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.
There are a few things I’m working on at the moment. They are erm, interesting and challenging.
The value of the social networks I’m involved in is coming to the fore. The range of knowledge, expertise and experience is remarkable. But the real quality of those people is their willingness to share their knowledge – actively. But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve been looking for opportunities for people across my organisation to gain different skills and perspectives – and share their own but in a different context. It’s partly to build interest and motivation – but also so that those staff can improve what we do, and look outward more to benefit the communities and people we work with. So it’s not just about connecting virtually – it’s about just talking, shadowing opportunities, placements, mentoring – all stuff that takes time and investment. Those networks? The people in them? Still up for it. These are people across business, the public and voluntary sectors – who see sharing knowledge and experience as a mutual benefit.
I’ve a draft post I’ve been working on – I left it for a while and now I’m going to finish it – it looks at trying to shift organisational culture to a more networked one – where we have a better chance of connecting what we do, the people doing it and the communities we work alongside. Why? Lots of reasons and because isn’t it better to use all the skills and knowledge at hand? Isn’t that just a better place to work?
So if you are reading this and are helping – thanks it’s much appreciated – a lot more than I’ve probably let you know.
I’m one of those people who invests a lot in work – not like Boxer in Animal Farm – not just time and energy, but also in working relationships. I’d like to think I have friends at work. Friends who I admire because of their skills, knowledge – because of the people they are. So when you move jobs it’s not just the challenge of a new job, the inevitable insecurities like wondering if I over egged it at interview, but also coping with some loss. Loss of the contact you had with people you admired and enjoyed working with.
Years ago keeping in contact as you moved work was difficult, or at least I found it hard. Now those I’d love to keep in contact with are largely using social media. It might be as a result of my evil plan where i cunningly spent part of my notice period along side the excellent @MichaelNewbury, delivering social media workshops. Whatever the reason, it means contact is far easier, I can keep my network close to me for support, advice, and humour. But will this experience help me in more than my social relationships?
Lately I’ve worked in organisations that have, as Minzberg calls it, a divisional structure. That structure has influenced my behaviour. Being composed of semi-autonomous units – or departments – doesn’t necessarily facilitate skills and knowledge sharing. The Divisional form is a structural derivative of a ‘Machine Bureaucracy’, an operational solution to co-ordinate and control a large range of organisational activities. It delivers horizontally diversified products and services. It produces horizontally diversified people as well.
In trying to introduce social media as a means of helping people develop networks that could help them get a job quickly I realised that what we were doing was helping to socialise the organisation. Connecting people not just through functional roles but critically through interests. To be honest it was a bit too late – but what did develop was a range of networks that added real value. They connected people with different and complementary skills and experiences together in way the organisational structure just hadn’t before. Most importantly those people could see the value in those connections and invested in them. As we developed the social media workshop I found a whole load of people in my 2000 strong organisation that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t come across before. People who if I knew earlier could have challenged and supported me to do a better job. Ultimately a better job for the organisation.
So now, in my new job, I’m wrestling with how to really capitalise on the immense experience and skills the organisation has. Those skills are partly locked away in each of the departments – keen to work together but struggling with a means of doing it. Understanding why it would be good for what we do – but for some reason lacking the catalyst to do it. Years ago I would have thought that catalyst should be a large change initiative. Now, I wonder if its simply doing something that allows people to connect on their own terms. Letting people build their own networks – but with a critical difference. Making those networks open so others who are watching and listening can see value in them and, in time, use them – perhaps that’s where the catalyst really is.