Putting our money where our mouth is in 2013

The New Year always provides an opportunity for reflection on the previous year’s successes/also-rans and a chance to look ahead at what we should prioritise. It didn’t take much reflection for me to realise that those of us interested in social media in local government need to be bold in our next steps or we could do irreparable damage to its credibility.

The local government examples of effective social media use are innumerable and many are seeing fantastic results. The #OurDay tweetathon we ran gave us a glimpse of what councils across the country are doing and it’s an initiative we hope to build on in 2013.

However, what I must admit I find frustrating are the interminable discussions about the whys and the wherefores of social media; who is using what, where and when it has been successful and why social media still remains the poor relation in the integrated communications strategy for local government. The conversations are often too inward facing, don’t include enough views from those who aren’t frequent users and rarely offer practical next steps. These Groundhog Day discussions on why social media isn’t being better integrated/why aren’t more using it as a two-way communications tool seem to help perpetuate the problem. I’ll put my hand up now to say I’m as guilty as anyone as wasting a lot of my social media use talking about the use of social media! We need to call time on working up a head of steam on this, accept we are preaching to the converted and that we don’t need to keep having these same conversations with ourselves.

I think our energy could be better spent demystifying the whole thing; that at the heart of using social media in local government is a very simple premise: go and have conversations with your residents where they are already discussing, reading, watching and listening to stuff.

A few months ago Martin Reeves of SOLACE said something that really struck a chord with me; it is up to those who believe in the value of social media to persuade council chief executives (and other decision makers) that in this time of unrivalled pressures on councils, using social media will help to address the massive challenges they are facing. Until we unequivocally demonstrate the positive impact it will have on the bottom line or affect the type of sea change in the mind-sets of residents required over the next few years, the use of social media will continue to be regarded as a nice to have/bit geeky/often cliquey. Persuading the sceptics is never easy and up until now it has been easy to be sniffy about those at a senior level who are dismissive of social media – however no one is going to change their minds but us and we need to do that in a supportive, persuasive and non-threatening fashion.

It is up to us to be clear in our language and succinct in our strategy; what tangible, demonstrable and measurable positive impacts will the proper integration of the use of social media have on:

Council responsibility for public health

Cost of adult social care

Housing shortages

Universal credit

Cuts to funding for children centres

To name a few…

To get others to take seriously the use of social media we need to start doing the same. We can’t shy away from the tough conversations and we need to be ready with viable solutions.

Let 2013 be the year that we let social media flex its muscles and show its true worth in helping to tackle some of the biggest challenges ever to face local government.

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