live stream from events, speeches, Q&As, and many more. GDS have run a number of Periscopes showcasing different members of the team. For some top tips to get you started, click here. We plan to test these services later this year. It’s important to remember though privacy and copyright laws before using the services. Also, think about the quality of the live feed; nothing worse than a shaky camera and poor quality audio.

Snappy TV is another service we’re planning to explore later this year. The service allows the clipping, editing, and distribution of live video feeds in near real time. The benefit of this service is to share a key moment of an event, speech or conference with users. Again, you will need to consider privacy, copyright and legal issues at the planning stage before posting any material online.

A brief GDS guide to Instagram

Instagram is a great way to bring content visually to life, and we use this to showcase the work of GDS.

To get the most out of Instagram:

Get involved in things that are already happening on Instagram, for example, #tbt (ThrowBackThursday) is a great place to re-use older content.

While hashtags rule on Instagram, don’t go crazy. Three is more than enough.

Keep Instagram photos smartphone only - it’s what the channel was designed for. HD images live elsewhere (for example on Flickr).

Upload 15 seconds of edited video - with appropriate consent and permissions from individuals featured in the content.

Schedule Instagram posts using services such as Schedugram.

Behind the scenes images can work well, such as backstage shots at events

Capture and share high-quality Hyperlapse videos. There are lots of examples of brands and government posting creative hyperlapse videos.

Using third-party apps: Instagram has some powerful editing features built-in, and it’s new ‘Layout’ app is perfect for creating collages. But you can go further. Third-party developers have created some amazing apps that let you overcome Instagram's limitations. Browse through a list of Instagram apps that may be useful to you.

Picture of the @gdsteam Instagram profile

A brief GDS guide to Flickr

We love Flickr for hosting HD images, and as a valuable image resource internally when creating presentations. It’s also great for creating albums that can then be shared to Twitter and displayed online. For example, we worked with professional photographers for both Sprint 15 and the 2015 GOV.UK conference in London. Images of the venue with GDS branding, registration and speaker applause were uploaded to Flickr.

To get the most out of Flickr make sure:

Content is correctly titled and tagged. This will help with search engine optimisation (SEO). You can add as many tags as you like to Flickr as there’s no limit, and it doesn’t negatively impact the user experience.

Images are crafted into albums. This allows users to find easily the content that they are looking for, it also allows you to share lovely looking photosets direct to Twitter. Remember that the copy you write for the set will appear in line with your tweet and photos.

Only post sharp, clear images. ‘If your pictures aren’t sharp, they’re not allowed in’ under Flickr's Stabilisation Detection function.

Examples of high-quality Flickr images from a GDS event

A brief GDS guide to YouTube

We use YouTube as a hub for our videos as it allows us to embed this content directly onto Twitter (when we don’t use Twitter’s native video player) and LinkedIn. It also allows other users the opportunity to embed your videos onto websites, blogs and their digital channels.

Some things to bear in mind:

Ensure the content is titled and tagged correctly. This is essential for SEO and discoverability.

Add content to the relevant playlists.

Use video annotations when necessary (these are great for directing traffic to web URLS or encouraging subscriptions).

Upload regularly - stagnant accounts indicate to your community that you can’t be bothered.

50% of YouTube views come from mobile; this is a huge amount and needs to be factored in when creating new content.

Always add a call to action (CTA) to the description or the text you’re adding to share. “Watch” and “Video” are two of the most clicked links on Twitter.

When creating a video think about whether you need to have a CTA included as an end frame.

Remember when uploading videos to YouTube for public consumption, you need to make them accessible. To ensure that everyone can get the most from your videos, it’s important they’re either captioned or embedded with a transcript (we can’t publish them if they don’t meet these requirements).

Add a good enticing thumbnail to your video so it encourages users to watch it. Video thumbnails let people see a quick snapshot of your video.

Learn more techniques and best practices through YouTube’s Playbook Guides.

Screenshot of the GDS YouTube channel

A brief GDS guide to LinkedIn

GDS has a company page on LinkedIn, on which we share video updates and link to relevant pages on our blog. We’ve found that our updates on LinkedIn result in a higher click through/engagement rate than on our other channels. Especially if we post about current job vacancies.

Some things to consider when using LinkedIn:

It is a fantastic channel to showcase expertise and generate discussion. Be prepared to have more in-depth conversations with groups and individuals to add real value.

Get involved with relevant groups on LinkedIn to help promote your Company Page.

Optimise your headlines and introductory text to help with SEO. Google previews up to 156 characters of your page text.

As with all social media channels make sure you include a call to action. According to LinkedIn you are twice as likely to generate an engagement if you do this.

The channel offers great targeting options so if you want a post only to be seen by a specific group of users, you can set this up. However, don’t make your targeting too niche as this could exclude other users who may be interested.

A while ago LinkedIn announced showcase pages for companies. This allows organisations with multiple products and/or services the opportunity to target specific audiences. We will be launching our first showcase page later this year.

Picture of the @gdsteam LinkedIn profile

If you want to get in touch with us about anything you’ve read here, please tweet @gdsteam or contact us.