Government websites – are they still relevant?

Last week I attended my first eMetrics conference in Sydney. It was the first time eMetrics had come to Australia. Jim Sterne gave the opening keynote address. He was fantastic to listen to – both informative and entertaining!

His opening gambit was to ask the participants what were the three reasons for them being there in the room?

My three reasons were:

1. How to determine the return on investment (ROI) for government websites;

2. How government websites can better meet the needs of their customers;

3. How government websites can reach the people they are missing.

His keynote then went on to talk about how the market place is a conversation, its not about cost its about value. Its about developing a social media marketing framework that allows people to communicate better. Its also looking at it from the customer’s point of view.

I came out of that session thinking that the government shouldn’t be thinking about government websites, they should be looking at how to network with their consituents using social media – and that the government was totally missing the point.

Government is really good at spin – they have a message, a campaign and they put it out there on TV, radio and newspapers and on their government website. They want everyone to sing from the government’s hymn sheet. But more and more people are seeing through the spin – they don’t necessarily believe the message any more, let alone go looking for it.

If government wants to reach the people, then government needs to play where the people are playing and that is not on a government website. The people are playing in the social media space.

Nielsen’s Social Media Report – Wave 3 2009-2010 claims 38% of Australians are interacting with companies via social media and most prefer to do this through a social networking site rather than the company’s own website. This could apply equally to government – it would be easy to assume that more Australians would like to interact with government via social media rather than the government’s own website. Other statistics of interest – 63% of Australian have watched an online video, and 14% have either browsed or followed companies on Twitter, 73% have looked at a social networking profile, and 57% have updated a social networking profile.

Nielson also stated that "Social networking on sites such as Facebook was a key driver in Australians’ trial and uptake of social media. Close to three in four online Australians (73%) have looked at others’ profiles on social networks and well over one third (37%) of these report to be interacting with others via social networking sites on a daily basis. Facebook dominates the online social networking space, with three quarters of Australian Internet users (75%) reporting to have visited Facebook 59 percent have a Facebook profile, and the average time spent on Facebook in a given month is 8:19 hours – seven and a half hours more than its closest rival site, YouTube."

So my takeaways from this session were that if government looks at issues and needs from the people’s point of view, they will never fail. Government needs to play where the people are playing and that is in social media sites such as Facebook or they will become distant and irrelevant.

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2 responses to “Government websites – are they still relevant?

  1. The problem with this argument is that people in general are playing in the Web world, not the social media world. Move completely to the social media channel and you lose a large part of your audience. A courageous move, Minister.

  2. Yes you are right – moving completely to the social media world would alienate those people who are playing in the web world. But perhaps there could be a tighter integration between the web world and the social media world which could work for players in both arenas.

    I think government needs to get in there and be prepared to make mistakes, just like they did when the web first came about. But there seems to be a general reluctance to explore this on mass.

    Public servants are waiting for permission to do so and as a consequence are missing opportunities.

    Or maybe I have just got it all wrong??

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