I recently read this Guardian article about a survey into Councils’ use of social media. As seems common these days it gets around to questioning the return on investment of social media activity. It approaches social media from the angle of customer contact. It identifies that the financial benefits are hard to justify.
It’s not necessarily wrong – but it really misses an important point.
What it fails to recognise is that social media is not just a channel, it’s also a means of identifying, building and involving communities. These communities are the lifeblood of local democracy, they always have been. Social media is another route to join them. It helps to get access to some of that messy and essential space where conversation happens, where understanding is sought, and given. It’s also the route where local government can work alongside communities. It could be information, skills, knowledge, it could be sharing views and opinions.
The work on the Networked Councillor and Made in Lambeth are good examples of where online and offline worlds are combined to create more value than they could alone. Social media complements and builds on the physical networks that have always existed making them increasingly transparent and accessible.
That’s a huge return on investment.