Monday, June 16, 2008

C'mon Over Campaign on Facebook - The Northern Ireland experiment gathers pace

Can a Government Department succeed in engaging young people on Facebook? In April I discussed how the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DELNI) had become the first Government Department to launch a Facebook page as part of their C’mon Over Campaign, their attempt to encourage people to move to Northern Ireland to work and study.

An initial fear was that an ‘Establishment’ presence on Facebook could turn people away and DELNI could be faced with an embarrassing failure as few people would be willing to sign up as ‘Fans’ and the content on the site would be too dry to engage.

However, the early signs are that the experiment could be a success. The team at DELNI have been very proactive in putting up a diverse range of content on the site, focusing on individuals in Northern Ireland and encouraging debate. Videos of students and employees talking about their experiences together with a new ‘’Day in the Life’ feature give the site a warm feel and get the message across in a human way.

My one reservation is that the ‘Day in the Life’ feature, interviewing someone at one of Northern Ireland’s larger employers, does have a corporate sponsored feel, with the company’s logo and contact details at the bottom. Perhaps this would be more effective if it felt more independent.

What these innovations should achieve, however, is create the viral effect that Facebook is so good at delivering. Everyone who is featured in a video or blog on the page will surely tell their friends, or the page will feature in those individuals’ newsfeed. This is how the popularity of the site will grow. Already, in just over 2 months, the page can boast almost 200 fans and 3,000 hits and is attracting plenty of press coverage, including in last week’s Independent newspaper.

Fans are starting to engage on The Wall and The Discussion Board on the page and a look at the people who call themselves ‘Fans’ of Northern Ireland shows a range of people, including a lot of young people and many based across the world, not just in Northern Ireland.

Michael Gould, from DELNI, told me that this is exactly what they wanted to achieve.

“In our bid to encourage skilled workers to move to Northern Ireland, it is vital that our 'C'Mon Over' message reaches our target audience. Our decision to embrace social networking, and Facebook in particular, was based on its increasing popularity and the fact that the site has the same demographic we wish to interact with."

With a new post almost every day, it is vital that the team at DELNI keep the momentum going and what I’d like to see next is more and more content, in the form of questions, offers and content coming from the growing number of Fans of the site. This is starting to happen but is very difficult to encourage given the way Facebook operates.

It’s certainly been an encouraging start though and is beginning to turn a few heads.


  1. Good to see Government trying to communicate more widely. As a politician with a blog, I do find there are some pitfalls and limitations that will always be present.

    Official sites need to take responsibility for their content, not just their own posts, but also the comments of their readers. In the political field, unofficial sites such as Guido Fawkes attract a huge following because they are spontaneous, allowing anyone to say anything they wish. Watching the posters abusing each other is entertaining in itself - much like an episode of Eastenders or Jerry Springer.

    An official site could never allow some of those comments, so moderation is required, making the responses seem slower and less spontaneous. Some comments cannot be published at all because, quite apart from libel and copyright issues, political opponents visit and they won't hesitate to demand resignation as the price for a comment they deem offensive.

    The lesson is that the official sites can be made to look like part of the facebook culture, but they cannot ever truly be a part of it.

  2. What an excellent initiative this is Andy.