Last week I heard about Monmouthshire Council’s enlightened views on social media. They see it as an essential tool for their employees and therefore they unblocked access for everyone. Helen Reynolds is Monmouthshire’s Communications Officer and you can see her on Youtube talking about
- why it’s pointless trying to control who can and can’t use social media
- how freeing access unleashed talent they didn’t know was there before
- how the world didn’t end
- the positive things that did happen
In brief, the argument runs like this: the people you employ generally know how to behave, ought to be trusted and are governed by various codes of conduct, so why assume the worst will happen if they are allowed unfettered access to the web?
If you can’t watch Helen on Youtube because your employer blocks access, here’s some good news: she is one of the speakers at a Public Sector Customer Services Forum in Glasgow on 21 June. The focus of the forum is on how the public sector can use Facebook to engage digitally with their citizens. As the blurb for the event puts it:
The case for whether or not the public sector needs to use social media has been won long ago. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘how’
The conference costs £135 plus VAT which looks like good value for money as the PSCSF forums are usually high quality and there are other top notch speakers.
But if your employer reckons it’s too expensive and you can’t be spared for the day, ask for Youtube to be unblocked so that he/she can learn from Helen Reynolds, for free, in 8 minutes 49 seconds…
According to a recent discussion on BBC Radio 4, leadership at senior manager level means doing things right (focus on efficiency and governance), while at practitioner level it means doing the right thing (focus on effectiveness). It struck me that this lies at the heart of the problem of blocked access to social media.
For the senior manager maybe a focus on efficiency and governance leads to a command and control approach to the organisation’s communication channels. The practitioner’s concern for effectiveness on the other hand might favour the use of informal, decentralised tools for communication. This dichotomy was highlighted at an event run last week by Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway Local Engagement Forum (first item on the agenda: a snappier title). The focus of the event was leadership and communication and IRISS was invited to run a workshop on web-based tools.
Over lunch one delegate casually remarked that sometimes ‘communications seem to rain down from above’ creating overload and pressure while at other times there seemed to be a lack of communication. She went on to say something along the lines of
what I’d like is a kind of Facebook type of communication. Where you can see what’s going one, pick up what you need, follow up when you want and contribute when appropriate
Which rather neatly illustrates the role that social media can play in supporting effective communication and sharing.
Workshop participants were really keen on social bookmarking (Delicious in this case) and news feeds (using Google Reader). I think some cynics came round to appreciating Twitter’s value for current awareness and for engaging with a wider network of people and organisations. But, of course, they were frustrated that their organisations would block access (it’s odd than local authorities have embraced Twitter as a channel to engage with communities on things like weather, roads and school closures, but still seem reluctant to accept that it would be even more effective if their staff were allowed to use it).
This is where leadership comes in. Social media is effective, especially when trying to promote engagement between public, private and voluntary sector groups and individuals (as the Forum is trying to do). And many of the tools are free. The task for the delegates is to use their leadership skills to engage in constructive discussion about possible risks and security concerns arising from the use of social media and to make the case for looser controls and restrictions so that they can use these tools to help them do the right thing. As they are all responsible and trustworthy professionals, governed by codes of practice and employment terms and conditions, surely they can also be trusted to do things right? In other words it should be possible to be both efficient and effective.