social media and new year local government predictions

Here's a thing. We were asked by The Guardian to make some predictions for social media in local government in 2014. With the year two thirds over this is the piece from January. How is it looking?

by Dan Slee

Soon after the new year champagne had been drunk, dark clouds started gathering for local government in 2014. Job losses, cuts and unhappy residents have been predicted in a landscape of gloom that matches the grey UK weather.

But what does this year hold for social media in local government? Will it single-handedly banish the gloom, or is it just a digital distraction?

Social media will have two avenues in town halls around Britain in 2014. As cuts bite, spare capacity will go and bright people will leave. Those who are left face an even tougher job to build a social channel that works, but some will. Self-organised events such as librarycamp, an event for people interested in libraries, for librarians, will continue to flourish.

Social media will be called upon to crack bigger problems. Schemes such as Futuregov's Casserole Club has shown the way by linking people who enjoy cooking with vulnerable people in their area who need both the food and extra company.

But projects like Puffell, where you can manage your own health and wellbeing through a social framework, will move it on further. Elsewhere, bodies such as Improvement and Efficiency West Midlands are considering how they can tackle many difficult issues that bedevil local government. They are working with chief executives in the region to encourage senior officers to use the social web as a tool to tackle some of these issues.

Nationally, meanwhile, the Local Government Association's localgov digital group is working to raise standards. All of this suggests that in 2014 social media will take a seat at the top table and will grow up.

If that's the big picture, in what areas will social media in local government grow? There are three broad areas: firstly, customer services teams will use social media better as a channel to talk, listen and to respond. Secondly, it will be harnessed more to deliver channel shift, to allow people to be signposted towards more efficient ways of getting their problems dealt with. Thirdly, social media will further allow named frontline officers to build better human connections online as they are already doing offline.

On the ground, the picture looks complicated. A recent poll for thecomms2point0 blog, with 60 per cent of respondents coming from the public sector, showed that 81.9 per cent expect to be using social media more in 2014. But the survey also showed that social media is making things more complicated – 61.6% said the job of communicating is getting harder.

In 2014, it won't be enough to think that by using Twitter and Facebook the job is done. In the 2012 comms2point0 survey, just 10 platforms were being used. By 2013, this had ballooned to more than 30. In 2014, local government needs to navigate a more complex landscape that includes photosharing site Instagram, for example, and instant messaging channels like Snapchat, which are popular with teenagers.

In 2014, there will be a crying need for skills and training in town halls. As budgets are cut, however, local government will fall behind central government, which has invested heavily in training for social media for civil servants. And that's a worrying trend.