Why I think #LocalGov hasn’t really cracked #Facebook

This won’t be a long in-depth post, I won’t be quoting research or statistics.

My thoughts are quite simple really and if I compare the relative success of twitter by councils as opposed to facebook, it isn’t really rocket science why it hasn’t worked.

Lets start with a few key things about twitter.

  1. you only have 2 privacy settings – Open or Closed
  2. twitter is a wider environment not specifically tied into people’s personal or family social networks.
  3. twitter is not about existing networks but actually helps people to build and connect to larger ones
  4. you don’t need approval to follow someone (unless you’ve blocked your account)

Now compare that to facebook and you can start to understand some of the complexity that exists for councils before even reaching someones stream.

  1. the privacy settings are multi-level, multi-user and are only becoming more complicated as each month passes.
  2. facebook is more about existing connections and networks
  3. the process of connecting requires both parties to approve.

So take these simply things and then think about how a council fits into this picture.

I appreciate I’ve simplified so much here but you don’t need me to tell you all the differences between them….

So my assumption and conclusion is that twitter is great for those people who want to find out information without having to seek approval from people…in fact a bit like subscribing to an RSS feed but with opportunities to actually engage with the content.

The use of facebook will only ever “really” work for local government when we actually already have connections with people…so it really could be seen as an extension of a CRM system as opposed to a communications platform as it is about existing connections and not about creating new ones.

Once you see it in this way, you’ll start to think of more appropriate ways to use it.

So the reason local government hasn’t cracked facebook is because it is trying to reach “new” people and not focusing on adding value to those people it already has connections with…this is one reason I believe libraries make such good use from facebook.

Moving away from web strategies and it’s about time

In my role one of the outputs that I was expected to create was a revised Web Strategy, which at first I was more than happy to do, I wrote the previous one so it wasn’t really an issue to simply refresh it in line with current priorities and national drivers.

However once I got going I started to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with people and more importantly the conversations with people about “the web”.

The big shifts were primarily about what people think “the web” actually is?

Some people naturally thought it was a single website and in particular the councils website, others were clearly thinking more about “the web” as a platform for service delivery and transformation and others were thinking it was an online repository for information about the council and a few other definitions as well which in their own way were right.  It is in fact all of those things and of course more…but this was certainly not the view when I wrote the last strategy.

I’m fortunate that a number of the areas above have their own strategies and are embedding “the web” directly into those strategies, so it makes it easier to simply work out what aspects we actually haven’t got a plan or strategy for. For example we have an ICT Strategy, Access Strategy, Information Strategy and we are currently producing a new Communications Strategy.

In my previous role I lead on a piece of work which was essentially an ICT focused Web Strategy, the main objectives of it are to refresh the web architecture to make it fit for purpose and also reduce costs through the provision of common solutions. This is (in my humble opinion) a web strategy as it focuses on the web as a platform from which other things can be developed and provided, after all that is what the web is – a platform.

With the other strategies all pretty much extending the remit and scope of the previous web strategy – either a spark of genius on my part to lay foundations, or it failed to meet anyone’s objectives ! – I along with a few others asked ourselves what are we trying to produce and should we produce anything at all.

This was when I remembered a conversation with Sarah Lay from Derbyshire County Council who produced a Content Strategy as part of her studies – so I contacted Sarah and whilst she was unable to share her work at this point in time she was able to provide some pointers and her justification for producing a content strategy.

This conversation and an afternoon searching the web reading articles, blog posts, research and anything related to content strategy I decided that we were missing the most important strategy  – a Content Strategy < obvious now but we simply hadn’t considered it.

The realisation hit me like a flashback as I went through the approach, expected outputs and benefits at a high level and sure enough, the reason for our current failures in our web technology and platform, our content, online services and even our online democracy offering all came down to the lack of a content strategy.

We haven’t been asking what we want our content to do, we have been asking what we want our website to do and this is the reason we haven’t fully embraced Social Media as well as why some people don’t see the value…when you come at it from a content perspective you can see a variety of benefits and added value with content.

