A Social Media Session with Councillors

Last week I facilitated a short workshop for Councillors here in Devon on Social Media – It was pre-introductory, in that if I tried to provide any less detail I wouldn’t have actually said anything 🙂

Out of the 62 councillors we have 20 attended which I was very pleased with, I’m not sure if it was my session or that it was scheduled at a convenient time or that tea/coffee was provided – whatever the reason, people came and stayed until the very end of the session, for which i’m grateful.

I was scheduled for 30 minutes, I used 20 minutes for a presentation, which included a 5 minute video and then left about 10 minutes for questions or discussion. However I was very surprised in that the questions went on for 40 minutes and the whole session went on for an hour – plus all councillors stayed for the entire time  (the whole 1 hour) and were engaged in discussion and asking good “practical” questions.

The session went down well according to the councillors who came up to me afterwards and gave some feedback, although for some it was still too techy in places….not sure what else I could have done differently to ensure I accommodated for all but we live and learn.

The general attitude was that they were all very curious but also very cautious about the whole thing – questions around “how do you find the time”, “how do you set this up”, “what tech do I need to get started” meant that the discussions and questions were varied and focused on the real practical aspects of using social media…No one asked “So why should we do this? which was great, the overall selling job wasn’t needed for the 20 who attended….now for the other 42 🙂

I’ve offered to facilitate some more specific sessions around “how to set up a Facebook page”,  “how to set up a twitter account”  and “how to set up a blog” as this was the level they really focused on….

Some felt that there was a barrier in actually setting these things up and once you did you were suddenly bombarded with requests for information or dialogue which they felt would be hard to manage – I suggested that they simply state the amount of time they can dedicate in the platform, for example in Facebook, say that you will proactively check 3-4 times a week and if appropriate hold a weekly “topic” for discussion…in twitter use the bio to say will respond to tweet within x hours or days whatever they feel is manageable, that way they are open, honest and managing expectations whilst they learn how to use the platform.

This maybe isn’t the best way to use the platforms, but it can be daunting using them and I’d personally rather seem them take baby steps which are supported by those that connect with them then they receive negative feedback because they aren’t responding in 30 minutes…

A few questions, thoughts and observations from the session which I’d value comments on  from other….

  • How have other councils and councillors dealt with the “perceived” conflict with a press office function?
  • There is actually a huge amount of awareness raising still to do not just with members but with the variety staff who support them in allowing them to understand the implications and opportunities social media can provide.
  • This is obvious but the existing culture is so polar opposite to allowing social media to just be embraced, we need to find productive and constructive ways to challenge the culture and foster new ways of working and operating.
  • Getting people to focus on risks and highlighting where stuff has gone badly wrong is not always healthy, but people must understand that managing and mitigating risks is critical to achieving success.
  • You can’t support members without at least a plan around training and development for staff at the same time.
  • We need to develop a “Digital Passport” training programme which supports members and staff to feel confident to use these tools and feel supported by the organisational frameworks and guidance that exists or needs to be developed.
  • Sometimes people just want to feel reassured that this is possible and that simple steps actually work and can open doors to new things.
  • Never ever assume that someone knows what you are talking about, even if you say things like “smart phone” or “mobile device”….you will need to show things to people – I shows the councillors – iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, all capable of social media…
  • Understand your regions connectivity challenges, questions were asked about which mobile phone network was best in Devon..
  • All things said and done, the session was an excellent first step on a long journey, I’m just grateful to other councils who have pioneered this work as it gives me something to show and experiences to share. Thank you

I’ve included the presentation below, the video doesn’t play as I’m not sure how you actually get a video which is embedded to play within Slideshare (any tips on this welcome).


10 thoughts on “A Social Media Session with Councillors

  1. Thanks, Carl. This is very helpful for the likes of me, trying to persuade the organisation to invest in socmed training.

    I’m already aware that we’ve got some tweeting new members. They need to be aware of how socmed and the code of conduct interact.

    There’s also a distinction to be made between official and unofficial personas. There’s a few members (and staff) who don’t quite get that yet.

