Social Media: Why bother?

Social media - why bother?

This post is a mixture of field notes from projects I have been working on as well as some personal reflections. Circling all of this in the question – why bother with social media?

We are getting to the end of the programme for the first cohorts of Networked Councillor as well as the digital leadership programme and it really strikes me that while the content that we are covering is very effective the real key is unlocking individual motivations around actually using social media. So – how do you get someone to actually use their new skills?

Clearly officers and members have very different motivations and requirements for going online however the fact remains that if our communities are increasingly online then our public services and public servants also need to be there. And anyway – those public servants are citizens as well – its not as if we all step back in time when we go to work to a land where Facebook was never invented.

For me the need for both members and officers to become active online in some way reflects a belief that this is the most effective way of starting to experience and therefore understand what our transition to a network society might mean. Without that understanding we are powerless to try and shape it for the future.

Its also pragmatic – the social web has the potential for huge and effective reach into our communities which is core requirement for public services and also for politicians.

And finally, social media can be seen as the leading edge of a range of digital and networked technologies which will disrupt the way in which we operate. Best therefore to try and get a grip of this before quantified self or augmented reality really blows your mind……

However, this are all very highfaluting thoughts and a little bit like the digital equivalent of drink less and eat more vegetables – to really unlock behaviour change we probably need to dig a little deeper.

Barriers and motivations

Here are some observations of the kinds of barriers raised and the motivations I have observed as seeming to make a difference. Some of these will seem completely obvious – and they are to someone who us already doing them. But this is not really about us – this is about opening up the social web to the people for whom its not something they have found by themselves.

  • Find the people you actually want to talk to: For many people it can really unlock things to show them the kind of conversations you can find online – find them people they want to talk to. The media can be very negative about social media and simply showing people that its not all trolls, cats and breakfast pictures can really help. Even more, local social media monitoring can illustrate to members exactly who they are missing by not being online.
  • Workflow and app juggling: Not everyone wants to spend their weekend messing about with blog software (ahem) or researching the perfect mail client to allow you to work at midnight under a full moon with 4G – it should not be seen as a badge of honour to have to find this stuff yourself – give people some help getting set up on their devices and with their preferred workflow.
  • There is too much stuff: Social media can be to some people the final straw. We are already drowning in email, texts and unnecessary meetings – the idea of electively adding another communication channel makes some people feel fairly despairing. You have to unlock how networked communication can shift communication practice for your audience to convince people its worthwhile but to be honest a lot of this is about bringing mindfulness across all of your communication – the dreaded email included. This is bound up with a need to adjust to operating on the basis of enough rather than all of the information – and that feels very alien to the way in which many of us were trained.
  • Deciding what you want to talk about: Lots of people are very british about not wanting to bother anyone else with their ideas or content. Convincing someone to start to write down or capture their ideas is not always the right path – instead trying to get people to think about some of the other roles you find on the social web can flick a switch. Help someone become a connector or curator online – or even simply a really effective reader and commentator of other people’s content (a critic) can be incredibly valuable.

Some critical questions
Distilling down from this there are a number of questions

  • Do you have a clear purpose?
    There is no point in telling an elected representative or senior manager that they should do something – either they will see a clear purpose and benefit and outcome or they won’t do it. Helping someone to understand that purpose can both help them get started but also stay focused once they go down the social media rabbit hole.
  • How does it relate to the kind of leader you are?
    Both of the groups we are working with are made up of people in leadership positions. Helping people to explore how they shift from a hierarchal to a more networked style of leadership it is therefore critical to unlocking their active participation.
  • How you will learn?
    Unless you are a natural early adopter then your inclination is the wait until things settle down before jumping into any new technology. This leaves you with a problem if things appear to never be settling down and we are experiencing perpetual disruption. If that is the case then you need to understand how you are going to learn about change and keep in touch with new developments.
  • What are the risks of not doing it?
    This final question to explore with someone who is not yet ready to act is the contrary risk – the risk of not doing something. This is linked to their particular circumstances but will almost always circle back to their own future relevance. Sometimes it is easier to imagine 10 years hence to people to imagine how they need to act.

And it is of course all about me
Some of these observations have been triggered by connecting what I have been seeing in the programmes we have been running to my own experience. I started this blog in order to support my doctoral work and it has made all the difference – but that being finished I have been rather lacking purpose with it. As you will see (if you have visited before) I have been doing some work on it and I am much clearer on what I want to do here. So – if you have a look around you should find links to projects I am working on, research themes I am interested in and field notes that I want to capture in public. I hope you find it useful – but its real purpose is to help me think in public because you can’t learn about the network society without being part of it.

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