Now I’m still working on the details but broadly a Content Strategy will help the council in the following ways:

  • Specifying the key themes and messages in line with the Communications Strategy.
  • Providing a clear purpose for all content.
  • Conducting a content gap analysis and specifying the structure of content.
  • Ensuring the councils content is accessible, reusable, shared, open* and linked*.
  • Ensuring that appropriate metadata frameworks, retention, review and content life cycles and related content attributes are in place and content is properly managed.
  • Measuring and evaluating the success of our content.
But I guess one of the key objectives and outcomes is that we hope to have increased engagement with our content regardless of where someone interacts or consumes it.
It also helps focus our thinking on what we require of technology as we need to ensure that the technology supports the objectives of the content and not a website.
This is a fundamental shift in thinking as a previous key objective was to grow the number of visitors of the council website from, for example 3.5 million visitors a year to 6 million visitors over 3 years. But what is the point in that measure if your population is only 700,000 and no one is actually engaging with content?  So it is about asking the right questions and we will continue to measure visitors but it won’t be a key part of evaluation.
Anyway getting to the point where we actually have a strategy isn’t going to be straight forward as in conversation with Sarah she reinforced the need to adopt an evidence and research based approach, which I entirely support and was surprised that as a sector we haven’t pushed this harder…in fact “we” tend to use external reports such as Better Connected as our only research base…I have my views on Better Connected and whilst I think bits of it add value, unfortunately it is not greater than the sum of its parts when you read the whole thing!
So….
We need to do some work before we can get a comprehensive Content strategy, but we are certainly in a better place now as we know the direction of travel and we know the stages we need to go through.
The first stage being an Audit and Analysis of our content, some of this is already underway but we now have a greater focus and because we are framing this within a content strategy we are now asking ourselves whether the existing methods of measuring success of a website apply across to measuring the success of content….the issue is that the majority of measures don’t exactly match so we need to rethink our approach to evaluation.
It is a journey and one we should have taken years ago, but I’m just pleased we are actually now taking it. I’ll share more over the coming weeks as things start to take shape and my thinking clears…

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).

Facilitating a Social Media Strategy

Updated: included wordle graphic

I’ve had quite a number of conversations  about social media strategy at the council recently,  as well as with a number of people via twitter and other networks.

So I thought I’d share my thinking on this and also share the strategy (co-developed by Martin Howitt) which I use to help others as well as a framework to developing a Social Media Action/Implementation Plan.

This is intended to be a reusable framework and strategy – as the detail and local variations will come in your own action plan.

To put this into context the council has already made significant progress around Social Media – In January 2010 the Council introduced a Social Media Policy and Guidelines which states:

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

It includes guidance around personal and professional responsibilities, using social media in different scenarios and key things to consider.

We don’t yet have a formal Social Media Strategy (yet), but the following is what I am personally using and promoting internally as a method and approach to adopting social media within our business operations.

The Strategy:
We will maximise the positive impact of our use of social media in support of the councils business aims and social objectives.

Principles:

  1. The use of social media, like anything else the organisation does, must be informed by business strategy and social objectives.
  2. Social technology does nothing on its own. To create value from social media, it is people and processes that must change.
  3. Becoming a truly social organisation will yield benefits in terms of sustainability, responsiveness, reputation, lower operating costs, and higher social impact.
  4. Social media can in theory pervade every part of the organisation’s value chain. But it should only do so if there are defined and (where possible) measurable positive business impacts.
  5. There is no such thing as a social media project: there are only business projects that utilise social media tools to some extent to achieve their objectives.
  6. A social media capability must therefore be built or adopted specifically to serve the objectives and current projects of the organisation.

