I’ve seen and heard it said a few times recently that some organisations need to move on from self-proclaiming about ‘using’ social media to just cracking on and realising the benefits that really engaging networks can bring, for them and service users. Talking about it and doing because we can, just isn’t helpful; doing because it is useful is. Sometimes it’s good to look with an outside perspective and work with others who can see it more clearly and help to guide us and provide context.
Recent completion of linked pieces of work has brought Leeds City Council to a better position in implementing sustainable, integrated use of social media and in increasing cultural and digital confidence. All part of the #trulysocial media friendly journey.
At this stage I need to dispel a myth, as much has also been written about corporate communications teams not understanding social media and wanting/needing to ‘control’ it. Just last week we saw an article via Guardian on-line suggesting a desire for digital control still exists within council communications teams. For the record, not in Leeds.
So let’s tell the story from the Leeds perspective.
The start of our journey involved gaining an understanding of who was using social media and what for. That may appear like an admission we didn’t actually know and so couldn’t be in control. So if ‘not in control’ is perceived as working in an environment where people are encouraged to be creative, try new things and engage in new ways, within reason, then I suppose things could be construed as hurtling towards digital anarchy. Just to confirm – that is not the case. But reality check required here; in Leeds, we have close on 30,000 staff, delivering a lot of services – it’s big, very big.
Gaining ‘control’ of social media is so not the way to do things, even possible, even if ‘we’ wanted to.
‘We’ completed a survey with our social media account holders. We, in this context, actually was the corporate communications team, but ‘with’ being the telling word. Dig a little deeper and representing the team in this piece of work is myself and one other member of staff. Do we need a bigger team of people to coordinate this and the rest of our social media agenda? Yes, of course we do. Thing is, we already have this team – they just don’t know each other yet or see themselves as a team.
‘We’ (now meaning shared ownership, including senior management) wanted to provide a supportive package for staff currently using, or those who will be using, social media in their work, as social networking is only going to grow. We have an open and mostly trusting approach towards the use of social media in Leeds, in line with the social media friendly principles we have adopted, but we also want to ensure people feel supported and understand how and why we use it and as part of what else we do, not separate.
Before the survey, ‘we’ knew there were about 50 twitter accounts and some other accounts. You can imagine the response if we had taken the approach of implementing an official corporate dictate requesting declaration of accounts so that ‘we can take control’. Coordination, support and working with people who have skills, knowledge and experience is how to do things. The outcome of our request for information was that within a couple of hours of offering to bring together the staff behind any social media accounts so we can crowd source and suggest improved guidance and support, offer training and form a self-help network, was that 76 Twitter accounts had responded. This is actually our values in action; open, honest and trusting and based on working with communities. This is progress.
Similarly, once the account managers had identified themselves, all 76 then responded to the survey which included questions on networks other than Twitter, (we thought that Twitter was a good place to start). It asked questions about how the accounts are used, why they are used and what benefit people think they bring, what people had learnt from using social media and what support they felt they needed. We found out that some accounts are just one person with no back up (yet), and most were managed by staff who had taught themselves or who had transferred the skills they used in their private use of social media. Not all could identify the difference they made to their service. Importantly, most wanted to be part of a wider network and have access to better support and guidance. On receiving the survey, a few account managers realised they no longer needed their account and so they were deleted.
We currently have 69 twitter accounts, representing different services including our main ‘corporate’ accounts. We also have staff and councillors using individual accounts in their work. We also have a number of Facebook and YouTube accounts and an increasing number of blogs and other platforms.
As a result of the survey, we brought the 69 account managers together to form a collective – an informal self-help group and knowledge base. We all met up last week for a chat and agreed we would like to work together to develop a training and awareness package that our OD section has now agreed to fund. The group also agreed to run drop in sessions on hints and tips and to help develop useful guidance in the form of a toolkit for all staff. This is the power of networking in action. We will also introduce them to their department web publishers and their communication staff. Early days still but this is also about providing momentum to encourage cultural/digital confidence across the organisation.
Also informing the training and guidance we are putting together is the learning from a recent pilot project that we worked on with Abhay Adhikari (@gopaldass), digital identity specialist. Looking at ‘voice, context and digital identity’, we worked with 11 people from across the council who volunteered to better understand what being a more social media friendly organisation might be. We looked at voice and context and how they apply to digital identities and our values. In other words, who we are as people and services, how we might come across, what tools we might use and how networking might help us in our work. And then, how that might help in better explaining what we do, in connecting and creating conversations with people we work with and with those who use our services.
An objective was to see if we could introduce new ways of working into areas of our organisation that have not yet embraced social media or fully realised the opportunities and benefits it might bring. These folk supported each other, shared what they knew and the skills they already had and learnt. What we learnt from this project is that as an organisation, whilst we have a reasonable relaxed approach to the use of social media, it is no longer ‘having a dabble with some free tools’. No longer is it viable to use the goodwill of those [let’s call them] digital pioneers who have probably invested a lot of personal time and even expense to self-skill, probably in times when these tools and skills where not seen as core work. Social networking needs to be sustainably resourced and recognised as mainstream business. We need to move on from the ‘we are using social media’ to we can evidence the difference it makes.
What was interesting from the survey and from the pilot is that it appears easy to create ‘digital identities’ and to some extent have a ‘voice’ but not so easy to understand or create the context or purpose to then provide a truly networked environment which makes a difference. There is also still some mistrust of these new ways of working. These issues need further awareness and discussion and an appreciation of what is possible and what isn’t. And social media isn’t always an appropriate solution, for different reasons.
Some feedback from people on the project;
“It was good to see this approach being encouraged from the top which gave confidence to take things back to our teams. However it was also good that it was not being directed from the top which was also important”
“It definitely helped that the project was open to anyone who is interested in being social regardless of experience or knowledge. We all have to start somewhere and learn from each other”
“It created a space where we could come together, explore ideas, share experiences and think differently”
Both the survey and pilot will help us develop an improved staff learning and development package in two parts; the ‘awareness of’ and the ‘how to do’. We need to provide a contemporary view that explains the benefits that new ways of working can bring for staff who can then introduce social networking into their teams. And then we need to provide wrap round support, guidance and training for people using ‘new’ tools.
The third element or project which will help to further embed use of social networking came from working with the University of Leeds in researching digital data analysis tools. Digital Data Analysis was a six month exploratory research project carried out by staff at the Institute of Communications Studies and funded by the Digital Economy Communities and Culture Network. The project experimented with different tools for digital/social media data analysis to see how the data they produce might help public organisations to know about and engage with people better. This is about understanding what tools are available to help us and to what benefit they may bring. We will be sharing the results of this project with our new network and introducing some of the tools that the research looked at.
And following recent visits to O2, Direct Line and First Direct to see how they have integrated social media into their organisations, we will be looking at how our more corporate social media accounts work with our service area and campaign accounts to help each other. Shortly we will be introducing a social media offering through our customer services team.
Always something going on behind the scenes in the #trulysocial journey.
If you would like more information about any of the above projects then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
We would also be interested to hear what others are doing that is helping them become more sociable organisations.