DeJa Vu – A lesson for social media

A colleague and friend of mine Martin Howitt has just started blogging outside the comfort of our team blog, where he was the most active blogger. I should blog more over there and will do in the coming weeks about IT/Business Alignment and the benefits of Enterprise Business Architecture in reducing the “lost in translation” effect that often happens when business folk talk to IT and vice versa. I am current fascinated by this issue as it can also help explain some of the issues and negative perceptions that people have about social media.

Anyway, Martin has provided an excellent post on the ROI potential of Social Media and had provided some great seeds for others to hopefully expand  and build on.

Martin states:

it’s probably time someone tried to start mapping out the benefits of SM right across the piece so that a full business case can be made by those who are trying to make the change in their own organisations.

via The social media ROI braindump « Martin Howitt’s blog.

This is the DeJa Vu aspect of the post – haven’t we been here before, with email and council websites and online services?

What we need to remember here though in all this conversation around Social Media ROI is that it wasn’t that long ago, that some councils didn’t even have websites and that officers within councils had to construct a business case for email (yes really a business case for email) – but don’t we all have one ( or even more) now and don’t we all believe even the doubters of social media that email, is a tool that if switched off would have a detrimental effect on how businesses run and function.

The shift and progress around local council websites was helped by the now infamous eGovernment agenda, but credit also needs to go to Socitm who year on year publish Better Connected (whether you like it or not, it provides a snapshot of what is happening) – eGov also did many good things but in my humble opinion failed to address the real issues in technology innovation – again a topic which i will touch on in my IT/Business Alignment post. But we also need to remember that a number of councils had websites before this and were doing some great innovative work on them including online services.

My council (Devon County Council) has had a website (as well as a basic intranet) since around 1998 and it grew organically much like other websites, starting with a strong tourism and visitor information presence into other council services and information resources. I wasn’t involved in the web at that time but i can imagine the type of discussions that were had about developing a County Council website, were quite similar to what people are saying now about social media sites. What is the benefit, how many people will use it, it won’t and doesn’t reach everyone yet….and so on. The key message is, you HAVE to start somewhere and you HAVE to be patient, even more so with social media as we are dealing with relationships and connections with real people, not transaction or visitor statistics.

We (local government) were given targets and timescales to get our websites up to date and up to speed with a set of basic requirements plus a sprinkle of transactions. The ROI that is being used and promoted is that the cost of interacting with people over the web is cheaper and more cost-effective, well it can be if your services are connected to your back office and people are not having to intervene in the process.

BUT where eGovernment failed in my opinion is that instead of focusing on developing online transactions that people actually wanted to use and demonstrated a high volume potential (based on local need and preference) we were mandated to deliver all of them in one way or another. So for most people eGovernment became one very large technology project and it lost the support of people in the business due to the amount of time available.  Plus with so many services developed, the marketing message became diluted with so many services that not many people used. We could be in danger of doing this again unless we start to connect people in the business to the opportunities and technologies out there, whether this is social media tools or not.

OK, so this is where Martin’s post for me gets really interesting. It starts to connect business terms with outputs and opportunities of Social media   – Martin picks out 9 areas, here are a three of them:

  • Infrastructure (administrative management of eg buildings) -> need maintenance and planning (and even strategy) -> SM can streamline maintenance processes, alerts, and educate people in how to get the best out of their investments.
  • technology -> Social media can reduce email, provide mashups, enhance remote, mobile and flexible working. This is a big topic in itself.
  • HR management -> social media tools can be used to provide early warnings of things that are bothering the workforce, ways to access employee resources (like workplace counselling or learning and development); conversely the blocking of social media sites can be demotivating for employees

What WE and i mean everyone who is currently able to work on this stuff proactively, needs to start looking at the metrics and agreeing some consistent ways in which we can demonstrate effectiveness and cost savings. We also need to really start looking at the business issues which our employers have and be flexible enough in our approaches to accept that social media won’t work everywhere.

I think we need to start with opportunities where there is a desire and opportunity to demonstrate value. It sounds obvious but i often here people talking just about twitter or facebook without linking that to a specific business objective. It seems to be more about demonstrating twitter and facebook can work instead of demonstrating that we can improve business outcomes by using a new set of technologies and tools. It is only then we will actually start seeing the ROI of these tools, but it will always become complicated because it will in nearly all cases be part of a wider provision including face to face, telephone, web etc.

For me, all of the tools provide exciting opportunities but that is all they are until i can connect them to a business problem in my council. The new skill for social media people won’t be about the tools but will be about understanding business (people) problems. Which is afterall one of the key features of anything “social”.

 

 

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One Reply to “DeJa Vu – A lesson for social media”

  1. Excellent post, thank you.
    You are right: there is too much emphasis on specific tools, and not there part in a wider, newer, communications mix. One of the first ‘measurables’ must surely be that the public expect to access information using social media. If public sector organisations have already started using these channels, then they cannot suddenly take them away either.
    In my own day-to-day work, I have tried to stress the term ‘digital engagement’ rather than social media, so that email, web and social networking tools are all seen as part of the same suite.

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