Council’s dipping their toes into the interweb

Dave has an excellent and very positive summation of why councils should be embracing social media. He says:

Councils have a real opportunity to help develop the use of social media in a grographical area, to take a lead, say, in the definition and promotion of common tags to use so that locally generated content can be easily found and shared. The local authority could act as a convener, helping to draw people together online, including individual bloggers/photo sharers/etc, the local press, community groups and so on.

I couldn’t agree more and he has some clear and practical suggestions on how they could do it.

  • Listen to existing online conversations – critics and friends.
  • Acknowledge that the conversation is taking place and find ways to respond.
  • Engage, start blogs for big projects, use YouTube, podcast meetings, put presentations on SlideShare etc.
  • Use existing services.
  • Don’t think this is just a comms team job.
  • Don’t throw out your other communications tools.

All excellent pieces of advice don’t you think?

I’d add one further one.

  • Think about whether your excuses for not doing it are valid or not.

There will be reasons why councils can or don’t want to take part in these sorts of activities and I’ve heard some pretty good excuses in my time. But often the given reasons are a bit of a smokescreen, or so it seems to me.

So council’s of South East London throw off your chains all you have to loose is your legacy systems…

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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8 Responses to Council’s dipping their toes into the interweb

  1. rp says:

    It’s a not uninteresting proposal, and one that I could expand upon for quite some time, but I won’t, for the reasons below.

    Online communication is so vast and varied that it can never fall under a blanket statement, but there are some facets (again, there are many others) that are popular at the moment, these are websites (obviously!) and blogs.

    Websites are very good at giving information, when they are properly designed. Few are properly designed because the information they are trying to convey is just too much, the Councils website would fall under this banner. The Councils website is large and confusing and gives a tremendous amount of information much of which is pedestrianly factual, but accurately and fairly displayed, such as planning applications. There are reams of ‘how to get in touch’ pages which is OK, and then there are the ‘look at how good we are’ which are embarrassing and misplaced on this kind of ‘communication’.

    Essentialy the website fails, in my opinion, for what its worth, and much of it is there because they are either obliged to have it there or just want to cram as much as possible online to take away the onus of responsibility. This last phrase is important – it passes responsibility back to the user and away from the publisher which, in theory should be good, but can, in practice, lead to a great belching smoke-screen that the Council can hide behind.

    Secondly, and lastly, blogs.

    Blogs, essentially, are next to useless. They claim a lot but actually produce little of any lasting merit. They go a long way to satisfying the narcissistic side of the publisher, far more than any value that can be extracted from them. That doesn’t mean that they are entirely useless. For instance, if I were having to choose, for voting purpose perhaps, between say, and just for the choice of argument, your good self and Andrew Milton I would think that Andrew is a good, fair man who cares mores about his job and what he’s doing than building a attractive monument to himself. I would say the opposite (except the good and fair, of course you’re good and fair) applies to you. Again, just my opinion.

    Blogs claim much but produce little. For instance, the rabidly free and easy ‘Brockley Central’ likes to claim it’s the centre of all things brockley, which it patently isn’t, but it does express something about a very small number of it’s inhabitants. When it has something which it considers important to do or say it pumps itself up to it’s full stentorian height and announces it very loudly. A recent visit by the Deputy mayor was trumpeted for some time and it did lead to one exciting development – the removal of a mini cab office shop sign that contravened the conservation area planning guidelines. It may lead to some other trivial changes as well. So, blogs can change, and the middle classes can get rid of eyesores within their midst and find out that th Deputy mayor is just like them.

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    Interesting thoughts. I do agree in part, websites can be very good at presenting useful information if designed and maintained well. And that’s a real challenge for organisations with as much information as councils have to work with.

    I’m less convinced by your arguments about blogs. First, they’re just one of the social media platforms that are available and being used to try and conduct civic conversations. It seems to me that Facebook and other social networking sites are far more popular than blogs, and are quite good at actually getting real life events off the ground too.

    Second, I’m not sure that blogs are any worse than other formats in their claims for achieving new and astonishing things. Of course you get evangelicals – who by their nature create opponents as well as followers – who perhaps aren’t modesty itself, but that’s true of off-line campaigns and individuals too. And if the public find out that politicians are just like them, well in an anti-politician age like ours I might count that as a bit of an achievement.

    Third, I think you forgot the empowering nature (the flip-side to the narcissism you mention) of seeing your views reflected and considered when that hasn’t happened before. For example, Kate in her campaigning mode; providing a different perspective on council services than either I or Andrew M could provide. It may not shift the world on its axis immediately, but I don’t doubt its effect.

    But, blogs are just a platform, and what I’d hope is that what councils should be looking to do is to be open to what social media allows; another conversation with the people you’re serving to take place. Not the only one, but another one.

  3. ross says:

    fantastic post rp

    small whiskies all round

  4. Just passing says:

    Is this the sort of thing?

  5. Andrew Brown says:

    Not exactly, but I am tickled by the section on Sir Steve:

    In the same week that Steve got knighted a Conservative Party taskforce adopted Labour’s idea and extended it further, proposing more Mayors and greater powers.

    Meanwhile our local Conservative party in Lewisham are leading in a campaign to abolish the whole concept, Creating confusion whether elected Mayors are a good or bad idea.

  6. ross says:

    dam tories know nothing about democratic centralism

  7. Just passing says:

    Maybe this is a better example of how to, ‘Acknowledge that the conversation is taking place and find ways to respond’ and ‘Don’t think this is just a comms team job.’

    “A briefing on the replacement for Forest Hill Pools will be posted shortly on the Key Issues page”

    After 6 months, that is still the total briefing. I guess some things are best left unsaid?

  8. ross says:

    give the guy a break, when he’s spent a hard day turning water into wine and walking on water he can’t be expected to update his own website for stuff he says he will do

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