Increasingly, citizens demand to be heard on social media

As commercial firms respond to customers on social media around the clock, government bodies must play catch-up. Few departments are doing it well.

In the last days of the 2013 federal election campaign, then-shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a Coalition government would move all its major services online by 2017. Their destination is the myGov site, which was launched under Labor in 2009 and is billed as a one-stop-shop for everything from Medicare claims to tax returns.

But as the processes move online, so too the questions and complaints. “Cheers for making tax returns more frustrating and difficult then [sic] they need be,” wrote one Facebook user as the myGov site struggled under the July 1 rush.

That’s the thing about the digitisation of customer (or citizen) services: as necessary as agencies’ own online service channels might be, it’s familiar channels like Facebook and Twitter many people turn to in the end. Social media has become an integral part of the customer service landscape, and the change has implications for public service processes, policies and skill sets.

Social media typically begins as the domain of the marketing and communications department. Low-cost, unmediated and used by one in two Australians, its marketing potential has been embraced by most government bodies.

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