Should councils be using Bebo/Facebook/MySpace

On Friday I attended a youth festival called Kongamana which is co-ordinated and hosted by our Youth Service.

We were there to conduct some consultation with young people about how the council could and should use social networking sites to engage with them. The process was supported and lead by Tim Davies.

We used the councils community roadshow bus, which contains 6 PCs, large screen TV, interactive whiteboard and wifi access, among other things..

28/07/2008

However we didn’t really use much of the technology as Tim has planned an excellent “create a profile” activity, which we did by using the side of the bus with magnetic strips as well as a large table.

28/07/2008

The process was great and was really engaging, it also got the young people to think about what a profile should really be like and also got them thinking and talking about some of the privacy issues that are often referred to when talking about SNS (social networking sites)

28/07/2008

Luckily the weather held out and actually turned in out favour, we were non stop from the moment we started until some of the festival’s planned activities started around 3.30pm. Which was good because it gave us a break to consolidate and reflect. We had 66 young people give us there views and we got some great stuff. Tim will be pulling together some formal findings as part of his research, but to give you a flavour of the insights I gained i list a few below…

  • There is a difference between an individual “youth worker” and an “engagement activity” in terms of profile.
    When put in the context of an activity, there was a feeling that it should be more formal and with official logos etc. However reassurenace that it can be linked to and from the offical council website did come through strong especially if there are no pictures of real people (a few comments along the lines of “how can we be sure who it is) did come up a few times..
    Where as a youth worker doing youth work, would need to be themselves, after all they were saying “we know who our youth worker is and they know us” but perhaps with some formality with (youth worker) highlighted – links to and from the council’s official website would add some extra assurance around the profile being “official”. It also reassures others that we are recognising the work of youth workers in this area.
  • Young people on the whole thought it was a good idea to use these sites, this surprised me to a degree, as i had an assumption that we would get at least one comment, which said “this is our space leave us alone”, but it was more to do with not bombarding them and interfering with what they are doing in those sites.
  • Related to previous point, i perceived that there was a great deal of support for a “widget” which they could add to their profile which would inform them and there friends to consultation and engagement activities, without it interrupting them. this was also a strong theme.
  • They don’t like interruption, so anything we want to do, must not interrupt them.
  • There were clear differences in opinion depending on the age of the young person.
    Some (the younger of the groups I’d say 13-16) were very clear about ensuring security and privacy and keeping profiles “private”, although we didn’t capture their ages as part of the consultation.
    The older groups were a bit more “loose” about it, whether or not this was a real issue, or whether it was the group talking i can’t be sure.
  • What surprised me was the rivalry between SNS sites. We used bebo as an example only, but a few comments from young people talking it down as if it were for very young kids only, they preferred facebook etc…I hadn’t realised that this was just like “fashion” and if you were in the wrong space then then you weren’t “cool”. Thankfully for us, we didn’t really engage in that discussions as we said we would need to be in the right space at teh right time to get the right people.
  • We could be doing this now and doing excellent stuff if the perceived barriers were removed straight away. The young people were keen to get involved and have their say through such sites.
  • One thing that did occur to me was that i think we need to have a broader approach to this if we want to get it right.. If a “widget” is possible and achievable then it would need to be nationally available and not just developed by one council. This requires more thought, but it occured to me that it is the act of engagement which the tool provides and councils are just one organisation who would want to engage. I’m sure the PCT’s community and voluntary sectors would also like to have the same opportunity to consult. How this would work and how it would be managed i don’t know YET. But a question we need a answer to is “would a young person want a “Devon County Council application” or a “Get your voice heard application”, i know which one i feel is more useful to young people.

These are my thoughts so far. I will continue to add to this blog about this topic as it will only get more interesting as time passes.

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12 Replies to “Should councils be using Bebo/Facebook/MySpace”

  1. Thanks for the comments.

    Tom, you picked up on the biggest bit which how can councils do it without looking like fools or trying to be “hip”

  2. Hi Carl

    Thanks for posting your comments. There’s some really interesting thoughts here, especially the idea of a widget and how this might possibly become something mroe universally used.

    We’ve just completed some training and looking to see how we develop and move forward using a variety of social media so hearing your thoughts, and those of the young people you consulted, are really helpful, thanks

  3. For me there are two great lessons here:

    1) Take the opportunity to consult TO them. Your observations underscore the need to create opportunities where the audience (in this case, youth) live by their own choosing. I truly hope that councils never take up the build-it-they-will-come approach!

    2) Always be willing to hear or learn something new; something that doesn’t fit your preconceptions re user preference or practice.

  4. Really interesting stuff Carl it picks up on some of the work that I have discussed on my Youth and Community MA – How do LA’s pick up on this without putting themselves at risk – example a fellow student from a dettached youth and connexions department tried to set up an online project that would engage youth from the borough, it got knocked back by a risk assesment straight away even though the initial planning was suggesting much greater numbers of contacts and engagment with young people than current methods.

    I would really like to see more devlopment of online community for consultation and other avenues for the voice of young people. Great article would love to hear more if anyone wants to get in touch.

  5. Work/discussions that need to take place with management in Devon Integrated Youth Support Services and Devon County Council when we establish a youth participation page on SNS sites ‘GETURVOICEHEARD’ to gain views/feedback from yp across Devon:
    What change will happen?
    How and whom will communicate/feedback the yp?
    How will the information be used?
    Accountability?

    There needs to thoughtful consideration about initially inviting young people whom are attending a current established youth provision (youth service, connexions, vol sector, school) in case there are issues of; inappropriate use of language, sexual comments, homophobia or racists comments. These issues can be resolved by an appropriate trained/skilled worker with the yp or group in a manner that promotes critical thinking on behalf of the yp/group, promotes self reflection and learning to prevent another episode.

  6. Great post Carl, it’s really good to hear young peoples views on this subject.

    I’ve seen quite a few SNS profiles or groups set up for this purpose which have just the one member (the same one that set up the group). These have probably been setup without much thought other than a flippant “We really must have a Bebo/Facebook/MySpace page – then we’d be really cool” at some bigwig meeting.

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