Local Government and Social Media – response to Ingrid Koelher

This has taken me a while to respond but Ingrid Koelher posted some interesting questions over on her blog in relation to key questions for local government and social media.

Her questions and my rough and ready answers are below:

What are the greatest areas of potential benefit in councils using social media?

To be honest to many to mention but for me I look to the simple benefits and quite often the hard to measure stuff. I believe the greatest benefit in councils using social media is that it really does encourage a change in culture, whether individually, taking small steps like using twitter to gain insights or sharing information, to starting a blog to encourage feedback. Organisationally it can really shift the balance away from faceless organisations to real people and conversations. However there are still issues relating to the access of such tools through policy changes and ICT and greater service management awareness.

How can councils support local communities and individuals in becoming digitally enabled and empowered?

This is a really interesting question and one which i really wonder whether we do have a real role here. My concern is that can we as local councils really provide this kind of leadership when we are trying to find our position in the digital world.

I think what we can do is promote interaction and engagement in a variety of ways and we still need to focus on the traditional channels and work with people to migrate from one channel to another.  The issue for me is we need to demonstrate that we are leading and becoming digital organisations in order to encourage and empower communities.

How can local and hyper-local social networks increase community cohesion and empowerment.

The opportunity here is that these networks will be based on what people perceive as local and not what a council or electoral ward might consider to be a community or network.

This will bring new opportunities for recognising networks and groups that were perhaps “quiet” in face to face environments or just didn’t exist at all. But the challenge of learning new rules and new ways to engage will be something that needs to be understood and supported through new skills such as online facilitation skills. The other aspect of this will be learning to listen in new environments.

How can councillors develop their leadership and communication skills using social media?

The simple answer her is to just start using them first and understand how it can compliment their existing channels of communication. It will essentially be different for each councillor depending on what their constituents are using.

How can councils create the space for community conversations without overpowering them?

I don’t think that councils should create spaces for conversations. It is simple a question of recognising the spaces that communities occupy and ask whether it is appropriate for the council to be part of it.  I don’t think that council led spaces will be successful for conversations as those communities that are created by the community themselves. Council led spaces should be about debate and discussion and will need to be facilitated.

The challenge is how can we encourage these communities to make themselves known to the council so we can start to listen and engage where appropriate.

How can social media be used for more effective social marketing encouraging the behaviour change necessary to achieve complex outcomes?

I’m not a marketing expert, but i suspect that it will always depend on the target market and whether the new social media tools are appropriate to the audience.

What’s the “next practice” in social media, including virtual worlds and more?

Interesting question, which i am sure will be revisited time and time again over the course of this year.  A week ago i would have said one thing but after the BeLocal workshop in London i think the key next practice is not to extend our reach into new tools as such but to really develop the way we use the tools that we are grappling with now.

The stages i suggested in my last post were:

  • Reality check
    we need to first accept that the new model of engagement is already happening, it may not have reached the masses but there are significant numbers in online spaces for us not to ignore the opportunities
  • Acceptance
    once we accept that this is a practical opportunity, we need to promote and raise awareness of the issues and skills required to effectively use and engage with people in these spaces. We must not underestimate the skills required for online facilitation
  • Listening
    a simple but effective first step is to start listening to the conversations and gaining insights and knowledge, this can be done via either using the same tools, twitter, facebook etc and or searching for keywords and subscribing via RSS to broad our picture.
  • Advice
    This is a practical step and one which needs a dialogue with communities to position how this role could and should be supported. It maybe more practical to participate in a community and promote a practical “council surgery” in a separate forum or group. This will ensure that we are not perceived to be steamrolling in and taking over spaces.
  • Nurturing
    We have a role to encourage and stimulate the development of online communities and to recognise them as in our engagement and consultation strategies
  • Discussion and debate
    I believe that once we have done all the above we would be able to invite people to formal spaces which would be facilitated and managed effectively.

So i guess i have kind of avoided the question but i might come back to this over the year.