What’s wrong with local government communications

Here’s a copy of a post we put on the Guardian’s local government network blog be good to hear what you think, here or on their blog

@participateUK http://www.participate.uk.com have been doing a lot of social media work with local authorities the NHS etc..together with @tcinews. over the last couple of years and there’s some fascinating things going on out there. The challenges and disruption caused by social media are huge. But so are the benefits. If I were to sum it up quickly here is what we see going on…

– there is a massive desire to use social media technology to engage with citizens amongst many public sector staff. But too many of them are not even allowed access at work. There has been an understandable but unsustainable knee-jerk reaction to ban access by many organisations
– there is a lack of understanding about what social media really is (i.e. so much more than just having a Facebook page and a Twitter account) how big it is and how much it is changing relationships between citizen and state (or provider and service user)
– social media is failing in many organisations because it is being too corporate (and for it to work well everyone needs to remember that it is “social” media). These folks understand this already http://http://www.facebook.com/pages/PSNI-Bangor/328498264748
– Some people are still under the illusion that they can control the message. Control has already been lost. It is time to engage and influence – jousting is a nice phrase. And you can’t ignore social media as otherwise you hand the message and influence over to third parties (who you may or may not agree with)
– to realise the benefits of social media you need to let go and allow different parts of the organisation to use these tools to engage with service users and/or residents. Some are letting go, like Monmouthshire council, but many find this difficult and worry too much that people will misbehave
– Twitter and Facebook are not mere broadcasting channels they are tools for doing things like managing customer queries, dealing with emergencies, seeking intelligence, even “nudging” citizens to behave well. People are only just starting to realise this e.g. you can save money by using Twitter to reduce inbound calls to your call centre
– There is a fear of doing something wrong by using social media. Staff need training about how to do social media and how to do it safely (seehttp://www.staysocialsafe.com). Having a social media policy is necessary but not sufficient protection for staff or for your organisation E.g. last year around 1 in 8 of the unacceptable professional conduct cases heard by the General Teaching Council involved the inappropriate use of social networks
– People will increasingly expect to use things like Twitter and Facebook to contact their local council, the police, their local hospital etc. Once you open these channels then you have to be ready to us them this way. Silence is rude. I recently tweeted my local council and my local police with a picture of a broken traffic light that had been hit by a lorry. Response = silence 😦
– More and more staff will need training on using social media technology in order to handle all the above

You can find us at http://www.participate.uk.com or @participateuk and onfacebook/participateuk

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One thought on “What’s wrong with local government communications

  1. The Consultation Institute is working with Participate on the development of a new training course – as a follow up to Jon Bradley’s excellent ‘Using Social Media for engagement and consultation’
    The points made in this piece are really important and need to be developed & considered fully in the new Course. We would be delighted to hear from any organisations and/or individuals who have practical experience of these issues, so as to incorporate all the latest learning and insights into our courseware developments

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