Social Media – So What ?

In the latest post on the sociable organisation blog, Ian Street tells the story of how @recoveryleeds was created and what difference it has made so far.

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From my perspective, working with Leeds City Council, ‘So What?’ was often the response when use of social media was mentioned. Issues around accountability, control, understanding etc. – the ‘reasons why not’ got in the way of being able to explore and experiment how we might engage and communicate differently.  Having tried on numerous occasions to encourage a debate and discussion on using social media and seeing these discussions go nowhere, I was somewhat sceptical when Phil Jewitt approached me a few months ago to take part in a pilot to explore some of these ideas under the sociable organisation banner.

A group of different individuals came together with a very loose remit around looking at voice, context and identity. We were very much encouraged to go away and come up with whatever we wanted.  I think Phil invited me along partly as he had been aware of some of my past frustrations but also because he knew that I wrote a blog (www.intotheorchard.com) and used twitter in a personal capacity (@ianstreet67) and he raised an interesting point “you have skills that you use outside work that you don’t use inside, is there a way to change this so that we can benefit and at the same time help you at work?”

This got me thinking quite a lot about the split between work and non-work, for example I don’t use my personal twitter account or blog for anything to do with work but at the same time I’m sure that all of us will potentially have untapped skills that if utilised at work could improve things; both for us as individuals and for our employers.

Those of us who work in the public sector know only too well the effect of budgetary changes and the need to be more flexible and adaptable in what we do to look to provide the best services possible.  In these challenging times looking to see if social media can play a role might seem futile – the So What? argument.

But something was niggling away at me though that perhaps something could be tried, a bit of experimentation, perhaps dip the toe in the water with social media and see if it can help us.

I currently work in a commissioning and contract management role and one of the areas that I’m involved in is contracts in Leeds around treatment for drug and alcohol misuse.  Now I’ve used the word treatment purposely as that is very much how things used to be commissioned and thought about.  A shift is very much underway however to talk about recovery.  We are considering how best to commission services by placing recovery at the heart of the agenda.

This is a relatively new area of work for me but it became clear that although there are lots of brilliant people and fantastic services in the city, perhaps they were not connected as well as they could be and perhaps not everyone who should know does know about them.  I wondered if social media could help play a part in this, to disseminate information, link workers together, help to build and promote a recovery community in the city, to tell the stories of people who are in recovery and to show the amazing work that is going on right now to build recovery.

The idea that I came up with was simple, to use social media (initially twitter, but leading on to investigate other tools/methods) to pilot different ways of engagement, communication and interaction to help build and promote visible recovery in Leeds.

I devised a bit of a plan, mapped out how it might look and very quickly got a few decision makers to give me the go ahead and within four weeks, our twitter account @recoveryleeds went live with a logo designed by someone in recovery.

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There was nervousness and some excitement in the team as we had never done anything like this before but perhaps the greatest nervousness from the powers that be was around giving up control, not just to me and colleagues who run the account on a daily basis, but even more so to other people and organisations who guest tweet.  I’m not a frontline worker so I was very clear right from the start that I wanted to find a way for @recoveryleeds to be a place where anyone could potentially take over the account to tell their story, be that a recovery story or frontline workers and services telling the story of what they do, day in day out, to help people in Leeds recover.

Since going live a couple of months ago things are developing nicely, different people and organisations have embraced the idea and taken over the account, many of whom have previously never used any form of social media.  Everyone who has so far taken over the account has become enthused about the easy democratic way it is to tell your story.  I experimented after the first takeover to use Storify to pull tweets together to tell ‘the story’ of Christina who delivers aftercare in the city. Have a look here http://storify.com/RecoveryLeeds/aftercare-at-work-in-leeds and see what you think.  We have also had the Peer Mentoring manager take over, told a couple of recovery stories, had the Service Manager at ADS discuss alcohol services in the city and had a frontline BRIC worker (Building Recovery in Communities) talk about their work but also their own recovery.

