Be the status update you want to see
We all know we should brush our teeth twice a day, eat five portions of fruit and veg and keep fit. A lot of us talk about trying to be healthier and encourage others to do the same. Most of us however then ignore our own advice and tuck into a burger or chocolate.
Similarly, in local government we have been talking for years about the need to engage digitally with residents. A lot of us have produced articles and presentations on just this, and some have even become real champions of the online world.
Most of us have then ignored all this and got on with the day job. And it’s beginning to become frustrating.
The business case is clear, and has backing from government at the highest levels. The benefits of mirroring offline engagement opportunities with online ones are well known, and are widely accepted even by cynics. They don’t seem to have gotten past the ‘that’s a good idea, we should look at it one day’ stage however.
I want to believe that it is only less web-savvy people who are ignoring it, that those of us who know a bit about social media and the power of digital technology such as the internet and mobile phones are all being the change we want to see. Unfortunately that simply is not the case. A few exceptional individuals aside, most of those who discuss social media are treating it as no more than an interesting area of work which gets them noticed as someone who looks to the future. We aren’t actually making use of social media in our day jobs, and see it as an add-on task, something that can be done when we have time but which can be ignored when anything more urgent comes up.
In my organisation we have a Yammer network set up. Everyone I’ve spoken to is really interested in the idea. Most of these have signed up for an account. 96% of posts (not including the automatic one saying someone has joined up) have come from six users.
Our entire communications team is aware of the power of social media (I know because I trained them about it), and has been told that as a team they need to monitor and make use of Twitter to engage with the public and get messages sent out. One officer has sent an average of two tweets a week, no-one else has even logged on.
Even those of us who are passionate about social media and want to find new ways of making it a part of modern organisational culture aren’t immune from this. A wiki site was set up to help draft and develop a shared digital engagement strategy and policy, and was advertised to members of an online group set up to discuss social media issues in local government. Some mentioned it and said they are really interested in seeing it develop. Two people created, edited and changed pages.
Changing the opinions of the apathetic masses to one more supportive of social media will take time, and will only be supported if definitive benefits can be proven through case studies and results. If we in local government are serious about digital engagement we need to pull our fingers out and stop seeing it as a gimmick, something that the communications cricket can do while the local government ant gets on with the real work of local government.
Digital engagement helps us to do our jobs more easily. Whether we are engaging with the public or with our colleagues, there are websites and systems available – for free – to make this easier. The next time someone suggests you use one of these, dive into it and don’t give up when others around you aren’t as enthusiastic. If we have no trailblazers or early adopters then no trails will be blazed, and nothing will be adopted.