Maybe one of the reasons why “social” is scary to public sector folk

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the opportunities and challenges of all things social within my council and the wider public sector and wondering what it is that might be at the root of some of the fears or issues people have around embracing or adopting social within the mainstream operations of the organisation.

I’ve spoken to a number of people who have shared various reasons as to why they can’t possibly use social tool, but none of them really are actually “real reasons”, they are mainly born from alternative perspectives and a lack of awareness of what social is really about.

“It hasn’t got anything to do with technology” is what I often say and it usually helps the conversation along better than saying “Facebook has about 1/3 of the UK population so you better get a move on or you’ll be left behind”

What I’ve started to hear more of is that the thought of all staff having direct access to the public is quite a scary situation to suddenly jump too from perhaps a situation where only a limited few and those who actually understand how to deal with the public…yes we have to learn how to deal with the public before we can interact with them…

This isn’t an insurmountable challenge but you should really take stock and look to understand your local context and the short history of how some of your existing communications and customer access channels and technologies evolved. I think this may help you devise a strategy to how you can socialise the business without focusing on the technologies and tools.

For illustrative purpose your short history might go something like this:

In beginning your organisation only had reception areas and those staff were trained to work in those environments and you rarely got to phone an officer direct.

Once the telephone became more pervasive, cost-effective and mainstream you could continue to visit the reception areas but if you were unable to travel you might also check your local yellow pages or phone book and try one of the 100’s of phone numbers that emerged to contact the various departments. You were unlikely to get a “friendly” service if you got through to someone who had never previously been in a direct customer contact role…if you had dialled the wrong number or simply wanted to deal with more than one enquiry you were often asked to phone back on a different number.

You were essentially witnessing and experiencing the traditional hierarchy and structures that are now breaking down in local government.

Moving on…

After the phone became the default access channel – staff were often sent on customer service training to ensure that those who called got a consistent experience, not always but that was the intention.

Then email came along and this was initially used as an internal system for sending memos etc, but again once the use of emails became more commonplace and more pervasive we started publishing email addresses as a way to contact the council. This also happened to coincide with the emergence of very simple and narrowly focused websites (primarily tourism and visitor information based sites).

Now that email is an official contact channel, standards and training emerge to support those staff who have responsibility to respond…now these standards were different to the phone as the standards included things like acknowledge within 1 day respond within 3 days. This presented challenges to the staff who have worked a particular way for at least the previous 10-15 years plus without any major change to they way they do their work.

The website…

In local government terms the web really became a major channel between 2003-2005 when the government at the time embarked on the national eGovernment programme which among many other things had a target that all councils would have a website and that 100% of services were available online.

This was also the time when contact centre within councils became an official “channel” and the 100’s of numbers were rationalised into either one or at least a consolidated set of numbers to make it easier for the public to contact the council.

As a citizen or customer, you could access the council through a number of channels 24/7, 365 days a year – a major shift and something we should sit back and reflect on for a moment.

In my personal view, organisations could create effective websites without fundamentally impacting their organisational culture and I don’t believe that actually changes anything in the long-term.

Now to the last couple of years and the emergence of  social channels

A completely new approach to contact and the biggest thing is the impact and implication adopting social means to the organisation as a whole.

This means your whole business needs to be social and customer focused if anyone in your business can be contacted via social channels. It represents a flatter structure, one in which knowledge flows inside and outside your organisation seamlessly.

Going back to the comment about contacting anyone in the organisation so suddenly is quite scary for people, this is one of the reasons why it scares them. It challenges everything that know about their current role and job and that will change, in fact it will also change and that is also scary for most if not all people.

So it is worth taking a bit of time and thinking about how you might “sell” or “communicate” all things social within your organisation as there are people who do not want to change and will fight to keep things as they are now. We all know they won’t last or stand a chance but they believe they do…



Social is a pain in the a**e

My previous post about closing the social media gap raised some interesting discussion on twitter around how we start to approach the issue of narrowing the gap between those who are active in social media and those that are not, for various reasons – getting access to such websites is still a major block, but also and more importantly is the term “social”.

Social as a term for practically nearly all managers and senior managers in local government (through my limited experience) is something that conjures images of staff not working and chatting in corridors or by coffee machines exchanging stories about the weekend football match or even the latest gossip.

But fundamentally organisations are powered by social interactions in one form or another, however because we don’t often capture these kinds of “informal” social interactions in formal business workflow we fail to recognise that they exist at all.  This is one of the reasons why in my view the term “social” is counter productive, it actually becomes a pain in the a**e when trying to engage people in conversation.

The interesting part of the twitter discussion was actually when we started to talk about what word or words we could use instead of social. The trouble here is, I don’t think a single term works to solve this issue.

I think the most logical way to approach it is to focus on the business challenges and outcomes and then consider how a new set of tools can support, resolve or even solve those challenges. Again my rule number 1 is critical.

An example here is some colleagues our workforce development team wanted to promote the use of the internet and of course some of the social platforms that exist as a way to support self-directed learning within the workplace. Social tools were part of the solution and the word social didn’t come into play at any point really and we had a good level of response from people. It might sound tactical but we did social by stealth and it worked.

