‘The world hasn’t ended': what happens when you give all staff access to social media


Many different ways to bring about the apocalypse

We absolutely love a guest post (two in two days!) and when we get offered a guest post by a fellow officer who we all respect a lot (admittedly from afar) it is impossible to say no. In this case we have also waived our anonymity rule to give full credit to Helen Reynolds (a communications officer tasked with developing social media) and Monmouthshire County Council (who she works for). In this post Helen discusses what happens when you give staff access to social media. Apparently, the world doesn’t end (who knew?). So without further ado and with many thanks to Helen please enjoy today’s post:

In January 2011 we opened social media access to all staff at Monmouthshire County Council and now everyone who uses the internet for work can look at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other social media whenever they want.

This seems to be a rare thing in the public sector, I don’t know another organisation that has done it. People often ask how it’s going and my answer is usually ‘well, the world hasn’t ended’.  In fact, it’s really breathing life into our council and communities at a time when our organisation is going through a lot of change.

As we said in the staff e-zine when we first opened access, one of our values is openness and our staff are trusted to make the most of the networks and conversations possible using social media. Social media is a great way for us to engage more effectively with colleagues, residents and partners so it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed.

We’ll make some errors and we still have work to do on getting better at using these channels but we’ve made a start.

It seems all the issues we debated before and since this happened aren’t about social media at all – they’re about the way we work. Here is some of what we’ve learnt.

‘The people’ saying nasty things

Most people who are interested in our council are nice – there is no need to fear ‘them’.  ‘Us and them’ is just not the way it works in our more networked society anyway.

It’s good to have a plan for how you will deal with negative or abusive posts.  But the reality is that they rare. Those people who attack an organisation just don’t understand why the organisation behaves as it does – this a great opportunity to tell people why you do what you do. People tend to appreciate being listened to and answered regardless of their feelings on the response.

My experience is that around 60-70% of comments to the council are really positive. Before social media, people didn’t have many ways to express a quick note of contentment or pleasure at a service or information they’ve received. Now we can tweet “just seen the gritters out, good job keeping the roads safe”.

Cocking up

What if we make a big mistake? Well, here in Monmouthshire, we are developing a culture where if you’re trying to do good things and you make a few mistakes along the way, that’s OK. We wouldn’t ban social media use because a mistake was made just as we wouldn’t ban phone use by someone who messed up.  Each of us is employed to do a job and we’re trusted to know our stuff.  When we have made mistakes we’ve acted quickly to correct the situation, learned from it and found that our communities are quite forgiving.  They recognise that this is a new way to communicate and people tell us they like talking to the council in a more conversational way and realise the odd mistake will happen.

People

We started to talk about PEOPLE. When I talk to colleagues about activity on our social media accounts it often leads to a discussion about Monmouthshire people: ‘ so and so tweeted me, oh she tweets you too? She’s lovely isn’t she – she sent us a really useful link’. Our personalities aren’t locked away, we can do an excellent job while being ourselves.  We want to make the council more approachable and there’s no better way of doing than to stop trying to be a ‘corporate robot’.  Being professional doesn’t mean being cold or free of personality. We’re allowed to create good connections with people in our communities.

It doesn’t belong to communications

Communications people can advise but it isn’t ours to hold on to and protect any more than speech or email is. But – for me, it’s great to tap into what’s going on by looking at our various departments’ social media accounts. Our Chief Executive, Chief Officers and councillors tweet really well and as well as making connections with people on Twitter, our staff have had an insight into their work.  Staff who started tweeting tell me all the time that the Monmouthshire corporate tweets keep them informed; along with Yammer and Facebook these tools are giving us a sense of ‘team Monmouthshire’. We may be in different departments in offices on either side of the county but we’re in touch.

The biggest change for me in my job is that I’m inundated with people asking me to show them what this social media thing is all about. I love that. I get to share information about the things that have fascinated and educated me during the past few years.  There’s a buzz around Monmouthshire that this is an exciting way to connect.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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17 Comments on “‘The world hasn’t ended': what happens when you give all staff access to social media”

  1. Legalese Says:

    Well said! Especially about trusting everyone to be able to handle their own. It’s not about one officer jealously guarding the corporate account, it’s about providing services for the public, and the public generally want to read about one or two specific services instead of being overwhelmed with news about everything the authority does. Don’t get rid of the main corporate feed, just add lots of little ones and share and retweet.

  2. tomsprints Says:

    Monmouthshire are far and away market leaders in this stuff, courtesy of the work of Helen and colleagues, and I’ve heard many tales of the stories behind stuff in this blog. But for me, the most striking things seem related to taking social media out of the hands of a central comms team.

    Now, I believe there are a few such teams who have the skills, and work in a culture, where central coordination is feasible up to a point. However, many local authorities are just too big and diverse. Nevertheless, many still have extremely powerful central comms teams, usually working close to the paranoias of ruling politicians in the authority, and who have reputation management of the authority as a prime mission.

    Where Monmouthshire seem to have scored is by letting go on this. Clearly they have worked out that if you’re good, your reputation will usually take care of itself. And if you’re not, then adverse comment is a) legitimate and b) an incentive to do better.

    As always, these things are cultural, not organisational.


  3. […] in local government. I did some research online and came across this blog post, which talks about the experiences that the Monmouthshire Council had when they opened up social media to their staff, encouraging them to engage with their local […]


  4. […] ‘The world hasn’t ended’: what happens when you give all staff access to social me… – A great story – lessons for many organisations fearful of letting people loose on online networks. […]

  5. Katy Says:

    I totally agree with the concept. I have put it forward to my line manager who says if I tell him the benefit to the council of opening up social media he will back me up. Anyone got any tangible results/benefits of opening it up to all? Do officers actually come on and get involved in the conversations?


  6. […] work purposes in some library sectors, this is slowly changing in Wales. You may like to read this guest blog by one local authority (Monmouthshire) who found the world didn’t end when all staff (yes, […]


  7. […] ‘The world hasn’t ended’: what happens when you give all staff access to social media on the We Love Local Government blog […]


  8. […] or not to open up social media to their staff, they would have been left in no doubt that perhaps the world would end after all (unless of course the second life option was taken […]


  9. […] had particular interest in has been around ICT.  Social media has been a regular topic of conversation, although sometimes we concentrate on things somewhat more mundane such as our propensity for […]


  10. […] Our council allows all our employees to usesocial media at any time and our guidance is encouraging enough to give people like Dan the freedom he needs to do great things. […]


  11. […] who embrace social media across their organisation (not just in the marketing department) are reaping the benefits. Use this knowledge to your advantage by demonstrating to potential employers that your use of this […]


  12. Reblogged this on Digital Monmouthshire and commented:
    In January 2011 we opened social media access to all staff at Monmouthshire County Council and now everyone who uses the internet for work can look at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other social media whenever they want. Here’s a blog Helen wrote on the sadly missed We Love Local Government blog about why and how we did it.


  13. […] ‘The world hasn’t ended’: what happens when you give all staff access to social media […]


  14. […] who embrace social media across their organisation (not just in the marketing department) are reaping the benefits. Use this knowledge to your advantage by demonstrating to potential employers that your use of this […]


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  16. […] We absolutely love a guest post (two in two days!) and when we get offered a guest post by a fellow officer who we all respect a lot (admittedly from afar) it is impossible to say no. In this case …  […]


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