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Government Social Media Strategy: RaxRaxRax, on his Government Social Media Strategy work with the Ministry of Justice

Tell me about your new Job?
I joined the Ministry’s Communications Directorate on June 22 and have been tasked with formulating a cohesive digital strategy across the MoJ’s entire workforce – no small task! A large part of the newly created role is also to leverage social media platforms into the current communications strategy.
The Ministry of Justice is one of the largest government departments, with around 95,000 people (including probation services) and a budget of £9.2 billion.
Every year around nine million people use our services in 900 locations across the United Kingdom, including 650 courts and tribunals and 139 prisons in England and Wales.
Our work spans criminal, civil and family justice, democracy, rights and the constitution.
The Ministry of Justice works to protect the public and reduce re-offending, and to provide a more effective, transparent and responsive criminal justice system for victims and the public. We also provide fair and simple routes to civil and family justice.
The Ministry of Justice’s creation on 9 May 2007 brought together, for the first time, responsibility for the justice system – the courts, prisons and probation services. We work in partnership with the other government departments and agencies to reform the criminal justice system, to serve the public and support the victims of crime. We are also responsible for making new laws, strengthening democracy, modernising the constitution and safeguarding human rights.

What is your biggest challenge in working in government?
People warned me when I started that I would experience a huge cultural shift moving into the public sector and I’m beginning to see what they mean. However one of the main reasons for me taking on this position was to move away from brand marketing for consumer products to focus more on the impact that digital communications has on citizenship. Social change and democracy are two of the defining features of social media and for me. Government policy is beginning to recognise that in order to engage with the public, new communication platforms need to be explored.
Despite the obvious change in working protocols associated with a move from the private to public sector, I have been genuinely surprised by the willingness of the Ministry to engage with tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. I expected a certain amount of resistance as there is a perception of most civil service departments to be slow on the uptake of these new tools. However, the feedback so far from my colleagues within the Communications Directorate is very much of the ‘let’s do it’ mindset – which validates my decision to take on the new role.

Tell me about your Blog
I’ve been ‘consuming’ blogs now for five years. Google Reader is my life-support. If I go a day without reading my RSS feeds, I am left with over 1,000+ posts to sift through. It takes a few hours every day to read my feeds. I usually take an hour in the morning, half an hour over lunch and then my commute home to catch up on what’s going on out there in the big wide Blogosphere.
Yet despite this ‘obsession’ I only began blogging relatively recently. I justified this blogging inertia with the following logic:
A film critic, inhales films. He eats, sleeps, breathes cinema. He may go to his local Odeon three times a week, buy all of the film review magazines, religiously follow the latest DVD releases, have his TV locked to FilmFour and he may have IMDB set as his permanent homepage. He may even at a push be able to recite by heart all of the opening lines of the collective works of Woody Allen. There would be little doubt that this fella is an expert in film. What he isn’t though, is a film director.
Extending this logic to my own situation, I argued (and have done so ad nauseum for the past few years) that whilst I consider myself to understand the anatomy of a blog and the way that the wider community works, I didn’t have to fully immerse myself in the medium in order for me to do my job.
However, since I began blogging back in October last year, I began to realise that writing a blog was fundamental to understanding what it means to be part of a connected community.
I write mainly about stuff that captures my eye in the world of social media. I tend to flit between short observational pieces and larger post which focus on wider topics currently impacting on social media strategy.

I love case studies both from a brand perspective and a citizen point-of-view. I’m constantly learning and in doing so, feel compelled to blog about my experiences.

What was your first experience of social media?
I started working in PR because I loved the simple idea of connecting with audiences. Initially, it was done using traditional media or an analyst house as a conduit. However, the technological advances of the last few years has given marketers and communications professionals the gift of being able to connect directly with their audiences without having to go via a mddle-man.

I remember working up the social media strategy for Marmite a few years ago and being able to grow a community of Marmite lovers on Facebook which currently stands at a quarter of a million people. These consumers didn’t just wake up one day and declare themselves to be Marmite Lovers. They have always been out there – often forming informal fan-groups online. What social media platforms like Facebook have allowed us to do is organise communities and to unite them in a way which leaves the door ajar (no Marmite pun intended!) for brands to communicate with their consumers transparently and openly from the heart.

What is the biggest tip you would give to a newbie in social media?

Listen. Learn. Join-in. There are no ‘experts’. We’re ALL learning. Anyone that claims to be an expert is lying. Your voice is just as relevant as the next persons. Make your opinion be heard. It makes the conversation a richer experience.

What do advertisers do that you wish they wouldn’t?

