13 November 2023

Public service bosses who link into their human side on social media are most effective, study shows

| Chris Johnson
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A new study shows that public sector leaders who are ‘human’ on LinkedIn can help build trust in government. Photo: File.

A new study into public sector leaders’ use of social media platform LinkedIn has revealed a strong link between how the service is used and public trust in government.

Advisory firm Propel has just released its 2023 Digital Reputation Report: Public Sector Leader Edition which, through research support from the University of Technology Sydney, reviewed the LinkedIn activities of 113 public sector leaders at the federal and some state levels.

The LinkedIn accounts from departmental secretaries, agency chief executives and directors general between 1 March and 31 August this year were reviewed.

The leaders were chosen from agencies with the highest number of employees across the various jurisdictions, and only their publicly available data was analysed.

The public sector leaders observed did not provide researchers access to their profiles or data because the team wanted to purely study what was being posted and responded to on the media platform.

The study showed public sector leaders who shared their human faces, voices and values on LinkedIn emerged as effective communicators and trust generators.

The report found ‘human’ stories shared by some of Australia’s most senior public servants outperformed ‘work’ stories across all standard metrics, generating more public engagements and followers for those leaders.

“The data in our report is remarkably clear: there is much to be gained by sharing more of the public sector’s human face, voice and values through its leaders,” Propel’s managing director and the report’s lead author Roger Christie said.

“The sector is competing alongside everyone else for trust and talent. It must find a way to surpass the salaries, bonuses and benefits talent can access elsewhere.

“It must leverage its greatest assets – people and purpose – and it must do so at scale…

“Their tone, their quirks, their sense of humour – all these defining characteristics of a leader’s style are both powerful in driving an authentic connection with audiences, but also in claiming their own voice in an increasingly murky online environment.”

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But 96 per cent of the posts analysed were contributed by only 20 per cent of the public sector leaders observed over the six months.

Founder of advisory group Public Purpose and co-author of the report, Martin Stewart-Weeks, said the effectiveness of using social media well was lost on many public servants.

He said navigating the rules and policies around social media use while employed in the public service could be intimidating for some – and many preferred not to use social media at all.

“There’s no doubt many leaders are still coming to grips with a new imperative to match their professional persona with their humanity,” Mr Stewart-Weeks said.

“Yet authenticity, connection and performance is a powerful leadership trifecta at a time when the public sector is looking for better ways to build trust and confidence in its work and contribution.”

Of the leaders analysed, 65 per cent had a LinkedIn profile, but 45 per cent of these were dormant or inactive.

A further 23 per cent were rarely active, with fewer than one post a month.

Slightly more than a third – 36 per cent – of all the leaders analysed had posted over the six-month period of the study.

The active leaders were 13 times more likely to share ‘work’ posts than ‘human’ posts. But the ‘human’ posts were shown to be almost four times more effective at generating public engagement than the ‘work’ posts.

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“In ways that, for some, can be challenging and uncomfortable, and which ask deep questions about generations of ‘good practice’ in government and public administration, leaders are coming to grips with a new imperative to match their professional persona with their humanity,” the report states.

“This research, which explores how public leaders are fashioning their digital reputation, is a timely reminder of a mindset and toolkit which is becoming an indispensable part of a public leader’s core strength.

“But these are not fringe interests or a passing curiosity. These are powerful new ways for leaders to drive big impacts on talent, performance and results.”

This year’s Edelman’s Trust Barometer showed public trust in government declined seven points to 45 per cent, and trust in government leaders also declined to 41 per cent.

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davidmaywald2:37 pm 14 Nov 23

Fantastic report from Roger Christie at Propel, who is a thought leader in digital comms (especially LinkedIn).

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