Social Media Friendly?

In October 2012, the LGA (Local Government Association) launched a social media friendly mark initiative to help promote councils that were making good use of social media. There was plenty of comment in local gov circles about whether this was a good thing or a gimmick.   It is summed up in a great post by Ingrid Koehler. Please take a read, it’s really thought provoking.

Ingrid suggests that the following (copied direct from Ingrid’s blog) is how you’d really know if an organisation was truly social media friendly.

From the outside:

  1. Social media is used in a friendly and engaging way. It’s not just a broadcast from the Town Hall, but a space for communication between council and citizen.
  2. The council takes all digital interaction seriously. From paying council tax to reporting complaints to finding out about local events and resources, there are easy low-friction ways to engage with the council online.
  3. There’s some actual evidence that the council wants to hear from citizens through social platforms. Maybe they’re using a cool deliberation tool for real policy co-production or maybe they’re using local digital images for citizens
  4. There isn’t just one way to access the council through social platforms.  But you can engage directly with the services you use and each has a different and suitable feel.
  5. Paper literature, posters, etc have URLs and social accounts where you can follow up or get more information.

From the inside:

  1. Social media sites aren’t blocked for employees or at least there is a generally permissive approach with clear guidelines about who can and can’t access social sites from work for work as part of clear, simple social media policy.
  2. There is a federated approach to communications. It isn’t solely owned by a Comms team, but the Comms team supports and oversees social media communications.
  3. Social tools are used for internal communications. The intranet isn’t simply some software but an approach to sharing knowledge and information between teams and individuals.
  4. Managerial and political leaders demonstrate that they hear and respond to what staff and the public communicate to them through social media.
  5. There’s a clear digital communications strategy and services and staff know where they fit in it.

So in other words, not just ‘social media friendly’ but a truly social organisation. Just what councils and frankly many other public and private sector organisations that work with people should be.

I think the above could be developed into principles for sociable organisation development.

So what do you think? Please let us have your views below.


10 Responses to Social Media Friendly?

  1. I’d argue that using social media for a ‘one to many’ type conversation between Town Hall and citizens misses some of the potential for social media. It does not recognise the potential for citizens to use social media to organise themselves quickly and easily to make good things happen – that previously may have required much more facilitation, coordination and often initiation by the local authority. It makes civic action independent of the state a much more viable option. Instead of coming at the social media from a perspective of how it might transform things we tend to look at how we can use to do what we are already doing at a lower cost. While this is not in itself a bad thing it does limit the horizons.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike. I agree that ‘one to many’ would not be the norm, although can be useful in emergency situations. I also think that people perhaps don’t generally want to be ‘friends’ or have a ‘relationship’ with their council, they just need to be able to find what they want, when they want it, in a logical place and in language they understand. That will probably be when they are in need. Social media is a channel that can help to do that. I think there is likely to be better ‘quality’ conversation at service and individual level, as staff in service areas will perhaps know their business best. This however has resource issues and needs clear guidance to understand and manage the expectations of social media use.

  2. A few thoughts are springing to mind when reading this. There are 2 types of communications that are happening within a Local Authority that needs to be considered when managing social media interactions.

    Type 1 is for the delivery of services to members of the public and this is mainly covered by the points above. How should local authorities react to a member of the public tweeting them, who should be responsible for replying, what is the brand message that needs to be kept, which account should it go out from (i.e. generic or personal), what does the member of the public expect to happen.

    Type 2 is at a more personal level and will most likely occur between officers from various authorities and could be classified as ‘research’, working with peers to identify and learn better ways to meet objectives. The issue with Social media and this type of communications is that the individual personality comes through a lot more than using other mediums such as blogs or forums where a professional appearance can be maintained. What are the ‘rules of engagement’ for these types of conversations, when can a local authority officer engage on Twitter with a colleague while at the same time watching what Stephen Fry is up to?

    I believe that the professional / personal boundary is blurring with social media and unless there is a mind shift to address this within local authorities then officers are going to miss out on this type of communication.

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for taking time to respond. You raise some really valid points.

      Firstly, managing the expectations of how social media is being and will be used is a critical part of making it work; both for members of the public and for staff. There will be different approaches which will suit different situations. Putting together guidance and information for staff and councillors to make sure that the most appropriate option is selected and then ensuring that staff have the support and skills to use the tools will be a big job.

      Organisations have guidance around responding to written mail, emails and telephone calls. The same needs to happen with social media. Thinking more widely, as organisations work together to provide integrated services, such as councils and health organisations, third sector etc, perhaps there is some mileage in looking to see if they all should adopt the same approach. That could mean that wherever a member of the public went with an enquiry, there would be a consistent approach. Again that would mean managing expectations, but doable.

      In Leeds, we are in the process of getting the public and third sector orgs (and others if interested) together to look at what we can do and how we can best use shared knowledge and resources…and ask people what would suit them too. Early days but this is being looked at.

      Secondly the personal/professional debate will be open to debate. Again, different situations will require different approaches. This blog for example is a place where there may be debate as to why it does not carry a Leeds City Council logo – does it not have formal approval then? Yes it does, but it is intended to be a shared space for all people with a view and a space for the different organisations in Leeds (and elswhere for that matter) to provide comment on how we might work together and use social media and on what progress we are making. And as Mike mentioned above, it won’t be the answer to everything.

      I have been looking at the personal/professional issue for the last 2 years I think it probably goes back to the “people don’t want to be friends with faceless organisations debate”…actually I’ve found that people relate to people. If an appropriate solution can be found so that personality, supported by values, can help break down organisational barriers and create proper conversation then why not explore finding that solution. That again involves managing expectations of what is and isn’t possible, but it is an opportunity to be explored.

      I hope this blog will be part of that mind shift you mention.

  3. Kingsley Iball says:

    Responding to an enquiry sent via the council’s website would be a good start.

  4. Hi Phil. Thank you for this thought provoking post. I’m particularly interested in how we can create continuity and consistency in our sociability through but also beyond social media. How might the principles you set out above be part of big public sector organisations becoming more permeable and responsive and friendly in multiple ways and at all levels? We need to make sure that social media spaces are not the only ones were we are being sociable but that we weave the disruptive potential quality that social media afford throughout our organisations and not just in one silo. If we don’t then people are likely to experience a dissonance and rightly wonder about our real desire for sociability.

  5. Fiona says:

    The potential is amazing, the challenge is to get everyone in the organisation to understand the opportunities and feel comfy in embracing it, many staff still have little confidence and proudly call themselves ‘technophobs’. It’s a big change management issue, which needs champions such as yourself, and others to lead staff through, so we all have a consistent approach to it together. Complex to do as LCC is such a large organism, but the rewards would be fantastic!

    • Phil Jewitt says:

      Thanks for the response Fiona. Yes, the potential that social media can bring is amazing, it needs realising by more awareness of opportunities, backed up with the support for staff to implement, and of course the strategy; what is it we are trying to achieve that social media can help with? Lots of work to be done in many organisations I imagine, and hopefully some shared purpose.

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