The government is looking into creating a standardised procedure to pay for its various social media purchases such as creating and uploading videos to YouTube and posting messages on Facebook and Twitter, and is in talks with various government agencies about this, the Economic Times reports. Currently, the social media accounts of most government agencies are managed by third parties, which means their contacts vary widely as they lack uniform criteria and purchase procedures, the report says. The government’s increasing social media requirements are likely to be met through the Government e-Marketplace (GeM), the national public procurement portal. “We are trying to get the requirements from various agencies to develop a standard process and key performance indicators which they want measured, such as the number of likes and shares,” an unnamed official told the newspaper.

GeM saw 4x increase in transactions value in 2018-19

Earlier this month, we reported that GeM had recorded a total transaction value of more than Rs 23,000 crore in FY2018-19, a four-fold increase from the previous year, according to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. It also ended the fiscal with more than 2 lakh sellers and service providers – double the previous year – and saw 50% more traffic on its website. The GeM was launched by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology in 2016. Any government department or PSU can use it for direct online purchases for up to Rs 50,000. Purchases above Rs 50,000 must be made from the supplier with the lowest price who meets all quality, specification and delivery requirements. Here’s what else the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said in its April note about the GeM’s performance in 2018-19:

  • There were more than 17 lakh transactions on the platform, which offered over 8.8 lakh products.
  • More than 34,000 government organisations (central and state governments, and PSUs) were registered on the platform.
  • 42% of transactions by volume were conducted with MSMEs.
  • Buyers spanned 36 states and union territories (UTs); 24 states and UTs signed an MoU to adopt GeM as their core procurement portal.
  • GeM was integrated with Aadhaar, UdyogAadhaar, Ministry of Corporate Affairs21 (MCA21), Public Financial Management System (PFMS), PAN, GSTN, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA), Railways, and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI)-empanelled rating agencies for a robust registration process.
  • It signed MoUs with 12 banks for payment integration to facilitate a cashless, contactless and paperless payment system.
  • It signed an MoU with the MSME Ministry, Common Service Centers (CSC) and industrial associations including CII, FICCI, and ASSOCHAM to facilitate training, capacity building and onboarding of manufactures and vendors.
  • It was integrated with the Quality Council of India (QCI) to ensure the quality of the products and services on offer.

Govt’s framework and guidelines for social media use

In 2012, the government created a framework to enable government agencies to use social media platforms more effectively. Briefly, it comprises the following six elements, which are elaborated on below:

  • Objective: Why an agency needs to use social media
  • Platform: Which platform/s to use
  • Governance: The rules of engagement
  • Communication strategy: How to interact
  • Pilot: How to create and sustain a community
  • Institutionalisation: How to embed social media in an organisation’s structure

(The below text is a summary of the framework)

1. Defining objectives 

Social media is not just for disseminating information but also engaging with the public. Government organizations are also exploring how to use social media for policy making, recruitment, and raising awareness about public services. Care must be taken to allow people to communicate in their own language. Social media may be used for seeking feedback from citizens; re-pronouncement of public policy; generic and issue-based interaction, brand-building or public relations; and generating awareness about national action plans and implementation strategies.

2. Choosing platforms

With so much choice it is essential to identify one or two key platforms at first. Based on the objective and the response the number of platforms may be increased. Departments and agencies should base their choice of platform(s) on the following factors:

  • Duration of engagement: Whether it will be an ongoing activity or time-bound with a specific purpose.
  • Type of consultation: Whether consultation is open to the public or restricted to a particular group of stakeholders, e.g. experts.
  • Scope of engagement: Whether it requires hourly, daily, weekly, bi-weekly interaction.
  • Existing laws: Whether existing laws permit the use of such platforms and what they say about data protection, security, privacy, archiving etc.

3. Governance structure

Since social media requires round-the-clock engagement, current rules on media interaction do not fully apply to them. However, the official pages of departments must reflect the official position so there ought to be rules for engaging with social media.

