I think we are missing the point

I have written quite a few posts recently about not focusing on the technology or the tools when speaking about social media and that is what I believe (I could be wrong), but we really have to take people on a journey in order that they can see the real impact of all of this stuff and that is the “behaviour change” and “expectation” this all creates in individuals (staff and citizens), mostly everyone recognises this but we rarely focus on this when speaking to folk.

Ok so twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube and many others are all the tools that people use to share stuff with friends, family and pretty much anyone interested in their stuff.  But the key point to focus on is the behaviour change all these tools are driving and the expectations they are creating in everyone we meet.

I’ve been to two events in the last week where this issue has popped up – last week I attended the Guardian ICT Leadership Forum in London and yesterday I attended a lecture at the Met Office (for Met Office staff primarily) by @AnnHolman on the impacts of social technology on business.

The thing that kept coming up was that people get fixated on the current tools and make comments like “I’m not in Facebook, or on twitter so I can’t see the value” or “surely Facebook and twitter will go away of be bought by someone and we’ll need to get on the next big thing”.  The answer to both of these comments is “your missing the point”….

The point is (for me anyway) and I made this at the Leadership forum as well as the Met Office meeting (although Ann had already said exactly the same thing at the beginning of her talk – it is about behaviour) is that these tools are not the things we should be primarily concerned about, it is the impact on people and the expectations and behaviour changes they foster in people…

  • the fact that friends and family can instantly communicate via any device to each other from anywhere in the world.
  • the fact that I can share precious moments with people via video or photo as soon as something happens or even broadcast it live over the internet
  • the fact that i can learn new topics and subjects and watch videos on how to play the guitar or learn how to use a software package by simply searching google
  • the fact that i can access a huge amount of information about what my friends like and what they are doing, thinking, watching, listening to, who they are with all from my mobile phone
  • the fact that email seems like it takes too long to get a response and I might as well instant message someone instead
  • the fact that i can touch a screen and it responds instantly to my gestures and I can explore information in new ways
  • the fact that when i work on something i expect friends and people I’ve never met to help and assist me with my tasks.
I’ve not mentioned any particular tool here, but I could…but what value would that add to the conversation?
These are simply some of the basic changes people expect to see, I’ve not mentioned or referred to location based services, mapping, workflow, task management, i could go on and when you take these expectations into a local government context you can see the challenge we are facing. Challenges we *must* overcome or we will become irrelevant to pretty much everyone.  The issue is we expect these kinds of solutions in an organisational experience.
The challenge/question for ICT leaders and managers is can consumer grade products provide 80% of the functionality to reduce costs across the sector…or do we spend lots of cash on enterprise grade products that can’t change as quickly and force uniformity on everyone – the web allows individuality?
The impact of social media isn’t whether or not you have a twitter account, Facebook profile, YouTube channel, Flickr stream – It is whether your organisation wants to be relevant and able to communicate with people how they communicate with each other.
This all means we need to rethink everything about our organisations and keep the stuff that is relevant and change the rest that isn’t…for some (if not most) that will mean everything.  We do need to face some potential obstacles though and we can not ignore them.
  • Security – we need to think about security in a pragmatic way that allows us to stay in touch and relevant whilst maintaining our legal duty.
  • Risk – we need to think about our approach to risk, we need to manage and mitigate, not avoid.
  • Thinking – we need to change our thinking, we *must* focus on opportunities presented to us by new thinking
  • People – we need to accept that all of this is about people and changing people’s behaviours.
  • Culture – we need to challenge existing cultures by empowering people to adopt new thinking, to take risks.
But saying all of this, sometimes it helps to start with twitter and work out very quickly to the wider issues, but we need to make sure we don’t stay focused on the tool, it is the behaviour change we need to champion.





4 thoughts on “I think we are missing the point

  1. Carl – I like it! You list “the impact on people and the expectations and behaviour changes they foster in people…” to which I’d add the ability to expose yourself to random and previously un-thought of information and ideas, stuff you’d never dream of looking or. For me this is most obviously via Twitter e.g. in the last couple of weeks alone a speeded up video of the northern lights, J K Rowling’s commencement speech at Harvard in 2008, a wonderful compilation of images of cities with inspirational music, all the TED talks and a total mess up by BBC News Scotland over an item about Rudolf Hess. This sort of random learning doesn’t sit well in or with bureaucracies but some at least are getting the point, thanks to people like you.

    Roger White

    1. Thanks Roger,

      There are many people in localgov who are working hard to help people understand the new opportunities around them. I just hope that my posts help reinforce people’s views to give them a helping hand.


  2. It’s a problem. It’s a problem that’s always been there in the adoption of IT by organisations, I think but it’s getting worse.

    The first problem is the ‘shiny new toy’ aspect. Innovation works bet when there is some demand from the user community pulling the innovation in. I believe that social tools are incredibly useful, but there’s relatively weak demand for them as problem solvers.

    The second problem is the domesticity or ‘consumerisation’ of IT. This creates resistance from central systems depts where people think they must control every device that’s attached to the network. Their fears and anxieties are exploited by vendors, who want organisations to carry on buying expensive, clunky solutions. This problem has been around since PCs started appearing in the work place, so vendors are quite good at spining a yarn around ‘amateur’ vs ‘professional’. The fact that ‘amateur’ is good enough, informal and effective seldom gets into the ‘business case’.

    The third problem is the sad history of the term ‘social media’. It was debased even quicker than ‘knowledge management’. It somehow came to mean ‘mucking about with your mates’ and worse than that, it was then taken over by marketing of consumer brands. Four years ago, when I talked about ‘social media’, it was blogs and wikis and RSS feed aggregators. Now, it’s Facebook.

    I think we need to promote the incredibly useful IT toolset that’s available to us by focussing on problem solving, risk management and cost reduction. Case studies will help.

  3. Hi Carl,

    It’d be very easy for me to jump on here and say that I completely agree with what you’ve written… but I do. The tools are naturally hugely important but it’s the content that really matters. Story telling seems to be ‘the buzz’ currently but we’ve been doing that since the dawn of time; it’s nothing new. Good service, nothing new. Trust in business, nothing new.

    Well done for writing about this topic, you’ve got me thinking.


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