A couple of weeks ago, I went to the rather brilliant, interesting and super helpful LG Communications Social Media session, organised by Darren Caveney, that was held at the hugely creative Antennae Centre in Nottingham.
Billed as ‘Everything you wanted to know about social media but were too afraid to ask’, it combined an immense list of speakers including David Banks [Media Law Specialist], Dan Slee, Paul Taylor, Sarah Lay and Richard Clarke from O2 with an equally inspiring un-conference session led by the Wikipedia legend Andy Mabbett.
While there, I pitched a session on ‘how do we move the unmovable?’ Or in other words, how do you bring around those people who have really entrenched views completely opposed to the good things about social media?
For me social media has many good things: it’s social, brings about conversations, brings ideas, chance to create and share ideas and information virtually no matter where you are geographically or organisationally and most importantly it connects people.
The session started off well with useful stories and tips shared. Unfortunately there were also a few points raised that made me sad and in fact if I’m honest quite frustrated.
We were discussing who should have access to social media in organisations and this is where my sadness set in. Examples were given about practices that had been adopted to make sure the ‘right people’ were doing social media in organisations. They included: 1) asking for business cases from individuals to set out why they should be given accounts, 2) testing staff for 12 weeks to see if they have enough commitment first before giving access and for me probably most frustratingly 3) using a pre-determined criteria [including ‘Had they shown they were good at communications previously?’ and ‘Did they show the skills needed to be good at SM?’] to decide if someone should be given a social media account.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe that the people who raised the points at the session felt they were doing the right thing but for me it went too far.
For a start, if I’d have had to jump through these hoops to get a social media account where I work, I’d have said get stuffed. And based on the skills test, I probably wouldn’t have been given an account anyway. Secondly, since when did being good at communications become a pre-requisite for having a social media account? What about the role of customer service skills or being a people person? And fundamentally for me having criteria type measures in place essentially stopped people from doing social media, rather than encouraged them.
I could go on….but I won’t. Many far superior minds than mine have debated this issue previously. Catherine Howe here after Comms Camp [the comments by Tom Philips, Dan Slee and Andrew Fisher are also well worth a read], Comms2point0 talking about barrier vaulting in Best by WM here and Puffles talking about comms being social media blockers here
What it did say to me though is that communication experts in local government are still not fully buying into the benefits that social media can bring, never mind being advocates for a digital culture where 'digitalvalues' are a way of being within an organisation.
I’m not sure exactly why that is, probably a number of reasons; resources, complexity, lack of leadership, confidence or not having the chance or trust to really try out new ideas. It’s also easy for me to say as I currently work in an organisation that gave staff social media access years ago and I would maybe think and act if I didn’t - but it definitely made me think about my role and what I can do.
Here are my observations on the facts as I see them:
- This is going to happen. And it will happen without, and in spite of, communications teams.
- Social media is bigger than just one team. Last year in Staffordshire we had over 100,000 less calls to our contact centre – that’s because residents were using social media, email and the internet instead. In fact contacts in this way increased by pretty much the exact same number. It’s only going to get bigger and residents are only going to want more choice and convenience in how to speak to organisations, not less.
- Social media can’t be controlled and it almost certainly and definitely can’t be controlled by just one team.
- If we can’t encourage staff to be advocates for our organisations and the changing role of public services, where does that leave our communities?
- How can we move on to tackling the wicked issues and using technology to re-design public services that are fit for 21st Century if we’re still dealing with the small stuff?
So now that I’ve put that out there, I’m finishing with an appeal. If you’re in communications and are responsible for social media in your organisation, think about what you do and reflect. Ask yourself are you a social media blocker or are you someone who makes it happen and supports others to make it happen too?
If after soul searching you realise you’re the latter, it’s never too late. As Michael Jackson said “I’m going to make a change”. And you can too.
Emma Rodgers is Senior Campaigns Officer at Staffordshire County Council