Five top tips for using social media to engage citizens

October 16, 2019 by 2 Comments | Category Our work

We recently celebrated the 1st birthday of the Social Content Hub – a dedicated team within Scottish Government Communications tasked with running our main social channels and embedding best practice across the organisation.

It’s not enough for social content to be important or relevant. We have to strive to be engaging, to reach people’s hearts as well as minds, and to demonstrate our value. With that in mind, here’s five top tips for creating engaging content.

Big thanks to colleagues CJ Cook and Sophie Tolley whose presentation for Civil Service Live in June 2019 provided the inspiration and much of the content for this article.

1. Think audience first

Everything we communicate should be carefully crafted around the target audience. For every piece of content we always ask things like:
  • Who is the audience?
  • What are their passions?
  • How do they prefer to communicate?
  • Where can we find them?
  • When are they most likely to engage?
  • Why should they care about our message?

For example, we know that our followers on Instagram are typically younger, and more likely to engage with highly visual, engaging content. By utilising Instagram Stories and adopting a more casual, eye-catching style we have hugely increased the reach and engagement on that platform – and recently hit 10,000 followers.

2. Have a plan

We spend a lot of our time planning. Social media is insatiable and needs to be fed and watered if you want to earn and retain your audience’s attention. Planning is vital. We have content planning sessions which look months ahead, whilst also feeding into daily and weekly catch-ups that take place in the department.

We scan the horizon for upcoming opportunities like national or international days, allowing our content to tap into wider conversations being had online.

3. Learn as you go

Social media platforms collect a huge wealth of data about users’ interests and habits. Used responsibly (of course) we can harness some of this information to learn about what works and what doesn’t. We dedicate time to evaluating what we produce and publish, constantly learning and adapting to optimise our channels.

For example, by seeing that most of our followers are using mobile devices, we can ensure that we design content to be optimised for those devices. We know that 73% of Facebook users watch videos without sound. So we design our video content based on the assumption that they’ll be played on mute. By combining eye-catching imagery with snappy on-screen text and captions for any spoken content, we can get the key messages across quickly.

We can also optimise the timing of posts to reach the biggest audience possible. For example by scheduling posts in the evening, during commuting times, and over lunch, when people are more likely to be browsing social media. Again, data helps us to constantly refine and adapt, to back up (or challenge) our assumptions.

4. Show, don’t tell

It should be no surprise that visual content works far better on social, including on Twitter or Facebook . We are working hard to upskill colleagues to produce high quality videos and graphics to accompany every post. This helps to catch people’s attention and convey large amounts of information quickly and simply.

We try to be as creative as possible to continually surprise and delight our audiences. You may have seen some of the lovely animations and short videos that we’ve produced in recent months.

5. Stay on brand

Crucially, we strive to always stay on brand. This is essential for building the trust and recognition of our audiences, to offer a consistent, authoritative, approachable and reliable source of information.

We have introduced templates to help colleagues stick to the brand colours, fonts and layouts. This has resulted in a far more consistent, recognisable presence online.

And finally…

A week is a long time in politics… and social media!  Nothing stands still on social and we are constantly learning, adapting, experimenting and evolving our approach to stay relevant.

We want to be a centre of excellence for the organisation and are developing a strategy and training resources to help everyone make the most of these channels. If you’re doing something similar, we’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below.

Author image of James ColthamJames Coltham is Head of Digital Communications and Content at the Scottish Government.

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  • Pio Byrnes says:


    I am very interested in reading about your engagement through social media. I am a Planner in a Local Authority in the west of Ireland, and we are preparing the public consultation phase of our new County Development Plan. We have a new, stand alone website set up and are also hoping to use the likes of a facebook page and twitter account for he development plan itself. Have you any tips or guidance for us to look out for or even potential pitfalls?

    I note from a newsletter that you are speaking at a Social Media conference in Dublin in February, unfortunately i am unavailable on that date but i would be very interested on hearing your thoughts.

    Thanking you in advance

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