Tactics:

  1. Identify which organisational processes / service areas which might use social software or social media tools
  2. For each process / service area – state the key objectives and outcomes
  3. List the available tools and their best-value use cases
  4. For each process/service area identified in (1), identify the most useful tools from (3) and map the potential benefits to objectives/outcomes in (2)
  5. Consolidate the list in (4) by channel and/or by organisational role.
  6. For each role identified in (5), evaluate the cost, benefits, and risks
  7. Create a prioritised portfolio of projects, expected benefits, and Key Performance Indicators based on the outputs of (6)

I appreciate that this may sound easier than it actually is, but to be honest if it were that easy everyone would be doing it and no one would have trouble justifying its use. If you can build this approach into the service business planning cycle you (as facilitator) and the service area will yield higher results in terms of potential Social Media projects supporting and delivering business outcomes – that is the theory anyway 🙂

As a starting point I’d recommend that you look at your own service area as well as highlighting or at least acknowledging other “high value” organisational processes which could benefit from this exercise, so that you can get familiar with the process and the level of understanding you will need around some of the tools and best value use cases.

It is worth trying to separate the cross cutting processes from the actual service areas for example “community engagement” might be a service area in your organisation as well as it being a cross cutting activity. In my opinion you are likely to identify a better value proposition looking at the cross cutting process of community engagement then the service itself.

In my Council a sample list might look something like this:

Process / Activity Areas

  • Community Engagement
  • Customer Service
  • Staff Engagement
  • Community Consultations
  • Staff Consultations
  • Personal and Self Directed Learning
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Policy Development
  • Service Planning
  • Emergency Communications
  • Press and PR Relations

I’ve separated the activities of engagement and consultation on purpose as different social value can be created depending on your approach.  By tackling a cross cutting process or activity you can influence and impact a greater number and range of people who can add value when you start looking at this on a service perspective.

Service Areas

  • Trading Standards
  • Libraries
  • Road Safety
  • Highways (roads and traffic)
  • Waste Services
  • Registration Services

The reality here is I could have included a list of nearly all services, but you really need to stay focused and work on a service by service basis sometimes.

I envisage that the best approach would be a twin track approach –  During the prioritisation process outlined in stage 7 – try selecting one activity area alongside a service area to increase the organisational learning opportunities.

Hope this is helpful –  and I wish you luck….I’d be very keen to hear your stories on how this works or doesn’t for you.

We need to stop feeling so guilty and the birth of #twitternar

Yesterday evening I participated in a conversation with @LouLouK @kazwccsocialnet and @808Kate about how the #lgovsm Friday lunchtime discussion session could improve and develop and increase the opportunities for people as well as ensure variety.

Now I’m not going to talk about the future development here in this post as we are also going to chat more at #ukgc11 on Saturday and then more will no doubt be shared etc afterwards. Feel free to join us for a chat about this on Saturday if you are attending – I think we suggested an informal lunchtime chat (even more informal than the open plan aspect) – not sure where just find one of us and join in.

So two interesting things happened during the conversation, the first being the creation of the term #twitternar (by yours truly) – it is like a webinar but supported via twitter and possibly slideshare or a blog posts – the second being the more important one – whether participation in the discussion is considered work.

The discussion touched on the issue of whether people who participate feel like they can contribute more during a lunch period or whether this just contributes to the perceived view that twitter is merely social. A comment was made that you could perhaps feel guilty if you participated during work time.  I have a few issues with this but can more than understand why this is the case for the majority of people.

1) Would phoning another public sector organisation to ask them what they are doing or to share what you were doing around a particular subject or topic be considered work or something someone would do in their lunch break?

2) Would attending a meeting with another public sector organisation to ask them what they are doing or to share what you were doing around a particular subject or topic be considered work or something someone would do have to schedule during a lunch break?

I think it is fair to say that these are generally considered a core aspect for most people’s jobs – using twitter to do the same thing which is what #lgovsm is really trying to achieve in my view but at a much reduced cost is a great idea. However the benefit is that using twitter means that no one will have to travel, some can participate whilst on the go (mobile) and there is really no limit to who could participate or attend – surely a win – win situation.

This is a new approach and a more cost-effective and efficient method of doing this. The conversation accepted that perhaps twitter might not be the best platform but we also accepted that the #KHub would offer new opportunities on top for increased discussion after the initial #twitternar.

So all I would say to people is Stop feeling so guilty and try to see this as a cost-effective way of doing what you would do anyway.