I hate seeing a brand treat social media as a shiny new toy without taking the time to genuinely engage with its audience. There is plenty of lip-service being paid at the moment to blogging platforms like Twitter by so-called marketing experts. However, brands still see communication as a monologue rather than as a two-way street. Don’t broadcast your messages – take time to engage. You’ll come out enlightened and with a better reputation.

The most successful marketing campaigns are the ones which avoid preaching to the masses but instead, focus on a niche which it understands and communicates directly with in an open non-salesy dialogue. Listening is still the most effecting marketing tool and is becoming increasingly important if you want to leverage the wisdom and experience of ‘the crowd’.

Where do you see growth in the social media field?

For a while there was much talk about marketers employing ‘Community Managers’ to manage their social media presence. This was a lazy reaction by self-styled communication professionals who didn’t have the will or the desire to understand their audiences. Instead of centralising social media outreach, I believe that all marketers will have to acknowledge the necessity to engage directly with their audiences online. This won’t be the sole responsibility of the marketing department either – all individuals within an organisation will take on the shared responsibility of monitoring their brand’s online reputation.

What do you do to improve the world?
Smile at people on the Tube. It probably freaks them out, but it’s worth it.

What do you do that is green?
Blow my nose

What is one thing about you that not many people know?
I speak French, Spanish, Italian, German, Gujerati and Hindi

What’s your favourite book?

What is on your iPod?
A cool new British-Maori group called Hui-a. Awesome sounds – mixing native New Zealand chants with fresh, London soulful rifts. http://www.koharecords.com/koha/hui-a.html

What are your contact details (email, company, blog, facebook, myspace, forums, etc)?
Twitter: @raxlakhani
Email: [email protected]

How do you prefer to communicate?
Face to face always beats any other form of communication but it is a luxury which sadly isn’t always attainable. In the absence of eyeball to eyeball… Twitter is my thing!

Who would you recommend, and why?

1. Andy Bellass – a creative genius who is driven by developing communications and brand strategy. An inspiration to me throughout my time at Splendid Communications, Andy continues to be my reality check and strategic mentor.
2. Shirin Majid – A Dutch-born Anglo-Indian pseudo Texan ex-New Yorker with Canadian roots in London / creative strategist with a relentless source of ideas and energy stashed up her sleeve. Shirin is also one of the loveliest people in marketing. Fact.
3. Lolly Borel – what Lolly doesn’t know about blogger outreach marketing quite frankly isn’t worth knowing. Soak up her wisdom here: http://www.laurenceborel.com/
4. Lewis Webb – social media’s smoothest operator and founder of the now legendary Shoreditch Twit.
5. Jonathan MacDonald – a whirlwind of ideas and a real force in mobile marketing. Possibly the most connected man in mobile.
6. Sandrine Plasseraud – Feisty, French and Fabulous! Author of the widely read Buzz Attitude blog and part of the We Are Social team.
7. Ged Carroll – a Social Media God that walks among us. Check out his common-sense approach to marketing here: http://renaissancechambara.jp/
8. Melanie Seasons – a relatively new arrival to our sceptre Isle, Melanie currently works for OnlineFire (an excellent conversation agency) and blogs at http://fakeplasticnoodles.com/about/  writing a little bit about social media and a lot about her experience living as an American ex-pat in this “fabulous black booger-inducing city”.
9. Michelle Lyons – a relatively recent new contact of mine who has a boundless passion for online citizen engagement and blogging. An angelic ray of Aussie sunshine…
10. Some bloke called Murray Newlands…? Ever heard of him? !
More about me:
I have over eight years of experience within the communications industry, working across numerous sectors including public and third sector, consumer and B2B technology, education, personal finance, FMCG, and fashion and consumer PR.
During my time in PR I had the pleasure of working on digital strategy development with major brands including Microsoft, Intel, Smirnoff, Guinness, Marmite and Carphone Warehouse and more recently have been running education workshops for many of these clients on harnessing digital communications.
I have been responsible for developing outreach strategy and community tools for a wide range of global brands focusing on targeting and engaging specific online audiences. Prior to joining the Ministry of Justice, I was working as an outreach and social media strategy consultant across different industries, helping marketers generate genuine online talkability within social networks and blogger circles.  Most recently I created the digital division at PR agency, Splendid Communications, where I developed new services such as blogger relations, social network site marketing, podcast seeding, wiki visibility tools, search engine marketing and online reputation audits.

Government Social Media Strategy: RaxRaxRax, on his Government Social Media Strategy work with the Ministry of Justice

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