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.


It’s crude but still very interesting

I was asked a very interesting question earlier today – A colleague asked me how many twitter accounts there are in Devon? To which my reply was (slightly paraphrased):

“Hmmmm, I’m not sure to be honest…however we could provide a crude figure for the number of facebook users or potential reach using the advertising feature….we could then,  again this is crude but use the worldwide ratio of twitter to facebook users and apply that to our figures and this would give us a best guess figure, at least it is sort of logical…”

“That sounds like it could be a useful starting point, let me know what you find out.”

So I did exactly what i suggested and the result of which I include below…It is crude I know but very interesting, even if we take a very conservative position on the figures they are actually still very significant.


More than 800 million users worldwide – more than 350 million active users currently access Facebook through their mobile devices.

Facebook Estimated reach in Devon – 488,820 people

  • Who live within 40 kilometres/25 Miles of Exeter, Barnstaple, Tiverton, Sidmouth, Tavistock, Bideford, Newton Abbot, Ivybridge, Dawlish, Teignmouth, Okehampton, Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, Salcombe, Exmouth, Lynton, Lynmouth, Bovey Tracey, Ashburton, Braunton, Cullompton, Honiton, Ilfracombe, Ottery Saint Mary or Totnes
  • Figures are based on users who are aged 13 or over.
  • The towns listed are those which I used and found and which i think represent a good coverage of Devon in terms of the 25 mile radius…


More than 380 Million users worldwide – Ratio of twitter to facebook therefore is  just under 50%.

If  we apply the crude formula to the facebook figures for Devon then we would expect to see approximately 240,000 twitter users.

For context  – the population of Devon is just under 750,000 – using the County Council boundary – therefore excluding Plymouth and Torbay…although it is likely that some Plymouth and Torbay users will be included due to the geography. It shows that a significant proportion – around 65% of residents are allegedly on Facebook…and approximately 30%-35% are allegedly on Twitter.

I’ll say it again, it’s crude but it is very interesting…


Integrating social with your corporate website – localgov style!

I’ve been managing, albeit slowly, to catch up on the many blogs, documents, videos etc I’ve saved for “later” (the joy of owning an iPad in my view).

Anyway I was very interested in this webinar that was funded by Janrain and Badgeville that the Altemeter Group’s  Jeremiah Owyang gave some excellent insights into How to Integrate Social Into Your Website:

I’ve embedded the webinar below, it is well worth watching.

It got me thinking about how far a local authority or public sector website can actually integrate social into its corporate website without it looking, well “crap” for the want of a better word.

I’m not aware of any examples of seamless “social” integration within a public sector corporate website in the UK (yet) to the level that Jeremiah suggests, but progress is being made which is reassuring across a range of aspects and I guess that priorities are different wherever you go.

I do think that utah.gov‘s approach to some of its “social” and “mobile” provision is something that we in the UK could certainly learn from and adapt. I won’t comment on the site as a whole as it didn’t actually seem to work very well in google chrome, so reverted back to Firefox to check out content. I think it is fair to say that I suspect that the broadband speed in Utah are much better than they are within Rural England, so perhaps large images load fast for their core audience.

Despite the initial challenges to accessing the site, I did find some very good things which I’d love to see developed further (note not replicated) here in Devon, for example Utah Collaborate sets a nice tone but doesn’t quite go far enough to really be about “collaboration” however it is better than most if not all things I’ve seen elsewhere (NB: I’ve not done formal research in this area and my visits to websites have been random)

The collaborate idea could be a great platform for linked data and service design as well as a space for developers to show of their apps or services directly to the end users…I think if we created a much better relationship to our local developer community the whole collaborate idea would be about how other people can develop our services with or without us better than we can, thus saving money.

Utah, have got something which sort of creates a foundation for this alongside the collaborate space and that is Utah Widgets. I think that this has huge potential for people to hack data sets and create widgets based on their preferences, I’m sure Utah have a roadmap for this kind of thing, but what would be good would be to see a range of community data sets includes alongside the ones provided already and the widget space become a “mash-up” centre in a similar way the Knowledge Hub plans to provide this function for the UK Public sector as a whole.

Finally I do like the way that they integrate Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms within the site and don’t initially send people off away from the corporate site – this is a key lesson I think we can all learn from.

On a separate but linked note, the way that the online services and transactions are promoted on Utah is not something I feel would encourage people to interact online….but the social aspects are good….the reality is the online services are where the costs savings are.

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).