Social Media has for those Councillors nimble enough to negotiate the Highway and Byways of the internet become a boon to communicate, collaborate, and get involved with their communities with a bigger reach than the leaflet or the letter in the local press.
Those Councillors who flocked to Facebook's UK HQ in February waxed lyrical about how the social media created a bridge to the public and the potential for the creation of an open civic public space. Those of you who didn't make it to Councillor Camp might want to acquaint themselves with the event using the link below.
The event has given me much to think about, but the one thing that we didn't discuss in detail at the event was the issue of Social Media and how Councillors approach interaction with those who hold our horses. The Officers.
I follow quite a few officers who work for Doncaster MBC and our partner agencies. We have a Social Media pioneer as our Chief Executive (@jomillerdonny) who leads from the front and has become one of the Twitter-go-to people in #doncasterisgreat . Some of our officers are on the cutting edge of using technology to deliver services, and indeed the head of our library service (@nickstopforth) is leading initiatives to promote online lending and digital inclusion.
Nick's work was so successful that he feature on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours speaking about the pioneering work, and as I love to shout about where Doncaster Council is getting it right I tweeted the link to the programme below:
Had the pleasure of listening to @nickstopforth talking about ebooks from libraries on #youandyours on @BBCRadio4 bbc.in/16HY29Q https://twitter.com/CllrKevin/status/322696181190893568
I hope that link worked on this blog ... if it doesn't I'll try and put a link in the comments box.
Now, what I listed above is the outward facing Twitter stuff, displaying the best of the Council and promoting good work. I think it is right to trumpet the good work Officers do and I think it is important to talk about this so that the puiblic can see how Councillors and Officers work to form policy which affects their lives.
But that is the front end. What about the private communication Social Media offers? Should Councillors and Officers message each other using Social Media?
I give a practical example - there is a big planning matter in my ward and residents wished to use Doncaster Council's online portal to make representations. On the bank holiday Monday just gone residents were calling me at home to let me know that the portal did not seem to be taking new submissions. Now on most days I'd ring up the Director's office and ask someone to look into it. But on a bank holiday this is not an option. So instead of turning on my computer, opening up the VPN programme, logging into my emails, searching the address book for the appropriate officer, and sending an email, I just sent a DM to the Director of Development to ask him to look into it.
Now I did apologise for contacting him on a bank holiday weekend and he didn't seem too perturbed by the message (and he quickly sorted the problem out). But the question is this - was my action appropriate? Should I be using this informal Social Media way of contacting officers to conduct Council business?
I suppose it comes down to how you view the councillor/officer relationship. I'd like to think that Social Media is an extension of the real world interactions you have with the officers and that the trust that you build up with them would extend to the online world. But as Social Media is not a formal part of the Authority's communication apparatus how far can you take DM discussions?