Just how similar are the private and public sector when it comes to social media?

I’ve been very lucky in my life.  Prior to my election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2012, I worked for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.  In my five years there, I worked in a variety of capacities, but spent my last 2.5 years working in sales and social media.  That was a fantastic experience.  The Chamber is, of course, a privately funded organization that exists only as long as its members believe they are getting enough value that they are willing to pay for dues, event attendance and sponsorships.

In 2009, I was elected to Allentown City Council, but that was a part-time public sector job.  I only went full time into the public sector with my election to the House.  Are there differences in the environment in the two universes?  Of course.  I found that many in the private sector frequently look down their nose at the public sector, thinking that public sector employees aren’t as energetic, entrepreneurial or dedicated as their private sector counterparts.  That, by and large, is complete nonsense, and that’s a specific comparison I want to talk about in today’s entry: the similarities between social media use in the private and public sectors, at least from a best case scenario.

Both have an obsession with customer service
I think that the best way that government can prove its usefulness when it comes to social media is by providing customer service and passing along information about various government programs and their use.  Similarly, most of the best social media stories involving businesses have to do with the private sector.

Both struggle for relevancy…but this is harder with the public sector
If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ve heard me discuss “value added content” – in other words, content that provides something extra to the life of the person consuming it, and isn’t just a sales or campaign pitch.  To that end, both the private and public sector struggle to ensure that the content they provide is useful and relevant to the consumer.  For the private sector, this is difficult but not impossible: providing information about preferred products and services is frequently enough for the average consumer to want to like a page.  This is harder in the public sector, however; if a government has no relevant information to provide, as is sometimes the case, there is no reason for a consumer to like a page or follow an account.

Appropriate policies are vital
This blog contains dozens of stories of social media gone wrong.  Most of these are in the public sector, but many are private businesses.  The public sector tends to get a stricter rap as being heavy on bureaucracy, but as anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world will tell you, large organizations have their share of policies and procedures as well.  To that end, having appropriate social media policies (what to say, what never to say, how to respond to a complaint, etc) are vital for both worlds.  Not having these systems in place can only lead to a disaster.

The cover up is worse than the scandal
My experience with social media disasters is that it’s the part that occurs AFTER the screw-up – the attempts at cover-ups, lousy excuses, lack of reaction, etc – that are worse than the fail itself.  I truly believe that most people are forgiving and will let an occasional error go, provided that attempts to make amends are genuine.  This occurs in both the public and private sector – the handling of a social media snafu should be very similar.

What do you think – anything else you’d like to add?  Let me know in the comments!

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