Council social media: forget about the price tag

A great report from business advisory and accountancy firm BDO, Direct Message, has been released this week, showing results of councils reported use of social media.

According to localgov.co.uk:

“Two-thirds of councils are now using social media, with 77% saying it can lead to savings if used correctly, according to a new report.
…[It] found that responsibility for social media has moved from communications teams to customer service and policy teams, as more councils use it to communicate with residents.”

It’s marvellous to hear that councils are recognising the value of social media. The report itself, is a good overview of the benefits and I love that BDO’s press release for the report was headlined: ‘Mind the gap: social media bolsters dialogue between councils and communities‘.

Councils have a duty to talk to residents about what they do and residents having relatively cheap, mobile, quick access to social media will make that so much easier.

However, I will worry if local government leaders focus on financial details included in the report such as ‘63% of councils say they produce fewer paper leaflets’.

There are clearly cases to be made about cost savings but the biggest opportunities to be gained are not in any real measurable or financial form.

Social media is not just online versions of traditional marketing and PR.

Old school communications was about crafting a message, sending it out to everyone and moving on to the next thing.

Social media lets people who work in and for councils actually listen to what residents are saying.  It lets them hear what people are talking about, not just in relation to the services the council provides but to generally understand what people care about.

So hearing from the report that only 20% of councils now block the use of social media for staff, compared to 53% in 2012 is fantastic.

A better sense of perspective is what any public body needs as it has a duty to improve lives and prospects for the people they serve.

Mixing with and understanding communities makes council staff more human, accountable and aware of the consequences of their work. It makes them less out of touch.

There’s no financial outcome that could be measured year on year but I reckon that we all want the people working for us to know and care about the world around them.

That will result in fewer people who have been inconvenienced by bad service, been unfairly treated by badly applied policy or had their lives ruined by unjust treatment.

Well managed budgets help councils spend money on supporting people to live healthy and prosperous lives. But the ultimate goal is not to have better managed budgets, it’s to make people happy.

Social media is making organisations reflect on their structures, functions and purpose.

I love that reports like this cover the financial return on the ‘investment’, which does increase ‘buy-in’ from decision makers in local government. But the bigger picture, that this report does describe, sometimes needs pointing out.

Social media will help public servants have real, ongoing conversations.It is going to fundamentally change the way council think of their relationships with the people they serve.

The people talk back.

The people have great ideas on how to solve problems councils face.

The people who complain online aren’t trolls, they’re just angry, frustrated or don’t understand what their council is doing or why.

The people say things that make us uncomfortable when the way things have always been done don’t make sense anymore.

Employees and councillors are ‘the people’ too.  I hope social media helps them feel that way, so we don’t get caught up in the idea of it as a cheap channel to push out messages, like leaflets through a door.

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