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The ATO uses six staff for social media – five lessons you can learn from the taxman’s online strategy

It’s well-known the ATO has thousands of workers at its disposal, but you probably didn’t know the nation’s tax hound has the equivalent of 277 full-time public relations staff – including nearly seven staff dedicated entirely to social media.

According to answers provided to a Senate committee, and reported by The Australian, the ATO has said 277 staff are used for communications activities, which often involve getting businesses up to speed with their obligations.

But of those 277 spin doctors, seven work in media management. The equivalent of 6.6 staff are part of a team who manage the Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Such a large team isn’t necessarily a surprise – plenty of businesses hire comprehensive social media units. Telstra recently said it uses 60 people for its social media monitoring.

And experts say the large team isn’t wholly unnecessary. In fact, as the importance of social media as a service channel grows, many say hiring dedicated social media teams will only become even more crucial.

“Social media will become the new service channel,” says Andmine founder and director Michael Simonetti.

“I think everyone with a customer service based business will need to have social media people employed to handle social media questions. All of that which currently exists on phones and so on will move to social media.”

The ATO’s social media presence is comprehensive, spanning multiple platforms. As Simonetti points out, such an approach should give businesses some ideas.

“I don’t think it’s unrealistic to see companies have full-time social media staff and handle inquiries.”

While many may believe the social media team is too big for a government organisation, there’s plenty to like about the ATO’s social strategy. Although SMEs may not like to admit it, the ATO is actually doing a good job in the social department – so here are five lessons you can learn from the taxman’s strategy.

1. Update early and often

A quick glance at the ATO’s Twitter and Facebook feeds reveals the heart of its strategy – frequent updates. Every day the ATO posts multiple piece of information and recognises events like the start of the year or the beginning of a new financial season. Frequent updates means people are kept informed.

2. Post useful information

Of course, posting frequently doesn’t mean anything if the content is useless. Fortunately the ATO has taken a different route, and actually posts useful information, especially during crucial times of the year. Recognising trends and then providing good, timely content is crucial for a social media strategy.

3. Cover everything – including YouTube

Social media includes every popular platform, including YouTube. Plenty of SMEs have the ability to create some high quality, useful video, but don’t. The ATO has uploaded its YouTube page with plenty of useful information.

Not only does this help with your social reputation, but it helps your search engine optimisation as well. The more places you can be found online and portrayed as an expert, the better.

4. Use universal branding

Look across each of the ATO’s social media pages, and you’ll see the same branding and content used on each. It’s important to maintain a cohesive look across all your social media pages, and it’s something SMEs often ignore.

5. Don’t be stingy – give good information

Part of the way you build a strong social media presence, especially in retail, is by communicating. Businesses need to speak with their customers and answer questions as competently as possible. Look through the ATO’s Facebook page, and you’ll see a number of people who have asked questions with the ATO providing answers. These answers aren’t flippant, either. They’re comprehensive and tell the user where they can find new information if they need to. It’s a healthy reminder businesses need to be talking with people on Facebook and treating them as if they’re face-to-face.

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