Tomorrow morning, I’m heading up to Stirling for a Local Gov Social Media Unconference, kindly arranged by the Improvement Service, under the banner of the Customer First programme (enabling councils to deliver better, faster and more efficient services to a wider section of the population).
The day will bring together people from local authorities across Scotland who are using social media (or at least thinking about it) to offer better customer choice and engagement, improve access to services, and reduce costs.
Being an unconference, delegates are expected to bring their own suggestions for topics to shape the agenda on the day. People then vote with their feet and gravitate towards the discussions that interest them most. The emphasis is on collaboration – everyone will have the chance to contribute and share.
A starter for ten
I’m sure everyone will be bursting with ideas, but I thought I’d get some of my own thoughts down here, as a bit of a starter for ten.
Social Media and exclusion
How do we ensure that our use of social media doesn’t exclude anyone? The most obvious risk is around accessibility – i.e. potential barriers to accessing online content encountered by certain users due to various factors such as vision impairment. I’ve blogged about this before, but still have more questions than answers.
Also, what about those who are unable to (or choose not to) access these channels? How do we ensure that the opportunities afforded by social media are still available to all?
In my organisation, we conduct risk assessments for any new social media proposal. This allows us to take a step back and look at it from every angle, often spotting risks that weren’t immediately obvious. Some may call it dull, but it’s actually crucial to protect both our staff and the public.
One issue, though, is that the rules are constantly changing. Facebook seems to be forever tweaking their Privacy settings, for example, and this means we need to constantly re-assess whether what we’re doing is still safe.
One of the hardest questions to answer about social media seems to be “what does success look like?”. It’s also pretty fundamental – without knowing if we’re being successful, how can we improve what we’re doing (or know when we should maybe stop and try something else)?
We’ve already had some great success stories. Our Scottish Youth Parliament campaign has won several awards and the figures speak for themselves. But it’s not always that easy to say when something has been a success.
This is especially important because social media, despite what many people think, is not free. There may be no cost to set up an account, but the effort required to make it a success can easily mount up. It’s therefore easy to see why some managers might expect to see evidence of a return on that investment of time.
As we increase our use of (and by logical extension, our dependence on) social media, how do we ensure that our staff have the relevant skills and enthusiasm to do this kind of work properly. It’s probably not in anyone’s job description, and there’s very little formal training available. The challenge, then, is to find practical and sustainable ways of upskilling our workforce so that we are not relying on the limited few for whom this is all second nature.
Part of this might also mean increasingly bringing social media into our own working practices. Internal blogs are a good example of introducing people to Web 2.0 gently – offering the ability for staff to comment but not making contribution essential. I know that some organisations have really embraced internal social media, and the benefits are compelling, with reports of better collaboration, avoided duplication and the most wonderful serendipities.
I look forward to discussing these and many more issues, and hopefully coming away with lots of ideas to take back to my organisation. If you’re going, I’ll see you there. If not, feel free to submit your thoughts or suggestions via a comment below or on Twitter. The hashtag for the event is #smuncon – I plan to live-tweet if at all possible.