    1. Hi Peter,

      I think we should get a Devon group together as we will naturally have the same members between county and district and we also should be issuing the same kind of advice and guidance.

      A simple question we need to think about is would we expect a different account for county and district roles, i would hope not…but we need to bottom out these questions….

      Lets sort something very soon so we can get this resolved

  2. Hi Carl,

    This is a great deck and your observations and approach are valuable well beyond Devon!

    The one thing that’s striking me more and more, and which you hint at in your opening sentence, is just how large the gap between those that have adopted social media, and those that haven’t yet, is getting.

    I’ve faced the same conundrum you have, i.e. how to begin to cover the breadth and depth of knowledge that’s accumulating and keep it digestible to those who haven’t yet accessed and begun to find their way around social media.

    Even with a basic familiarity of the tools, the finding of one’s social voice isn’t something that happens overnight. These are previously untaught skills and people need safe sandboxes in which to fully experiment, especially perhaps within the public sector.

    I wonder sometimes whether local councils realise how much things are evolving and there’s an exponential effect that comes from being plugged into the compound levels of knowledge and insight on offer. Next step is to create the organisational systems that know what to do with it. What you’re doing is a great step. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thanks Anne,

      I agree the gap for most people is increasing very fast and I think those that are using social media well, need to do more to help others understand the very basics – It was almost easier to start playing with Twitter 2-3 years ago as it wasn’t as high profile now…this is even more daunting for people who are scared of the whole reputation issues as well.

      I might have to post on the increasing gap soon as this is something that is of concern

  3. It’s great to hear that DCC is proactively encouraging Councillors to embrace Social Media (it’s actually quite reassuring to hear as a member of staff). If the questions you were asked about how to create Twitter Accounts and Facebook Pages are anything to go by we’ll soon see Members tweeting via their ipads from the Council Chamber!

    I’m looking forward to seeing what the next steps for the rest of the organisation will be. Personally I’m still not sure I know where the organisation sits in terms of employees creating professional persona’s and spending work time to create networks and share information. I feel at the moment that I have to do this in my own time (even though it’s for DCC’s benefit) in case it’s frowned upon – when actually the stuff I’m learning is ultimately helping me to do my job better.

    1. Thanks Emma, an excellent observation on “digital persona’s” – I think this is an evolving area which for some “roles” will fit perfectly and with others will be something some see as added value and benefit to their personal learning and development.

      We need to move away from thinking we can’t build networks and knowledge online and be frowned upon by doing this in work time. After all we would expect staff to stay in touch with current legislation related to their job and or attend training courses (ok maybe elearning) which encourages and proactivley supports peer to peer networks to support organisational learning.

      I think you hit on the aspect of local government culture which in my opinion sums up everything that is wrong…


  4. Carl, with all due respect to your efforts to drag members into the 21st century, I think one always needs to aware of the sometimes sub- conscious response some members when being given information by officers. There’s also the issue of your perception of what is appropriate for a member to say (write) compared to theirs. Even though you may be a very experienced and even well-respected officer, unless you have been an elected member you will find it something of challenge to appreciate the politics that some members might wish to reflect in their statements. Conversely, this is no doubt exactly the area you would probably wish to offer some words of caution on.
    Finally, if members are initially wary of entering into two way conversations with their public aand therefore put off even getting started, there is a sort of half way house they can use, especially where Twitter is the chosen medium. Where has become aware of an issue in their ward, they can flag this up via tweets i.e. Just a grot spot report to me at Acacia Ave play park, going to have a look. A later tweet could then be. #Acacia Ave, met with officers to get it cleared or even, #Acacia Ave, carried out a litter pick to get it cleared 6 black bags! Also, in the spirit of telling people what they’re up to, a member could tweet that they have just spent 2 or 3 hours at a planning meeting.
    I tend to like the sound of my own voice, so am using both Twitter and WordPress to comment on events beyond council, but also using both to report my ward activities.
    The point I forgot to make regarding member training, that it might be helpful if you were able to recruit a blogging or tweeting member to give other members their take on things.
    Are you contributing to the IDEA website member development community, as it would be useful to follower your progress and learn from your experiences.

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