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Department of Health

Whitepaper: Social media and the public sector


By The Drum Team, Editorial

January 4, 2012 | 4 min read

A new whitepaper has been released to help public sector organisations learn how best to use social media.

In ‘Social media in the public sector’, author John Shewell, head of communications at Brighton & Hove City Council, explains how the council is using social media and offers tips on integrating it into everyday activities. The whitepaper takes a look at how social media is being used in Brighton & Hove. Researchers found that many of the individuals and groups using social media in the area were talking regularly about the council, but that much of the conversation was negative. When the research was undertaken, the vast majority of these conversations were taking place without the council’s knowledge and participation. The researchers analysed particular areas discussed using social media, the tone of comment and whether users were engaged or simply ‘ranting’ about the issue.
These conversations presented a threat to the council because if a negative picture of the council was allowed to grow without council input, it would look unwilling to engage.

Online communities and influencers in Brighton & Hove

Shewell explains that social media tools, including blogs, podcasts and social networks, present a better opportunity for the public sector to communicate in both directions in a cost-effective, direct way. The whitepaper features a number of case studies looking at how the public sector has used social media. One of these looks into the Department of Health’s use of crowdsourcingIn August 2011 Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley challenged people to nominate their favourite health apps and information maps, and suggest ideas for new apps. The Department of Health wanted to find examples of the best, most popular existing health apps, and hear people's ideas for apps that hadn’t been developed yet. Participants included doctors, nurses, patients and developers.The aim of the project was to help people think about how apps can help with the following challenges:
  • Personalisation and choice of care and support - apps that allow people to search for health information online
  • Better health and care outcomes - apps that allow patients to manage their health condition
  • Autonomy and accountability - apps that allow patients to rate and review their local health services
  • Improving public health - apps that track levels of exercise
  • Improving long-term care and support - apps that help patients plan their own care
The project used a low-cost crowdsourcing platform called Ideascale, which allowed people to submit their entries, read others and vote for their favourites. Individual ideas were also shared across social networks, which helped generate 497 ideas, more than 900 comments and almost 8,000 votes. To find out more, visit whitepaper reveals the savings which have been made as a result of fully embedding social media as part of the council customer service strategy. During the winter of 2009, Brighton & Hove City Council’s waste and recycling department received over 15,000 calls in two months. By introducing social media as part of the overall customer service strategy the council reduced call volume by 30%. In addition to this, abandoned calls dropped from 40% to 1%, email and letter response time dropped from nine days to two days, webpage views increased by 50% and online reporting increased by 50%. In 2009 the council’s waste and recycling unit received a third of its customer contact by phone and in 2010 this dropped to one sixth as customers used other channels.
At the time of writing, a detailed study into return-on-investment was being carried out to measure the total savings made by the council through the use of social media. The typical costs for an online transaction are £7.74 less than face-to-face contact and £3.83 less than in a call centre.Chief executive of Brighton & Hove City Council John Barradell pointed out in an interview with the Local Government Chronicle in January 2011 that: “Councils must demonstrate their relevance by adapting to the changing environment and constantly innovate. We need to adopt a Google-like mentality in which innovation becomes ingrained in our DNA, and achieved through collaboration and co-creation. “The question is how do we connect the three interrelated parts of the council, the community and innovation? “First, we’ve got to relinquish power and hand control to the community. Second, we’ve got to involve them more in the design and delivery of services. Finally, we’ve got to complete the triangulation of council-citizen-innovation in order to become truly relevant.”To read the full report, visit

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