Social Networks…what are the strengths?

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A recent comment on my blog got me thinking about what the strengths of social networks are. WOW, what a question and one which i don’t feel that i could give justice to however i have been thinking a lot about how they can fit into local government thinking and use.

A number of obvious things do come to mind and some of which we are already trying in my council.  These ideas are based not only on existing SNS but bespoke ones for specific purposes as well

  • participation and engagement with young people and wider groups of interest
  • extended communications to staff without formal connection to corporate network
  • Internal knowledge base and reduction in use of internal email
  • providing services as widgets so we don’t have to expect people to come to council sites

I’m sure there are lots more, but the reality for me is that these sites will provide greater opportunities to communicate and provide services directly to and for people.

Gerry McGovern highlighted at the “perfect council website” conference earlier this year, that people generally use the internet quickly and in between their favourite programmes so if we make our sites difficult to navigate and services hard to use why would they bother?

However people are prepared to spend time of SNS to co-ordinate social events or exchange information with their friends, so why can’t we offer the services they need within their window of opportunity.

After all even as a council worker i don’t find myself navigating around my own website let alone other local authority websites because i am a busy person, like we all are and time is something i am not prepared to sacrifice to, for example report a pothole.

This issue for me is one of the drivers behind trying to reposition our thinking on web and how we approach the web. I believe that a web strategy needs to focus on the channel and not the corporate website alone. This is why i am now in the process of preparing a re-write of the councils web strategy that i wrote about 18 months ago.

It will incorporate a wide range of opportunities online and will represent a sort of “online activity” and “digital access” strategy.

Regarding the strengths of SNS, well i believe that they now represent a fundamental shift in the way people use the web, it truly is a social web and and that means websites that offer and increase this kind of activity will become more and more popular.   Where does that leave traditional council websites, i’m not entirely sure yet, but they will and can not look like anything they are now…

For me the greatest strengths of SNS are the people in them, the technology is only a facilitator, they wouldn’t work unless people wanted to communicate in that way. So we really need to focus on people and and where people are if we are to engage with them.

Some people will still prefer to meet in the context of a group down the local village hall and would like a council representative to discuss issues with, others will be part of online communities of interest and we must respond to them as well.

SNS and social media in general do exactly what Clay Shirky talks about in his book, they provide opportunities for people to organise themselves without formal structures and organisations to support them. I found this video on you tube of Clay Shirky talking about the book

I also found this interesting presentation on the future of social networks

Catching up with social media

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The tricky thing with social media is that there always seems to be something new appearing to play with, that will radically change the way we work and communicate.

In my role as the business lead for web strategy and development, i always try and focus on what the business is trying to achieve and what problems they are trying to solve and then look at the landscape to see what will work for them. I know many people from different organisations get a “thing” and then look for business problems. For me this is the wrong way round and we should focus on blended solutions to help people reach our variety of customers who choose to use various contact methods.

I came across the Social Media Manifesto by Brian Solis, which is about a year old now but i was unaware of it and i have found it a great read, especially alongside Clay Shirky (yes still going, i know i should have finished but i keep going back over some parts as they are so good). What i liked about what Brian Solis wrote was the simple but effective (getting started) bit…he writes:

“Below are your action items for placing your company on course for the Future of Integrating Marketing and embracing the world of social media to enhance relationships with press, bloggers, customers and all other unforeseen influencers:

  • Experiment with social media as a person before jumping in as a company spokesperson
  • Talk to the corporate marketing team, discuss the options, and divide and conquer
  • Listen – find the tools that work for you (technorati, GoogleBlogSearch, BlogPulse, etc.)
  • Determine where you customers participate, listen, read, and speak with them on their terms
  • Assign a community manager or multiple managers and start commenting, reading, writing, sharing, and participating
  • Participate as a contributor and not a marketer
  • Create company profiles and share relevant content on every important social networks – don’t forget to manage your presence in each one
  • Create videos, screencasts, and demos and upload to YouTube
  • Broadcast and receive relevant updates through Twitter, Plazes, or Jaiku
  • Webcast relevant videos
  • Podcast and/or host a video blog
  • Set up del.icio.us profiles for corporate bookmarks, industry trends, competition, and press/blogger coverage
  • Create special Linked in profiles for company executives
  • Establish contacts in all major IMs for specific company contacts
  • Expand the company blog to support multiple spokespersons
  • Add a blogroll that links to other relevant sites and ensure that each post trackbacks to other resources and references to increase visibility
  • Participate in comments
  • Create blog profiles in Mybloglog and Bloglines to reach dedicated users
  • Build company and campaign-specific profiles (where appropriate) on Facebook, Myspace, etc.
  • Develop your own social networks specific to the company and current activities a la Ning and Ideastorm
  • Host a regular talk show on blogtalkradio or blogtv
  • Create an account and Digg relevant stories – not just related to you
  • Write more than one release – experiment with social and SEO releases and create new distribution methods to get them in front of customers – the wire services are no longer the only game in town.
  • Analyze web statistics to measure traffic and referring sources”

Now i just need to tick these off and work my way through as best possible from a local government context…..but keeping up with social media tools themselves will prove to be a harder and more challenging role.

Game Theory and Engines

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As i continue my reading of clay shirky, it got me thinking about how groups/communities can now get together and are using social tools for mutual benefit. It mentioned that in groups providing peopel don’t act selfish and continue towards the greater good, the group can continue. It gave an example of shepherds sharing a field, providing no one shepherd lets there sheep overgraze the field remains balanced. However the individual motivation is to get fat sheep as cheap as possible. So you have a decision to make, stay true to the ideal or cheat and take what you can for free. Now this is also the same choice that all the shepherds face……

This got me thinking about game theory, the psychology aspect of what is mainly an economic theory focuses on social situations, which i feel is a more accurate description of what game theory is about. Although game theory is relevant to games such as poker, most research in game theory focuses on how groups of people interact. I have also started to hear about game theory in John Seddon’s book about Systems Thinking in the public sector…

The rise of social tools to foster mass collaboration has really taken me by surprise and i am now following like many others into a new era of communications and social interaction.