So my current view is that use terminology that is context specific to ensure that your audience are able to engage in conversation and dialogue about the possibilities and opportunities of using new tools.

We can’t however ignore that the generic term of social media and social networking represent a set of tools which many of us exploit individually and organisationally…but we should focus on what we are doing and not on how we are doing it.

Closing the Social Media Gap

In a previous post about social media and councillors, @Annemcx picked up on the issue I highlighted which was about the increasing gap that is emerging between those people who are actively using social media platforms and those who have yet to dip their toe in the water so to speak.

Anne’s comment states:

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 feel that in the public sector (and anywhere actually) anyone who is actively using social media has a “duty” to ensure that you do not move too far ahead of your own culture but in fact are part of changing your culture or you risk becoming so isolated that I suspect you would end up leaving feeling frustrated and actually do the organisation more harm than good.

My personal view is that if you are using social media and you personally get value from it then you don’t have an obligation to do anything. However if like me you are using social media for professional purposes then it is your obligation and your “duty” to ensure that your organisation and the people in it are at least on the same journey or moving in the same direction…

I’ve been using social media pro-actively for work purpose since 2008 and have gained huge value and I believe I can demonstrate value to the organisation as well through the development of the social media policy, web strategy, personal learning and development (i.e. training and development), access to learning materials, good practice from other councils and organisations, the list can go on….

One thing I’ve constantly done in that time is not to “over sell or even over state” the tools that I use, but to try to demonstrate practically what value it can provide for people and the organisation itself….I always come back to my first rule  “Don’t focus on the technology”.

I believe this is an individual journey and one which can involve battling issues of self-confidence to express yourself in digital ways, not everyone is comfortable with this in a global platform.

This whole issue came home to me at the session for councillors when I had to create a session which focused on the opportunity, challenge, whilst also allowing people to accept this new communications and engagement environment – believe it or not, this is NEW to so many people…

Sometimes however it is about reminding them of the things they do which don’t involve technology and allowing them the space to understand the similarities and – time-saving not time-wasting – opportunities.




I’m worried about the Social Media Folk in Localgov

A tweet from @psfnick earlier today…!/psfnick/status/55562018400382976

…got me thinking about people across the public sector and beyond who are really passionate about exploring social media in their organisations but don’t seem to have much support in terms of access to relevant sites or support from management in general.

Well, I’m worried for the social media folk in Local government and beyond, I’d like to briefly explain why and offer some generic tips.

If as an employee you are keen to explore how social media can help your council or organisation and you currently struggle with access in work or access is simply blocked , then I’d like to suggest some do’s and don’ts and words of support:


  • Do be clear about why you want access and what you want access to and find out why access is not allowed?
  • Do talk to your ICT and Information Security colleague(s) (they maybe the same person) and explain what you are trying to achieve and how enabling access can help your organisation.
  • Do manage expectations at all levels – if your manager has asked you to do this – be clear about what you can and can’t do in the current situation and explain as best possible what you could do differently with open access. If access is limited to particular times of day – ensure that you are communicating this in your profile or bio to manage expectations.
  • Do try to build your own personal understanding of the opportunities by using your own time and personal equipment to “listen” to the conversations and then periodically report back the types of issues the organisation is missing out on.
  • Do use the time you do have to build a stronger business case.
  • Do be clear about who is actually sponsoring the work or task and report regularly to that person on some basic measures and metrics.
  • Do take other people with you on the journey.
  • Do connect with others (online and offline) and share learning.


  • Don’t demand access as  a critical part of your role, this will simply create additional friction and is likely to reduce your chances of getting access over time.
  • Don’t start using your own time and personal equipment to “respond” to enquiries and issues in social media – if your organisation isn’t supporting you  – you are putting yourself at risk.
  • Don’t assume that there isn’t any risk to your organisations network, unless you are clear about the impact of allowing access on other business systems then it could be a legitimate reason (for now). Some sites do pose additional risks.
  • Don’t get disheartened that your neighbouring council or organisation is embracing social media. Your journey is unique to your own organisation.
  • Don’t think this is easy to solve.

There are lots more I could say, but these are the more generic things I would say, each situation is unique. But i am more than happy to chat.

Hope this is helpful





Fools Gold

I’ve always liked April Fools, I love what other people do and it makes me smile when people go to a lot of effort just to be good-humoured or tell or share funny jokes, conduct and perform hoaxes, and other practical jokes of varying sophistication.

To do the same any other time of year just doesn’t seem to work or is considered wrong somehow, well i guess that depends on how severe the prank or trick is…

However the key point about today for me is that there is something in simply making people smile and laugh…I think we should do that more often – It really does have a huge impact on your personal well-being.

A favourite of mine today has to be Google Chromercise with its excellent workout video which simply made me laugh out loud.

Google have done some excellent stuff today and you can see some of their other videos on this page here….I also like the idea of being an AutoCompleter.

I do think finger sweat bands look pretty cool as well though…..I really want one, ok maybe ten. 🙂