Social Networks…what are the strengths?

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

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3 Replies to “Social Networks…what are the strengths?”

  1. great to see considerations to the use between staff and not just as the ‘youth thing’.

    I used to be quite sceptical about the idea of local authorities delivering services through SNS but the PLINGS project has really got me thinking that theres really good potential to repackage how some of those services look and encourage more people to take advantage of them (ties in with your widgets bit).

    I think the participation & engagement has really big potential but I don’t think its being realised yet – no doubt as all the other things fall into place (policies & strategies etc.) we’ll start to see some really good projects & campaigns that really do engage young people with services & service providers

  2. I think the biggest challenge with all of this is to try and break down the corporate view and culture that this “social” thing that people are using in their daily lives is really powerful and should not be ignored. The reality is that it is simply early on the take-up and radar of local government which is used to technologies coming along a bit slower. Social media and web 2.0 has completed shifted this and has now made it possible for a developer anywhere in the world to develop an API for google or some other website to make it better and integrate with other sites to bring stuff together, Flickr maps being great example of this kind of fusion.

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