So what?………well actually, this is what;

Christina’s week generated interest that spread to over 100,000 accounts that week.  That’s what! What would have been the cost if we’d printed and circulated that information?

An organisation came forward to offer a volunteer placement with accredited training attached for another organisation’s client.  That’s what! This would not have happened previously as the organisations concerned were not linked up.

We have provided a platform for individuals to tell their recovery stories in their own words.  This inspired a successful business person in the city to contact me and ask to take over the account to tell his own recovery story which was a very powerful example of visible recovery.  That’s what!

These stories can hopefully help to inspire others to show that recovery is possible but also to help change and challenge stereotypes.

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So what….next?

That’s a tricky one to say at this stage, I want the development to help contribute to improved recovery rates, increased and more appropriate referrals between agencies, better links and understanding between organisations in the city, better links between workers in the city, helping to overcome isolation for those in recovery/ looking to recover, encouraging links to mutual aid groups, increasing services and projects with a recovery focus, increasing the visibility of recovery and the development of a flourishing recovery community in the city.  Clearly a twitter account cannot do this on its own, but people can and its people embracing the idea and getting behind it that can affect change.

I guess the So What? is yet to reach a conclusion but my initial thought is that it’s so worth persevering with.  Lots more to be done of course, including developing a recovery blog and further linking all things recovery in Leeds together, organising a social media cafe for frontline workers and the recovery community, perhaps using the account to discuss future commissioning activity in this area and for consultation.

Either way the initial steps have been positively received both externally and internally as I’ve run sessions for staff on what I’m trying to do as well as being invited to discuss developments with senior managers.  I’m sure there is lots more that we could do and in the spirit of openness and collaboration, if you’ve got any idea and advice then do chip in.

Ian Street
Leeds City Council

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About Ian Street

Art, Books, Beer, Cycling, Footy, Friends, Fun, Family, Music - That'll keep me going. Original native of South Wales now exiled in Leeds, Yorkshire.
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9 Responses to Social Media – So What ?

  1. Phil Jewitt says:

    Reading things like this makes what we do in exploring more innovative ways of doing things so worthwhile. We need more examples like this and the Betterlives Leeds blog http://betterlivesleeds.wordpress.com/ to start tipping the scales even further. Great work Ian.

    • Ian Street says:

      Thanks Phil, it’s been a very interesting journey so far and I think, as I’ve alluded to in the post, that there is lots more that can be done. However I wouldn’t underestimate the development work that needs to take place to get things going and to be sustainable

  2. Angie Legge says:

    Really interesting stuff – I do think social media has the potential to change the way we work and communicate, making access to services easier, and less daunting.

    • Ian Street says:

      Thanks Angie and totally agree, I’m only dipping my toe in the water but I think the potential is fantastic. The key I think is to do some experimentation, not be afraid and see what might work or be useful. I think for example there is a lot of scope for apps that could help provide info to services.

  3. Debra Scott says:

    Really good stuff Ian – and very encouraging in terms of the initial impact which demonstrates that it is really making a difference. Also just to say I love the logo!

    • Ian Street says:

      Thank Debra, it’s early days so interesting to see how it develops. The key is getting buy in from all parties and hopefully am starting to demonstrate that it’s worth it. Shortly the Aftercare Service is going to share the account which will add a different flavour, I’d potentially like to see reps from all services doing the same then Recovery will have a unifying voice in the city. Also as I mentioned above scope for app development (which could be an income generator as well?) Glad you like the logo as well, branding etc is important I think.

  4. HR Em says:

    Hi Ian, I’m dipping my toe in too, so I really enjoyed reading about your experiences! Em

    • Ian Street says:

      I very much enjoy blogging etc outside work, it’s been interesting to see if some of this can transfer into the workplace

  5. Pingback: New direction for the sociable organisation | The Sociable Organisation

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