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Victoria Health releases Social Media Guidelines

by Paris Cowan •
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The Victorian Health Department has become one of the first State Government agencies to develop and release a set of social media guidelines for its employees.

In doing so they join the Federal Department of Finance and Deregulation (Finance), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), among the ranks of government bodies which have released similar documents.

Victoria Health’s Social Media Action Plan was released on August 31. It is the product of a partnership between the Health Web Communications Unit and Melbourne company ParisFirst Partners.

The Plan aims to encourage Health employees to use social media tools to achieve a range of outcomes, but within the bounds of recommended practice.

Under the plan, staff members intending to set up and official social networking channel associated with the agency will be required to fill in a Social Media planning template. The template will outline the objectives, target audience and site management details of the proposal.

In order to go ahead, plans will have to be authorised by the Director of the Health Web Communications Unit, and all such activity will be logged and monitored via a social media register.

Employees are welcomed to open social networking accounts on a personal basis as long as it is clear that their comments are not made on behalf of their employer.

The Victorian Social Media Plan shares many key elements with its Federal counterparts at Finance and DIAC, including an insistence that public servants:

  • Remain apolitical when engaging online in an official capacity;
  • Take care not to disclose official information that is not publically   available;
  • Do not bring their employer into disrepute as a result of their comments;
  • Do not post personal information about themselves or their colleagues; and
  • Are careful that any information they do make available is correct and accurate.

In some areas, however, the Victorian Health Department’s regulations differ from those outlined by agencies such as Finance, and are comparatively strict.

For example, employees at the Department of Finance are given the option of using social media in an individual professional capacity, so they can comment and interact within their area of expertise.

This option is not explored in the Victorian document, which is primarily concerned with official online identities which represent the agency or department rather than the individual.

Also unlike the Victorian Health Department, Finance does not require that its employees seek official clearance to undertake this sort of online engagement. However as with other agencies Finance is also very clear that employees should not communicate controversial or classified information, or make comments which could appear to commit the Department to an action.

The use of professional Twitter accounts is permitted under the Finance guidelines and has been embraced by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO). 

John Sheridan, head of AGIMO’s Agency Services Division, uses his Twitter account (@sherro58) to engage in conversation about Gov 2.0 principles and initiatives, retweet and link to other Government ICT initiatives and to link to posts on the AGIMO blog.

His online activity is an example of how public servants can effectively engage online within the parameters set by public service guidelines.    

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