  • Accounts: Wherever possible, a department or agency must use the same name for its various social media accounts to ensure that they are easy to find.
  • Login and password: A proper record of login IDs and password must be maintained. This is critical as multiple people may be authorised to post on behalf of the department.
  • Account status: It is important to define whether officials engage only through official accounts or whether they can use their personal accounts as well to post official responses.
  • Responsiveness: This indicates the how often the pages are to be updated, how the responses will be posted, and the turnaround time for responses. When possible, it is important to state upfront the status of the response (given/not given), its type (official/unofficial), and response time.
  • Response: Not all posts/comments need to be responded to immediately and individually. Wherever a response is required all posts should be kept short and to the point. While employees are free to post response in their personal capacity, they must clearly identify themselves, not share confidential information, and not be seen to represent the official view unless authorised to do so. There should a defined hierarchy not only of responses but also of queries. For routine queries a fixed response may be used. For queries about projects or programmes, again no separate official response may be needed because all relevant information may be available in the public domain. Such categorisation will help streamline responses.
  • Resource governance: More often than not it is advisable to create a dedicated team. One of the key issues that impacts the resource requirement is whether the conversation is moderated or un-moderated. In case of moderated conversation, dedicated resource/s is critical. Clearance systems must distinguish between situations when an official position is required, and when open conversation is appropriate.
  • Content governance: Sharing consistent content should form the bedrock of content policy. It must also be tailored to the site on which it is being published. Content should be in Indian languages and must not be limited to text. A moderation policy should also be published if the platform permits others to add their own content; It should include matter related to copyright, rights to addition and deletion etc. As most social media platforms are based outside India and not governed by Indian laws, specific policies may be drafted on information security and archiving. If required, agencies may engage with the social media service providers to work out service-level agreements for a complaint and response mechanism between the agency and the service provider, content storage, shared access of the content, and archival mechanisms.
  • Legal provisions: When a government department provides such social media facilities on its network, they become an intermediary under Section 2(1)(w) of the amended Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 79 of the amended Information Technology Act, 2000 provides the broad principle that intermediaries like Government departments providing social media facilities are generally not liable for third party data information or communication link made available by them. However, this exemption only applies if the department complies with various conditions prescribed under Section 79 of the amended Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • Data and information security governance: The government’s communication to citizens via social media should follow the same data retention policy as its communication through other electronic and non-electronic channels. Data portability compliance varies from one social media platform to another. Hence, privileged access may be mandated by the government on the lines of “take down notices” and “information requests” that are sent for intellectual property rights infringement and other offences. Since profiles on social network are linked more often to individuals and not organisations, for the organisation’s site/page, a separate work profile may be created which can then be linked to a general email address that is accessible to anyone in the team, enabling them to administer the accounts without compromising on individual privacy. If a department or agency is collecting personal information on a social media platform, it must state this upfront.

4. Communication strategy

Key aspects include integrating social media into routine, connecting with existing networks, sharing content across sites and publicising use of social networking through traditional media. Social media can only be used by the Government to communicate existing Government information and propagate official policy to the public. Great care must be taken to avoid propagation of unverified facts and rumours. Social media should only be one of the components of an overall citizen engagement strategy. Departments must desist from using only social media to communicate. Ideally, no account should be left without new content for more than a week or two.

5. Creating a pilot

It is always better to test the efficacy of an initiative with a pilot project. Some of principles of creating such a pilot include:

  • Focussed Objective setting: Initiate interaction for a limited objective or limited to one topic Begin Small: It is always better to start small and it is advisable to begin with one or two platforms.
  • Multiplicity of access: The chosen platform should typically permit inputs from or linkages through multiple access devices. This will ensure wider participation.
  • Content Management: It is not enough just register presence on a variety of platforms. It is essential that content provided is topical and up to date.
  • Community Creation: On any social media platform, creation of a community is essential to generate buzz and sustain interaction.

6. Institutionalizing social media

The final step in ensuring that the pilot is scaled and integrated is to link it to existing administrative and communication structure. Rules may be established that all policy announcements will be undertaken simultaneously on traditional as well as social media. When possible, all important announcements may be broadcasted using social media. All documents seeking public opinion must be posted on social media sites. All updates from department’s website should be updated on social media sites automatically.

7. Core Values for Using Social Media

Unlike traditional media, social media is interactive, enables one-to-one conversation and demands immediate response. The following may be kept in mind to smoothen interaction:

  • Identity: Always identify clearly who you are, what is your role in the department and publish in the first person. Disclaimer may be used when appropriate
  • Authority: Do not comment and respond unless authorised to do so especially in the matters that are sub-judice, draft legislations or relating to other individuals
  • Relevance: Comment on issues relevant to your area and make relevant and pertinent comments. This will make conversation productive and help take it to its logical conclusion
  • Professionalism: Be Polite, Be Discrete and Be Respectful to all and do not make personal comments for or against any individuals or agencies. Also, professional discussions should not be politicised
  • Openness: Be open to comments – whether positive or negative. It is NOT necessary to respond to each and every comment
  • Compliance: Be compliant to relevant rules and regulations. Do not infringe upon IPR, copyright of others
  • Privacy: Do not reveal personal information about other individuals as well as do not publish your own private and personal details unless you wish for them to be made public to be used by others