Sunday, 26 April 2015

Social. Same, but different.

I don't write about social media a lot these days. As far as Facebook and Twitter goes much of the conversation has been said. Online discussion usually follows the circular argument:

"Isn't social media great?"
"Yes, governments should do more with it"
"That's right, because isn't social media great"

That's not to say governments and their agencies could and should do more, but talking is easy, hence the success and some of the great fails of social media. Putting ideas into action is harder.

There's still room for innovation in social, for example the trial of What's App at Shropshire Council, or the number of councils looking at using Meerkat and Periscope for election coverage, although this does feel like a bit of a fad as video streaming apps like Bambuser and Hangouts on Air have been around for a couple of years now. Anything that pushes governments in the right direction must be a good thing though.

I'm still very much an advocate of social media. I use it in my professional life and I set up the Twitter account and main Facebook page for the organisation I work for, in 2009. Since then I've handed it over to others to manage and this is what I'm really what covering in this post. What happens when social moves from innovation to business as usual?

This great post on Comms2Point0 was the catalyst for me wanting to write about social again. I recognise and sympathise many of the issues here, having been in the same position a few years ago. And I've split my response up into two parts.


Social is another channel of contact and engagement. It's as valid as the telephone or email, perhaps more some argue, given its ability to reach so many people, so quickly. Some organisations don't get this, and that's why it's not taken seriously and used as best as it could.

Given this, those managing it need to apply some of the same professional disciplines they do with other channels. You probably wouldn't take a phone call or reply to an email from a member of the public about at pothole, unpaid on a Sunday afternoon, so why is social different?

Monitoring a social account on behalf of an organisation in your own time creates a false expectation from those using the service. There are always going to be times when this is necessary, in emergencies for example, but I'm talking about on a run of the mill, Sunday afternoon.

Replying to people out of your paid hours means that this is a service people will come to expect, and that afternoon you're at a wedding, or out in the sticks and haven't got a mobile signal so can't reply, people are going to be disappointed that you haven't.

Do the people doing a great job of running the First Great Western or Nationwide Twitter accounts at weekends do so for the love of their organisation? No, they're getting paid for doing it, and quite rightly so. If doing this for free, you're masking the lack of investment in this channel and preventing it from being taken as seriously as it should.

My advice? Add the hours you'll respond to the account's profile and stick to them. If people complain, you've got a case for more investment. If they don't, you probably never needed to monitor it at the weekend.

But different.

I've said how social should be taken seriously. That a professional approach should manage expectation and give social the profile it deserves in an organisation.

Social is, well, social however. It's been likened to a conversation down the pub and whilst you'd rarely run a corporate account with that level of informality this doesn't mean that those use social to interact with your organisation might not take that approach.

This isn't always the case, as O2 demonstrated here. Be careful if you're thinking of doing this though. You're more likely to come across as Richard Madeley being Ali G than authentic, if you're unfamiliar with a particular style of language, init.

So here's the thing. Some people swear. Some people swear a lot. For example, here's Happy Mondays and Black Grape front man Sean Ryder trying his best not to swear and failing in under a minute. Don't take it personally. They're not swearing at you, they're swearing at the online presence of an organisation they're legally obliged to give money to, using social language in the manner they're used to.

Just remember that the "f*cking sh*t council" might become the "f*cking brilliant council" in their mind and online after you've engaged with them, and to have an advocate saying your organisation is "f*cking brilliant" is pretty powerful.

So that's my first and last post on social for a while. Written on a Sunday, unpaid, this once again highlights difference between professional and personal opinion, this being very much the latter.

I'm off for a roast dinner now. If you'd need my services professionally, I'll be around from 8am tomorrow.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.