Ignorance is no defence

To start with, I will make a confession, before I started looking at Social Media (about 2-3 years ago), I wasn’t that familiar with the fine details (or small print) of the policies and terms of conditions of service that I was always subject too.

But wanting to ensure that I stayed within “the law” so to speak, I started reading them – and over time – this helped me understand that the best approach here to creating a social media policy was the one that built on the existing policy framework. Also I didn’t want to do something wrong and plead ignorance…

Ignorance is no defence!

…So it is actually well worth understanding the policy framework you work within.

A question posted on the Communities of Practice by Michelle Ide-Smith got me thinking about this exact situation earlier today – the question was:

Does anyone have a social media policy which covers the use of social media in a personal capacity by officers who are also parish councillors?

For example how might you deal with a situation where an officer is critical of a council policy on a parish council blog, whilst acting in their role as a parish councillor in personal time. But the opinions that they put across may conflict with their role as a council officer.

My response to this question was pretty straight forward really, I didn’t really think too much about whether or not the question related to social media but was actually focused on the fact that someone might have a dual role. This clearly in my head meant that it is likely to already be covered by the existing employee code of business conduct.

My council’s employee code of business conduct has a range of policies sitting underneath but one of them is the policy around Business Pecuniary Interests – it is also clearly sign posted and referenced in Section 1 of the councils Social Media Policy – Personal and Professional Responsibilities

My council has strict procedures in place to ensure that the private business interests of elected members are clearly recorded in order to avoid any conflict with their public role as decision makers. It is keen to have in place equally robust and transparent processes for officers. This would include external positions such as School Governor, Parish Councillor, or where you might be engaged by another company, as a member of staff, partner, director, substantial equity/share holder or consultant etc.

I’m pretty sure that this is standard Local Government policy practice so is likely to apply in Michelle’s scenario above.

As an employee of the council I had to declare the fact that i was elected as a school Governor, however as a school governor I also have to declare conflicts of interests in that position as there is also guidance on that side, which is aimed to keep the Governor body robust and transparent. I’m not directly familiar with Parish councillors but if it is anything like a county councillor then they will also have a code of conduct, referred to above, which will also include conflicts of interest.

Our policy states that when a member of staff declares this interest – The line manager in signing the form is confirming that they are aware of the potential conflict of interest and

  • EITHER….. the line manager does not consider that it has a material effect in relation to the work of the employee within the council;
  • OR….. the line manager will work with the employee to ensure that an actual conflict of interest will not arise (this may involve re-distributing work for example).
  • OR….. if a line manager cannot identify an obvious way to avoid the employee having a conflict of interests, then an approval may have to be withheld until a solution can be identified that negates the conflict of interest or in extreme circumstances the council may potentially require employees to relinquish certain responsibilities or interests to remain in the employment of the council.

In this context, it is irrelevant whether or not we are referring to social media – it is about professional behaviour, whether the medium of social media allows for additional amplification only goes to reaffirm my point about understanding the policy framework you current work within.

I also accept the many cases that say we should simply trust all our staff to act professionally, after all, we have been doing this without social media in these kinds of situations anyway haven’t we?

But we might also have a role in ensuring that we all understand the policy framework we operate in – Doing this will go along way in enabling people to feel empowered and offer a great deal of value in whatever role they play at any given time


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.


  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.


  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.

My popular pages

As you’ve probably noticed over the last 24 hours I have been quite busy on my blog and in doing so I noticed my blog stats and my popular pages for the last couple of days – so being curious I dug a bit deeper and it came as no surprise to me that other than the “homepage” the most popular page on my blog was the Revised Social Media Policy and Guidance, which I developed for Devon County Council.

However what did surprise me was the total number of visits – now as it is in multiple parts I roughly totalled up the number of visits for all parts since April and it came to over 6500 – that equates to 928 visits per month since April this year – 7 months…

I was very surprised by this figure and also very proud at the same time. It is a piece of work I am very pleased with and the involvement of key stakeholders only makes it more worthwhile as a piece of work.

This was a very humbling thing actually as I don’t see my blog as being “popular” – I don’t really do it for others to benefit, I’ve said all along that it was for me to share my thoughts (half-baked or otherwise) and hopefully help myself make sense of the world I live and work in. On average my blog gets 49 visits a day, which is an increase on the previous years which were 33 for 2008 and 43 for 2009.

As of 8th November 2010 I’ve received 38,798 total visits since June 2008 – I currently have 28 active subscribers with a further 78 subscribing to comments somewhere in the blog. Finally my biggest referrer to the site is Twitter.

I probably should have done this in june this year as a 2 years on scenario, however I didn’t, but I’m really pleased that my blog is of value to others and the content I share is “hopefully” reused by others.

Thank you all for reading and contributing.


REVISED – Social Media Policy and Guidance

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

In May last year i published the councils first version of our Social Media Policy and Guidance. Since then we have reviewed them and have updated them to focus more on achieving business benefit then simply taking advantage of social media tools like twitter, facebook you tube etc.

The revision is the result of additional learning, continued development and the input from a wider group of people then the original and includes the following:

  • Head of Corporate Communications
  • Head of ICT
  • Head of Strategic Intelligence
  • Directorate Business Managers

We have split the new policy and guidance into 4 parts and I will post them individually but link to them from this post.

  1. Social Media Policy
  2. Guidance – Section 1 – Personal and Professional responsibilities
  3. Guidance  – Section 2 – Guidance and tips on using social media in different scenarios
  4. Guidance – Section 3 – Key things to consider before getting involved and useful contacts

As before, feel free to adapt but please acknowledge the source.

Social Media Policy

UPDATED JULY 2012 – Revised guidance is available here on Re:WorkDigital

Social Media Policy

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.

‘Social media‘ is the term commonly given to web-based tools which allow users to interact with each other in some way – by sharing information, opinions, knowledge and interests online. As the name implies, social media involves the building of online communities or networks to encourage participation and engagement.

This includes blogs, message boards, social networking websites (such as facebooktwitter, bebo, MySpace), content sharing websites (such as flickr, YouTube) and many other similar online channels.

These platforms open up many new and exciting opportunities. However, the practical application of such technology by councils is in its infancy and there are many potential issues to consider – both as individual employees and as an organisation.

To avoid major mistakes and turning a well meant social media experiment into a reputational disaster it is important that we manage any potential risks through a common-sense approach and framework as well as proactively monitoring the development of such applications.

These guidelines aim to provide managers and individual employees with information to consider before participating in or developing any new social media application and to help them get the best out of the tools available whilst maintaining a safe professional environment  and protecting themselves as well as the organisation.