Are public servants confident using social media at work?

As Guardian Public starts its week looking at social media at work #govsocialmedia we thought we’d add to the debate by sharing our 21C public servant research findings around the challenges facing officers using social media. We found that new technologies, whilst welcomed by the majority, are also creating new challenges for workers about how to manage boundaries and to work appropriately. Social media is seen by many as a great opportunity to engage with citizens in a different way, and one that public service organisations are not always embracing with sufficient creativity. One interviewee said ‘We are too controlling around social media at the moment. That’s how people in the real world talk to each other.’

Public servants are also reporting concerns about how to manage the boundaries between professional and personal selves when using social media. One senior manager told us: ‘A lot of public sector organisations fall into the trap of putting out this bland stuff… We’re talking about personality now. Comms are saying you need to be blogging as you. But when I do get the time, fitting it into the day job, what guarantees do I have that no one is going to say you’ve overstepped the mark here?’ There was a clear sense of anxiety about tweeting as themselves as well as their work persona, and how to manage this overlap. And it is interesting to see that some of the ‘best’ public sector tweeters such as @Relhyde @MKMRogers and @SalBWMP manage to combine tweeting about their professional and personal lives, to create an authentic and engaging twitter presence.

However, for many officers in local government, social media was felt to bring problems with exposure: ‘You have to be careful with Twitter. It’s difficult to draw the line between personal and professional life. I tend to retweet things but without a value statement attached. We are in politically restricted posts so we have to be careful.’

We will follow the @Guardianpublic debate with interest, and hope that as it progresses we can reflect on how we our organisations can give staff sufficient support to share the learning and provide opportunities for them to reflect on how they take on the challenge of using social media effectively.

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