Shift happens


Two years ago I invited someone I had met through social media to a meeting where we could share a drink and have a chat. I wasn’t sure if they would come, but they did. We talked about stuff that was happening at the council and wider. Not too much about what was being done but about how stuff was done. We both listened intently to what each other had to share. At the end of the meeting my guest said “thank you, that wasn’t like working with the council at all.”

I didn’t sleep that night. Those words are still etched in my memory like an internal Voldemort mark which every now and then is the source of pain when I feel or see stuff that isn’t yet right. I suppose it was an indirect compliment …. for doing something that I felt wasn’t out of the ordinary.

So what is ordinary? Being active on Twitter; contacting someone who may have a particular view on something I was working on; having a meeting in a coffee house; talking honestly about the realities of how things are and what might be. None of that is special, perhaps a different way of interpreting what work is maybe, but not special. Use of social media isn’t special, it is something people use, but some of the things that happen because of it can be special.

This blog has been the place where progress about encouraging the use of social media (and other ways of being sociable) in the council and NHS in Leeds is being told. This is the latest update; nothing special but progress nevertheless.

The council, NHS Leeds Community Healthcare, NHS Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust and NHS Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust now have the same shared social media guidance for all staff. Increasingly, staff in these organisations are working together so why not share the same guidance and support? It took a while to get sorted and it will no doubt be added to over time but we now have something to support staff in using social media. This guidance is available for other organisations to use if they wish.

Supporting staff in being confident and effective in their use of social media is something that can require a cultural and digital shift in understanding and delivering. Providing an encouraging environment to learn and dip a toe in takes time and confidence. Similarly, providing wider awareness of the benefits and opportunities that using social networking can bring and increasing digital confidence for services to then do it is a job in itself too. Having an appreciation of the time and effort it takes to set up, maintain and contribute to social networks is something that can only really be done through experience. So at the council, whilst we want to encourage people to use the guidance and dip their toe in, we have set expectations that services should be able to respond to direct requests, in normal working hours, within two hours. And until we get sufficient staff up to speed with training so there are enough people to cover leave and other time away from covering accounts then that might not be initially met. The use of alerts and notifications is something that will help with this. And yes, we have had debates about what ‘normal’ working hours might be perceived as so that is something that each account will cover in how it promotes itself. More about the use of social media at the council here.

There’s a danger in trying to balance providing supportive help and guidance for staff that with setting aspirational expectations of response handling (and let’s face it; people tend to use social media when you want a quick response) that it takes the freedom and personality out of being social. The main council ‘help’ accounts will respond well within two hours as we now have a team covering them, web chat and other customer related enquiries. You should take a look at how Hannah, Sam, Kal, Jen, Paul and Mel cover the council help Twitter account. I’ve heard a rumour that they will be doing a blog post about it too. That’ll be another coffee I owe somebody then!

So what has all this provided? Are there green shoots? Will this make a difference? Will people notice? Does it answer the questions that will no doubt be asked as per this example? There’s a list of our service accounts and what they do on the website. They are the services who are trying to make a difference by dipping their toes and nudging, learning by doing. Not expecting to be seen as special; just ordinary, but every now and then connecting people or providing that thing that might be special.

I attended a recent event in the Town Hall that asked the question of those present “should Leeds bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023?” That’s not a debate for here, as it’s covered elsewhere but something happened in connection to that event; something not a million miles away from that compliment two years ago. Here is a link. Again nothing outstanding, ordinary perhaps, but I hope an example of how a more sociable approach to how things are done will be increasingly perceived.

A small sign of things to come, and hopefully a reduction in reminders from the dark lord.

Phil Jewitt


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.
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10 Responses to Shift happens

  1. I would be interested to know how your response time guidelines of 2 hours compare to other channels for customer services, such as phone and email. I hope the rumour about a blog post from the Leeds Council social media team turns out to be true. I’d like to read that. I’m interested in how you manage two accounts, one for news and one for customer services.

    I would like to see the shared guidelines you speak of too.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for your response and interest Albert. I have it from a trusted source that the blog will be posted in the next week or two. As I mentioned, the team don’t just cover social media, they are multi-taskers as they keep telling me.

      Response times for different channels can vary. Generally phone and social media tend to be the quickest response channels and then email. However, we have a lot of information on the website, so that can often be the quickest way to find what people may need to know.

      If someone happens to be available at the particular minute when an enquiry is made on social media then they will try and respond as soon as possible. Sometimes they can be dealing with a few responses at the same time. Sometimes we might suggest a response to a request made on Twitter may need to be emailed due to limitations of that platform, namely 140 characters.

      We hope to post the guidance on the web page shortly. In the meantime, I’m happy to send you a copy if you’d like to email me at

  2. Thanks Phil. Will that blog be here on The Sociable Organisation, or do I need to keep my eyes elsewhere for that?

    One thing I’ve thought about recently in terms of response time is whether an enquiry via social media might be perceived by some as queue-jumping. For instance, Tom sends and email, while Jerry enquires via Twitter. Jerry gets a reply within an hour, while Tom, at the bottom of a long queue of emails, gets a reply the following day. In the end I concluded that a social media enquiry was no more queue-jumping than a phone call, and that comparing social media to email is an unfair comparison.

    You mentioned the website and, of course, if social media can help direct people to where they can self-serve online, that will reduce the need for some contact anyway.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      The post will be on here.

      No doubt queue-jumping will be tried and there’s always help that can be provided in directing people to where they may find answers or information without necessarily making an enquiry, ie website. I agree with your conclusion.

  3. I’m quite curious as to how you provide support. Is it on a one-to-one basis as required? Through a formal in-house training programme? Or do you provide an in-house equivalent to a social media surgery on a regular basis to which any relevant staff can come to get advice?

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for asking Janet. It is a combination of all of those.

      At the moment there are some 1 2 1s in ‘how to do’ and group sessions on the ‘awareness of’. Most of that so far has been self taught.

      Shortly there will be an e learning programme available for the ‘how to do’ elements for various platforms, which will be added to over time. Also some cafe style events where people who have done the e learning can follow up and meet others who have been using social media for a while. We’ve held a few of those as general sessions and will be looking to do some more specifically themed sessions.

      Trying to coordinate this in an organisation as big as ours is a big ask. We have therefore identified digital champions in each service area who, with their respective communications colleagues, can support staff in integrating social media use across their work areas. They are supported by a central digital access team.

  4. That sounds like a very good mix, Phil. I think that dealing with it across an organisation the size of a city council would be an interesting challenge.

  5. Pingback: Shift happens | weeklyblogclub

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  7. Pingback: Social customer service | The Sociable Organisation

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