On mythbusting and moving on

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”

And we did learn that new ways of working can be introduced. Just take a look at @RecoveryLeeds and Better Lives Leeds blog as examples.

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 phil.jewitt@leeds.gov.uk

We would also be interested to hear what others are doing that is helping them become more sociable organisations.


About Phil Jewitt

Comms guy and meaning maker, living in that place between personal and professional. Home is Leeds, Yorkshire. I work in communications for Leeds City Council, the 2nd largest council - with a lot to talk about and a lot to listen to. http://philjewitt.wordpress.com http://www.linkedin.com/pub/phil-jewitt/19/853/6b7 http://twitter.com/philjewitt
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16 Responses to On mythbusting and moving on

  1. Fiona says:

    Really interesting read Phil, great to hear about how LCC is progressing in such an innovative ‘none control’ way!

  2. robwebster1 says:

    Good stuff Phil. Vicky P told me how you were doing some great stuff at the Council. She was right 🙂

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Rob, let’s just say I’m fanning the embers and helping people create some #socialglow. Looking likely the #HSCLeeds movement will also burn brightly.

  3. This is really an interesting read and you’re obviously very passionate about progressing with the use of Social Media, which is great.
    I have read that the council now has the remit for Public Health. . There is a huge link between social isolation and poor health outcomes including mental health. I am sure social media can be used as a great tool in this area. Look forward to reading more 🙂

  4. Phil Jewitt says:

    Thanks Vicky. Colleagues in health and social care services in Leeds are having a tweet meet on 2nd August at 2pm in Merrion House if you would like to come. Let me know.

  5. Tom Riordan says:

    Great stuff Phil! Keep up the good work. Think I should do a blog on this internally soon.

  6. dtbarron says:

    Phil, this has an immediate resonance for my ‘current’ organisation as we struggle to firstly embrace, then engage with SoMe – partly through size (we’re very small) and partly through limited understanding. Lessons for us in your blog ‘me thinks’. Thanks

  7. Excellent and inspiring post as always Phil 🙂

  8. Mike Chitty says:

    How about inviting the wider community into your development work Phil so that we can build better relationships and be very conscious about the usual dynamic by which an authority (with budgets, OD teams, access to consultancy support, expertise and peer networks etc) establishes ‘expertise/influence/control’ over those whom it seeks to serve?

    I absolutely believe that you do not seek to ‘control’ social media. However in the tussle of public opinion between authority and citizen, you must be aware of the deeply unequal playing field where the local authority uses its resources to develop its power, while little or nothing is put into the development of the social media skills of the citizens. The powerful PR function moves online….Perhaps a ‘whole system’ or more inclusive approach to the design of social media saviness might be possible where authority and citizen come together to learn?

    I would also urge you to work with those who, in their desire to work with us, have an initial response of ‘come into the civic hall for a conversation’. This is costly, burdensome and usually un-productive. Why not encourage them to engage via social media, email and other ‘conversational’ modes.

    Finally, an invitation. What role might social media play in the Disruption of Poverty? Perhaps that is a conversation that could be led, with citizens on November 27th? https://novdispov.eventbrite.co.uk/

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks Mike. Posts like this are written for a few reasons. Not to be self congratulatory but to share information on what is being done, progress that is being made and even where progress might not be being made. Also to hopefully invite and include others in what is being done and on their thoughts about how things may be done. So your suggestions are welcome.

      From telling these stories about the social media journey, we have had requests from colleagues in other councils asking us to share what we have learnt along the way so they may benefit and we are happy to do that. And we share what doesn’t work too. Where we can we will share with others too. What we don’t yet know we hope to learn by this open approach.

      Through initiatives like #HSCLeeds and in supporting Leeds Social Media surgery and in recent work through Leeds Digital festival, colleagues in the council and in the NHS and elsewhere are putting something into the development of the social media skills of citizens, and basic computer skills as the recent post on Citizens Online highlighted. We want it to grow, we want it to be seen as people willing to help because they can and want to not because they have to, and I hope people see it that way. Wednesday’s #HSCLeeds event on blogging seemed to do that and it will now lead to some more social media cafes where we help people with understanding and getting started with blogging.

      You make a good point about could things like social media saviness be developed on a wider, more inclusive basis and where authority and citizen come together to learn. Absolutely they can, but it needs a starting point and as mentioned that is where #HSCLeeds etc come in. These events are also looking to crowdsource what may be required, so including people in what they may want to learn. It’s a start, not set in stone but there to be developed by many.

      That also includes looking to host meetings and events in different venues across Leeds, at different times of the day to be more sociable and inclusive, and to provide opportunities for people who might not have had the chance to meet before. So not just in the civic hall.

      There are some good people trying to make this stuff happen, including yourself, and we need to continue to encourage others to do the same by showing how we can make these things work so they get enthused and join in.

      Thanks for the invite to novdispov, I’m sure social media can play a part in disrupting poverty, indeed a similar theme to what the recent #aboutmeleeds idea was trying to do. Happy to help promote.

  9. Just a note from me to add that I conceptualise innovation around digital as throwing lots of little pebbles into different parts of the pond and seeing what ripples it creates – some are barely discernable and others are significant. And there is absolutely no point in professionals and institutions investing in digital if patients and citizens aren’t in those spaces. I was really pleased we had a good mix of people bringing a persona/patient perspective and professionals at #HSCLeeds this week but I was also acutely aware that the venue, the time of day, access to transport and many other things will have been a barrier to many. So (to stretch the metaphor as far as I dare) we need to make sure we pick up and throw lots of small pebbles, paying attention to what sets off ripples and what doesn’t, and avoid relying on one big rock (I knew I ought to have ditched the metaphor earlier…)

    Blogging about the experience in the way you do Phil, is just an excellent way of increasing transparency, sharing learning and giving others an opportunity to contribute 🙂

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