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Speaking out: stakeholders on social

The NHS and Sweden are empowering citizens and employees to share stories on Twitter, however the US National Park Service tells an entirely different type of story.

Stakeholder advocacy is in vogue among public relations practitioners as a form of public engagement thanks to social media.

The thesis of this nascent form of engagement is that organisations empower their customers or employees to talk about their experiences in owned and social spaces.

People have shared stories since the beginning of time. Storytelling is a fundamental part of human nature.

It’s rarely done well in the space between organisations and individuals because of the inherent conflict in values.

Issues at play include tone of voice, language, disclosure and privacy. There is also the disconnect between how well an organisation may think it is doing, and the reality.

Stakeholders on social

Two case studies on Twitter showcase the potential.

@NHS celebrates the health service through the stories of people working or being treated by the NHS in the UK.

Each week, a new patient or member of NHS staff takes over the @NHS account.

This week the account is being run by Amy, a neonatal nurse at Kings College Hospital. It treats 1.5 million people per year and operates over five sites in South East London and Kent.

Amy is tweeting about her work with newborn children and mothers, and engaging with the public whenever they ask questions.

@sweden takes the same approach for the country of Sweden. Every week a citizen of the country shares their experience of the country. The goal is to promote Sweden internationally.

This week it’s the turn of Johan Svensson, drug policy spokesperson of the Pirate Party. He’s sharing cultural jokes, images of his dog and Swedish food.

@nhs and @sweden are successful forms of stakeholder advocacy. NHS employees and patients, and Swedish citizens at home or abroad, can pitch to run the Twitter accounts for a week.

Both accounts have light touch governance. You can check it out for yourself on the About @NHS and the About Curators of Sweden web pages.

The result is a diversity of voices, and a refreshing form of first person storytelling. There’s lots for us to learn from each example.

When staff go rogue

There’s another side to this story.

The risk of empowering individuals to share information about an organisation via social media has been spotlighted this week by the US National Park service.

The new White House reportedly censored the Badlands National Park in South Dakota account after it shared climate data in defiance of the new administration’s policy. The tweets have subsequently been deleted.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Interior Department, have all reportedly been banned from posting on social media.

Meanwhile the National Park Service stopped tweeting last after retweeting photos questioning the turnout at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Employees at the service have set up a rogue account on behalf of the National Park Service at @AltUSNatParkService. It’s tweeting information, facts and images from US national parks, to more than 850,000 followers.

[Update 27 January 2017]

Over the course of the week the rogue US federal agency account has inspired many others. Digital advocate Alice Stollmeyer has built a list of more than 50 accounts.

First person storytelling is an authentic and engaging form of media. @NHS and @Sweden show the potential for brave organisations. As the Cluetrain Manifesto suggested in 1998, the internet is a conversation.

But alternative Twitter accounts show that organisation can’t control social media. Attempts to censor or close down accounts simply result in new ones being created.

If you’re working in the area of customer, citizen or employee advocacy proceed with caution.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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