Human Services, CSIRO tailor social media monitor

36 digital media projects on the way as Gov 2.0 sells to Human Services management

Department of Human Services general manger of communications, Hank Jongen

Department of Human Services general manger of communications, Hank Jongen

The Department of Human Services will soon deploy a tailored social media monitoring tool with an aim to better listen and respond to conversations concerning the department’s offerings.

The tool, developed for the past year in-house in collaboration with CSIRO, is currently in testing but will soon be deployed for all staff across the department’s individual agencies, including Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support. It will replace the free Google Alert and socialmention media monitoring applications currently in use by staff.

“It’s still early stages for the tool but we’re really excited about our progress and working with the research scientists at CSIRO,” Human Services general manager of communications, Hank Jongen, told attendees of the Gov 2.0 conference in Canberra this week. “We’re hopeful the system will begin to learn what items we follow up and those we don’t, and eventually begin to assign a priority ranking to move those higher up the list.

“We’re also exploring sentiment and sarcasm as part of this work, but that’s a really difficult thing to measure in the context of 140 written characters.”

The new tool will enable media monitoring staff to identify conversations around particular issues, allocate response to each other, and record all conversations and responses in a particular data set.

The software was borne out of a need to monitor hundreds of mentions per week in social media, a task Jongen descibed as “time intensive”.

The tool would likely be made available to other government departments in the coming months, as well as general social media best practice, though Jongen did not disclose licensing terms or a time frame.

Human Services has become a bastion of Government 2.0 and social media use within Federal Government, highlighted by ventures such as the establishment of the MyCommunity forum in August, which allows users to submit feedback anonymously, as well as share experiences and offer ideas about improving engagement with Centrelink staff. Launched off the back of a four-year redevelopment of its internal customer communications systems, the forum currently has 370 members.

However, such use required a consolidation of hard lessons learnt by previous failures, according to Jongen.

“We created an open forum to allow staff to engage but didn't have the appropriate rules and protocols around it, so guess what, it became a centre of negative commentary,” he said. “It wasn’t properly managed and it was seen as destructive."

He identified cultural change, both among public service employees and management, as a huge challenge to selling social media.

“Beginning this work hasn’t always been smooth for our staff ... along the way we’ve had to shift thinking from a closed-to-protect-customer-privacy approach to a culture of trialling social media to help us be more open in our interactions with customers.

“The real issue relates to the executives within many government organisations because frankly, they don’t know what we’re talking about ... I actually discovered that many of them have this abstract notion of Facebook, a bit of an abstract understanding of what Twitter is; there’s a natural defensiveness.

“It required a huge sell.”

However, Jongen labelled open access to Facebook and Twitter for a staff a milestone for the department, which has led to a roadmap of approximately 36 digital media projects to be implemented across the department over the next year. Jongen has also established a Digital Media working group with the executive to ensure other misunderstandings of technology and Gov 2.0 tools are worked through.

“At the moment we are weaving our way through the development of a more open set of protocols ... we hope,” he said.

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