Seven tips for using Facebook if you work in the public sector

Dec 14, 2014

Facebook can be a hard place for brands. It’s a lot like a wedding: friends and family gather to have fun, catch up and talk to each other. Brands need to be careful on Facebook that they don’t come across as a salesperson or a work bore at the party.

Moreover, as Facebook increasingly favours paid-for content from brand pages, public sector organisations can find it hard to get people talking to them and sharing posts on Facebook.

It works differently to Twitter. On Twitter, all your followers may see your tweets in their homefeed if they’re looking at the right time. On Facebook, an algorithm is set up so that only a portion of people who like your page will see your posts. The people who do see your posts are those who engage with your page most. So the more people click, like and comment, the more people will see your posts and you can build on your success.

Here are my seven tips for public sector organisations to make Facebook posts that aren’t dreary.

(This was first published on the Guardian website in late November.)

1. Be interesting

It sounds obvious, but do we really expect people to get excited about a corporate press release about the organisation? Facebook isn’t your website and you don’t have to post everything there. Only talk about the things that will interest your audience, or that are about your audience. Talk about the things you do that your community already talks about.

For instance, councils on Facebook can talk about subjects that affect the largest groups of people. Bins, dog poo, teachers, parks, potholes – these are the everyday things we all have an opinion about. Don’t bore us with cabinet reports.

2. Don’t just talk about yourself

This post from Bron Afon is not about services they provide. It’s an appealon behalf of a popular member of the community, encouraging people to share and help.

Bron Afon Facebook post

Social media doesn’t favour the organisations that are me, me, me. It’s important to gain trust on Facebook by talking about the issues that your community care about and showing support, not just asking for it.

Posting popular content ensures more people will see your posts in the future so by getting engagement on a post that doesn’t directly meet your objectives, you’re increasing the potential audience for later posts.

3. Add a photo – it gets more attention and tells a story

In nearly all studies an image of a person, particularly a close-up of their face,increases the success of a webpage.

Use photographs of people where possible, and tag people or organisations in your images and link to their profiles. This means you are highly likely to get engagement from at least that person or organisation. You also increase the chance that their community will see your post.

I call this the ‘Hello mum!’ effect. When I’m mentioned somewhere in a favourable way, I proudly share it with my friends and family and they like to see and comment on it.

4. Show behind the scenes work – use staff

Make an effort to get your staff engaging with the Facebook page and post behind-the-scenes contentand photos.Not only does this humanise and explain your organisation, but your staff will have friends who want to see and comment on the post. Often, friends of staff are the people we serve in local government.

This simple trick will increase the number of people who view your post organically, so regular efforts to do it can be very effective in the long term.

5. Identify what emotion you want people to feel

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” said Maya Angelou.

People don’t share stories, they share emotions. This study about online viral content finds that people share the content that triggers the most arousing emotions, whether positive emotions such as awe, or negative ones such as anger and anxiety.

It found that emotions that were not arousing, for example sadness, did not trigger sharing of content. So public health information may be shared more if it provokes feelings of anxiety rather than sadness.

Social media is made up of lots of humans with feelings. What’s the emotion of your post? Decide it and express it: “wow”; “does this make you angry?”; “this made our chief exec laugh out loud” or “seriously thought-provoking”.

6. Post content directly to Facebook

When you post a video to Facebook directly, it begins to play as soon as people see it and captures attention without the Facebook user having to click.

Try to let people on Facebook stay where they are, and not have to follow a link to YouTube or your website. Your aim isn’t to drive traffic to your website but to connect communities.

At the recent UK government communications conference, EU officials said video posted directly to Facebook was far more effective than linking to YouTube.

7. Call to action

If people have seen your post, tell them what you want them to do next or they may just move on. For example: “Tag your friends in the comments if they would like this”; “Book now”; “Tell us your experience in the comments below”.

This post from Coventry city council has a clear call to action, getting people to sign up to an email list. This then takes people off Facebook to email where the communications can be more direct.

Coventry city council Facebook post 

Your tips?

These are just things I have found effective – I’d love to hear your take on what does and doesn’t work. Leave a comment below or tweet me to share your tips.


  1. albfreeman

    These are all good suggestions. It is not easy getting everybody to understand how we should be using Facebook. There can be a tendency to think that everything should be shared to Facebook – a link to every press release. This just doesn’t work on Facebook, but it can be hard challenging the notion that “we have an obligation to tell them this.”

    I will put forward two tips of my own:

    Don’t be afraid to delete a badly performing Facebook post. I recently had the difficult task of promoting an important consultation about the future of our district. Not the kind of thing that I felt would normally engage our Facebook audience. My first attempt went down like a lead balloon. After an hour it had zero engagement. So I deleted it, got a bit more adventurous with the wording, posted it again and it was our most successful post that week.

    Allow Facebook posts time to gain momentum by spreading your posts out and not posting too many times. Buffer did some research which showed that the average lifespan of a tweet is just 17 minutes. Facebook is very different in this regard. I aim for just two posts, or even only one post a day on the Bradford Council Facebook page. Last Monday morning I posted a link to our latest job vacancies. It slowly and steadily gathered engagement for the first couple of hours. It continued to snowball, and was still gaining new engagement well into the evening. It was our only post that day but performed better than anything else that week.

  2. Lou Gibson

    All great suggestions. A variety of relevant content is the key for the pages I manage, items which are interesting, sometimes fun, not sales based and have a warm approachable tone work best for us. Great content will also help the page SEO too. The frequency of posting I think depends for us entirely upon service need, objectives and the level of engagement that can be resourced. There’s no point putting loads of great content out there, gaining a ton of engagement and then either not being able to respond to it (where needed) or spending too much time responding to it. I’d love to know more about the EU video content being more succesful when watched directly from Facebook, how are the gauging success?

    • Helen Reynolds

      Thanks for the insightful comment – it is definitely true that service, and user, needs and good reasons to share information are vital. The presentation given by the EU is here – much better straight from the horse’s mouth! Alb’s post is also a cracking demonstration of the principle. Cheers!

    • Helen Reynolds

      Absolute beauty of a post, thanks so much for sharing it here!


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Hel Reynolds

Hel Reynolds

Author of this post

Hel is social media trainer and boss of Comms Creatives. She has been working in comms since 2005, and has been brushing up her expertise in social media for brands since the good old days of MySpace. She also draws the Comms Cartoons, and is usually attached to a mug of coffee.

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