NEXT DIGITAL: The two next steps for social media in an organisation

So much in life you can learn from The Simpsons.

Remember when Homer addresses the lynch mob with an impassioned speech and they’re so impressed they want to make him Mayor and ditch Mayor Quimby?

If only local government was that simple.

If only it took a good argument to change the world.

Actually, real life is a bit more complicated.

Back in late 2008 I started to see that my job was going to get turned on its head by social media. In 2009, at events such as localgovcamp there was a real messianic zeal of those who to get these channels embedded.

We made the case. We argued that we’d need to change what we did. We weren’t alone in this. Some exciting innovation took place. Much of it JFDI – or just flipping do it. We experimented and along with other comms teams we changed our culture.

Social media should be at the heart of what we do in comms. It should be shared and it should see frontline officers on Twitter using their own voices. But this is just the start.

We need better social media customer services…

Carolyne Mitchell, of South Lanarkshire Council, posed the question of local government comms being at a cross-roads with social media. She’s right. She  quite rightly asked if social customer services is part of the next step. It’s something echoed by Darren Caveney on the Comms2point0 blog here.

It makes sense to have a customer services presence on to answer queries direct in the channel where people want them answering. That argument works with Twitter or Facebook just as effectively as telephone or face-to-face. After all, if what people are saying about us online shapes our reputation then a swift response online can help shaped this.

One of the best case studies of good social customer services is @londonmidland for London Midland Railways. It talks to people. It finds out information. It explains things. It wins awards for it too.

“I love London Midland,” one regular user told me. “Not because of the service. That can be shocking. But I love it because it’s got such a brilliant Twitter that tells me what I want to know.”

But good customer services is only part of the battle of what’s next.

We need better digital engagement (that’s better listening…)

Jon King and Nigel Bishop who are doing great things at Shropshire Council have made the point before that we need social organisations. In other words, we need organisations that listen. Why? Because there’s no point having a shiny social media presence to announce a £1 million super scheme when people weren’t even properly consulted about the scheme in the first place, hate it and would like some answers, please.

In a world where people have an online voice all this means an organisation needs to think about better listening and better conversations.

With every good example on Helpful Technology’s Digital Engagement Guide I’m more convinced about the need for better digital engagement. Some of that has a comms aspect to it without ever being purely a communications channel. Take the Ordnance Survey blog, for example, , the head of the Civil Service Bob Kerslake taking questions via Facebook or how three agencies communicated when the gangway collapsed on HMS Belfast.

Dave Briggs’ Kind of Digital Digital Engagement Cookbook is another excellent resource.

So, the job of the bright digital comms person may not just be to ask ‘how can we communicate digitally’, but also how can we talk to people better and answer their problems too.

Comms people bothered about their organisation’s reputation need to know this and act on it.


3 Comments on “NEXT DIGITAL: The two next steps for social media in an organisation”

  1. Paul Taylor says:

    Great post. I agree with both your points but the former I find really interesting. The difference between London Midland and most social media feeds is its GENUINE customer service. It’s not there to promote them , it’s there to help the customer. Too many organisations (hands up!including mine) are sometimes seeing its primary purpose to push messages rather than listening and helping

  2. Gez Smith says:

    At the risk of a shameless plug, there’s also this guidebook to the area I published recently – http://www.gezsmith.com/the-principles-of-digital-engagement/

  3. I totally agree. When we launched http://www.facebook.com/WolverhamptonToday our customer services team were in there from the beginning and I believe that’s a key reason for our rapid growth in followers. However, it’s in the very nature of social media to expect a personalised answer to your individual question within a very short time scale on a 24/7 basis and this is something which every council is going to struggle with increasingly.

    The more questions we answer, often on a voluntary basis outside of our actual working hours, the more people expect it and the more disgruntled they seem to be with the apparent lack of service they’re getting.

    I personally let out a little cheer every time one of our followers answers someone else’s question or points out that their answer is right there on the page they’re looking at.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge supporter of social media use in councils but I do think there’s a huge risk of raising unrealistic expectations and ultimately damaging our reputations when we can’t meet those expectations.


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