A colleague has expressed their concern over the real face to face interaction which gives you some real contact. However with the GPS capabilities and the link with social networking, it will only offer me more opportunities for face to face contact but with people who are friends of friends or who are recommended by friends as people with similar interests.

This on a sunday has made my mind boggle and i can only contemplate how the next few years will look in terms of the web considering facebook was only developed in 2005! Look how that has impacted our lives, whether we use it or not, it seems to play a major factor in how people information.

My hope is that we all continue to focus on the social and community benefits, which after all is driving these social tools and continuing the revolution of how groups and communities come together.

Tidgy\'s Engine - just waiting to start it up now

Everyone needs to realise that the technology can only play a part (the platform) and it is all of us who continue to make this stuff work, function and tick. That is the beauty of how things have changed in web2.0.

On a seperate and more personal note, we have finally finished the engine for the van and we are ready to start it up tomorrow (providing there is petrol in the local petrol stations)….

Anyway this signals a turning point in what feels like 4 years of hell really, but we are so close now to getting him on the road. Just the brakes to do after this…

Also i forgot to add a photo of the scarecrow we made over in the allotment. Not sure what the boys have called him but this is Ewan with our scarecrow.

Ewan and the Scarecrow

How do ants know what to do?

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I was sent an email yesterday , which i didn’t get around to looking at until today, i looked at my twitter feed and noticed Dave Briggs had posted some links and one of them focused on a response to Ads on local council websites. The exact email i had been sent…..An interesting concept but something I don’t agree with, if they are purely commercial. Unless we can control what and who i don’t think we will be embarking on this journey sometime soon.

Paul Canning has an interesting perspective on this topic, which is worth a read…

There are some implications to brand and reputation which will need to be managed or at least acknowledged going down this route. BUT and i guess this contradicts myself here if we could support local businesses or even regional businesses then it maybe something we could consider, but is isn’t something to get me excited about this month.

I was reading a bit more Clay Shirky, “Here comes everybody – The power of organising without organisations”. It got me thinking about “How do ants know what to do” this is an interesting overlap in that ants organise themselves without organisations and each one knows exactly what to do….maybe an ant version of CB radio or sms exists which we can’t measure, after all they have some great antenna, they must be used for something!

Save the cheerleader save the world

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save the cheerleader save the world

Last week, they (the chair fixing specialists) had to take my office chair which had broken on me whilst i was sitting back trying to ponder some new plan to save world, yes i actually do believe that…..i am also a big fan of heroes.

Anyway, at first i didn’t think losing my chair for approximately 2 weeks would be big deal, but i must tell you that my bottom is now missing the years of moulding it had created. The temporary chair for which i am grateful does not offer no where near enough comfort and i must confess i am feeling the strain.

I noticed this this morning whilst i was waiting for my laptop to boot up and connect to the network here, i decided to take a sneak peak at the book i purchased after the web 2 event last week (Here comes everybody, by Clay Shirkybuy it now from Amazon). After about the 5th page i was very uncomfortable and found it difficult to continue, so i stopped. How can i change the world in this chair!! I will continue at home later this evening.

I had intended on doing all the things i had put aside from Monday and Tuesday, as i was distracted by the social networking meeting which has actually got me thinking about a wide range of issues. But i was distracted today as well, i decided to download flock a social web browser, as a colleague (Martin) recommended it as a way to get around not be able to install adobe air on my laptop. I am very impressed with it, it pretty much does all i need a browser to do, but it could do with some other links to more formal sites like “istock”. but i can’t complain. I recommend it, if you find yourself moving around different applications to keep in touch (twitter, blogs, you tube, flickr etc). So thank you to martin who helped point me in the right direction.

I then spent a few hours going through web 2.0 and social media with a colleague and found myself, not out of character, going off topic. But i think i succeeded in spreading the message and passing on some knowledge.

The interesting thing about web 2.0 and social media is the concepts and approaches are important for us to share with other people as they can help shape local government in the future.

Now i am not sure where i heard or read this so do point it out if you know as it has stuck with me.

There are three rules of open source:
  1. 1.Nobody owns it.
  2. 2.Everybody uses it.
  3. 3.Anyone can improve it.
Our future thinking must view government more like a giant open source community. So far government ticks boxes one and two, no one person owns it and everybody uses it. Our task is to crack the elusive third point, ensure that every citizen has the ability to improve it.
It also got me thinking about how we spread the message, a communications exercise. Earlier this year i ran a small workshop inside my council entitled “blue sky discovery session – web 2.0 and social media” The aim of which was to get a small group of key business people in a room and talk to them about web 2.0 and social media and then open up discussion about what are there key issues and challenges. How could these new approaches (not technologies) help us think differently moving forward. It went well and i now have some great support for opening up social networking sites for all staff. But it still needs to be formally debated at our ICT programme review board. but i am very positive.
The success i think of the group was that it contained a mix of people who think differently about change and new ideas. This diagram will help show what i mean.
Where are you?
It is important i believe to ensure that we get a good representation of these types of people (be honest you all know some in each area). But they are critical to the success of projects and innovations.
One last thought, is Social Networking and sites like Twitter, the death of email? or do we see this like a postcode or address, a way in which we can obtain other things. Will we be encouraged to only have one email address to make things easier…