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What is social media friendly?

Recently the Local Government Association produced a sort of kite mark for councils wishing to proclaim themselves social media friendly.  My first reaction was “That’s good. This is big stuff. Glad to see they’re taking this seriously.”

But my second reaction was “What does that even mean?”

My third reaction was to read the guidance and then to be even more puzzled still.

  • Any local authority can use the mark.
  • It is being implemented via a trust system that expects local authorities using the mark to believe in its ethos; ie are committed to the use of social media.

and from the press release:

The mark can be affixed to websites, meeting agendas and the other publications, letters and pamphlets councils send to residents, to advise people of their local authority’s commitment to social media reporting. It can also indicate the availability of wi-fi in public buildings for live tweeting, blogging and taking and uploading photos.

This feels dreadfully gimmicky. I’ve got nothing against a good gimmick; it’s eye-catching and a powerful communication tool. But I suspect that no ‘social media friendly’ mark on a website is nearly as powerful as having these far more familiar marks on your webpage or literature.

And frankly – anyone who’s digital savvy at all doesn’t really need permission to Tweet or take pictures in a public space.

Perhaps more importantly, a social media friendly mark should be a sign that a council really is social media friendly.

Here’s how you’d know:

From the outside:

  1. Social media is used in a friendly and engaging way. It’s not just a broadcast from the Town Hall, but a space for communication between council and citizen.
  2. The council takes all digital interaction seriously. From paying council tax to reporting complaints to finding out about local events and resources, there are easy low-friction ways to engage with the council online.
  3. There’s some actual evidence that the council wants to hear from citizens through social platforms. Maybe they’re using a cool deliberation tool for real policy co-production or maybe they’re using local digital images for citizens
  4. There isn’t just one way to access the council through social platforms.  But you can engage directly with the services you use and each has a different and suitable feel.
  5. Paper literature, posters, etc have URLs and social accounts where you can follow up or get more information.

From the inside:

  1. Social media sites aren’t blocked for employees or at least there is a generally permissive approach with clear guidelines about who can and can’t access social sites from work for work as part of clear, simple social media policy.
  2. There is a federated approach to communications. It isn’t solely owned by a Comms team, but the Comms team supports and oversees social media communications.
  3. Social tools are used for internal communications. The intranet isn’t simply some software but an approach to sharing knowledge and information between teams and individuals.
  4. Managerial and political leaders demonstrate that they hear and respond to what staff and the public communicate to them through social media.
  5. There’s a clear digital communications strategy and services and staff know where they fit in it.
So in other words, not just ‘social media friendly’ but a truly social organisation. Just what councils and frankly many other public and private sector organisations that work with people should be.

But well done LGA for encouraging councils to think about what it means to be social media friendly and encouraging the debate.  Recent campaigns like #ourday encouraging people who work in councils to share their day through Twitter gives me some hope that this may be more than a gimmick.

Posted in community engagement, socialmedia.

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5 Responses

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  1. Tom Phillips says

    Spot on, Ingrid. Great that you’re blogging stuff like this again, too.

    The LGA initiative will, as you allude, make no difference whatsoever to how local authority services exploit social media to the benefit of services and citizens. It is nothing but a barren offshoot of the Eric Pickles obsession with access to public meetings. That in turn seems based on some kind of worship of Thatcher’s legacy in gee-ing up public access.

    It is high time the LGA properly woke up to what is, and what could be, happening in local authority social media use. Their role should be to encourage ways the rest can level up to the practices of the best users of social media. Obsessing about meaningless badges won’t move anyone anywhere.

  2. IngridK says

    Well don’t get too excited, I’m not planning to blog a lot about local government. But this seemed to good to pass up. Using social media well is not about having a ‘social veneer’.

    I don’t have a problem with an obsession about access to public meetings or public documents. In fact, I’m all for it! I believe in transparency for its own sake as an integral part of democracy. And if you want to Tweet that stuff, too – maybe that’s a bonus – but the key is that it’s accessible and searchable.

    That aside, I think there are advantages in using social media well to any organisation that deals with people. That’ll be all of them. To some degree or another, publicly or inside the enterprise.

  3. Dan Slee says

    Really good stuff, Ingrid.

    See? This is why it’s such a loss that you don’t do this stuff more often.

    Your two lists of fives are a really good yardstick for where we are with this stuff right now. What’s acceptable and what isn’t.

    It also sort of chimes with something that I’ve been mulling over for a while. The open data community have a very clear five stars of open data grading. I wonder if there’s any merit in a crowd sourced version for local government?

    Sure, it would be an interesting excercise on the one level if you are a bit of an anorak like me but would there be some practical use when applied to something like this mark or something similar?

  4. IngridK says

    I don’t know if it’s possible to do something quite a straightforward as they do in the data community, but why not? If it’s a lever to help people drive things forward – then I’m quite sure it would be a good idea.

    Happy to work on this with you- as I think it would be a good model in all kinds of organisations.

  5. Carmel Finucane says

    Very interesting and thought provoking piece – I like your analysis which is so clear and understandable. I did some benchmarking about a year ago and follow the progress that several of those LAs are making with SM with a great personal interest too. Still a bit worrying that quite a lot of LAs seem still a bit too scared of the negatives to access the benefits, but hopefully that will come with time. Got to understand it warts ‘n all to appreciate the strengths and not be all humbug! Stereotypical views about people ‘wasting all that time ‘on’ it and being dismissive of all the trivia you see posted does sometimes alienate some of the older ‘powers that be’, who are often the ones who make the decisions about SM use in LG. It is as hard to change these views as it is to change for example people’s stereotypical prejudices / perceptions of the profile of all social housing tenants because of the actions of a significant few!

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