Right now it hasn’t. All too often it’s a tumbleweed corporate page shovelling out press releases and a handful of brave people following. Often it’s nothing at all.
That’s as social as standing outside the Town Hall waiting for someone to emerge from a window with a megaphone and then disappear. Now hear this? I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.
Since Facebook is the largest social media platform and, as the presentation cliche goes, if it were a country it would be the fourth largest in the world.
But the fact is most people just don’t want to ‘like’ the institution. It can be seen as social suicide. But if you provide interesting, targeted, social timely content they may. A page for a specific library may work. And yes, you can follow the excellent Coventry City Council route an de-brand your page so the barrier is as low as possible as a session at Hyper WM in Warwick heard directly from Ali Hook.
For instant followers, a crisis really works. The Queensland Police Facebook page saw numbers rocket when flooding struck the state.
But as Ben Proctor in the same session said:
“For me the reluctance of people to “Like” your Council’s web page is a signal that they don’t have a real relationship with your Council. Broadly Facebook is what people use to manage their real life relationships. I don’t think the solution to this is to be found within the Facebook environment.”
It’s an interesting point worth reflecting on. You can read his full round-up of Hyper WM here.
Should we pack up and go home?
I’ve written about things local government can do elsewhere. But what you do on your page is actually a really small part of the Facebook landscape. You’ve got 500 residents signed up to your corporate page? Fantastic. Think of it in terms of people coming to your meetings it’s huge. But in a borough of 300,000 they not even one per cent of it’s population.
If you believe that your reputation is what people are saying about you in the local paper, on the radio or online then this is a question you’re going to have to face.
The conclusion is actually simple. You need to go out to the big wide world and start to talking to people on Facebook itself. Not on your corporate page but actually on Facebook itself. On the Facebook group that has been set up as a protest but is actually shouting into a void.
You need to get out of the comparable safety of the corporate Facebook page.
That’s a deeply profound step to take.
So, how do we go out onto the wilds of Facebook?
1. You can don a tin hat and go on with your own profile. But that opens the whole grey area of personal and work profile and whether or not last summer’s holiday snaps from Magaluf really create that professional air.
2. You can create a work profile. Or rather you can’t. Facebook’s terms and conditions don’t allow you to and you run the risk of having the profile and maybe any page it may administer taking down.
3. You can use Facebook as your page. If you’re an admin you have the option to use Facebook as your page to comment on other pages. That’s a brilliant piece of functionality that I just never knew existed until the excellent Ben Proctor pointed it out to me.
4. And be sensible. You’re really unlikely to have a cogent debate on cultural diversity on a far right website populated by trolls. But the single issue pressure group that’s shouting about an issue the council may not be aware of is crying out to be listened to. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes’ one page blogger engagement guide for organisations is just as important here as it is for bloggers themselves.
But has anyone actually done this?
Case studies are thin on the ground. Al Smith’s blog on how he engaged with the regulars of the Cooperage pub on Facebook using his own profile is a good starting point. You can read it here.
Far less well known is an example of Sussex Police venturing onto Facebook to talk to worried residents who joined the ‘Make Our Streets Safer Again in Bognor Regis’ Facebook group. Julia Burns, a Sussex Police communications officer, presented what she learned at a Local Government Improvement and Delivery event in Coventry a while back.
You can find the slides at the Communities of Practice site here (log in required).
In a nutshell, a Facebook group was launched by disaffected residents worried about their streets with more than 2,000 joining in three days. Advice from Julia was to engage on Facebook using a frontline officer’s profile. After overcoming some trepidation, fear and nervousness an officer did just that and got a positive response. The site’s admin became engaged offline with the police and her voice, and those of her group, started to get an audience.
Which is another mountain to climb altogether.
Creative commons credits
Seven links sees bloggers talk about things they’ve learned from what they’ve posted and nominate five bloggers to do the same. The result is some learning and picking up some other blogs you may not have come across before.
Andy Simcox, the blogger who nominated me, works in local government. He writes about things here. He writes with honesty about often personal things. It’s good stuff.
So, to pass it forward here are seven things I’ve learned and five bloggers I’d recommend and like to know what makes them tick too. I could have listed about 15 quite easily from the blogroll on the right but ere are five.
My most beautiful post
Being a news journalist was easy. You asked who, when, where and why and invariably wrote it in the first par. “Two people were taken to hospital when three cars collided on the M6 in West Bromwich today.” Easy. What I found difficult were features that need a different approach. The only feature I wrote in 12 years as a print journalist I could hang my hat on was about my grandfather’s death in the First World War. Not on the glamorous Western Front but of dysentry in Mesopotamia, near Basra in modern day Iraq.
With Remembrance Day approaching I told that tale again as a blog. It’s a desperately sad story that knocked me sideways to write and involved a death in the First World War and the domino consequences that ended with a mother abandoning her children to search bins for food. It’s here.
My most popular post
Showing colleagues Twitter I posted a request to people who followed me for advice. It came back in unexpected numbers and quality. Rather than cast it to the wind I collected it, blogged it and thought no more about it.
Things started to get a little mad when it wa spicked up by @twitter and reposted. Overnight, 8,000 people clicked through to read it and overall 22,000 have. More than 700 people have retweeted it on Twitter. Mad, really.
The moral? Do and share and there’s unexpected consequences.
My most controversial post
Writing about things in local government isn’t actually that controversial. But Andy Mabbett once got quite animated about what we did with opening-up museums to Walsall Flickr group members. The museum service wanted people to sign a quite draconian permissions sheet based on a neighbouring council’s. The hugely talented Steph Jennings worked to draw-up a compromise that left everyone happy. Andy argued that it should have gone further. It’s not exactly the Rumble in the Jungle but you can read it here. What did I learn? People don’t have to agree with everything you say and that’s a good thing. It makes you think.
My most helpful post
There motivation for this blog was to share what we’d done at Walsall Council. The most important step we’d taken was the route we’d taken to secure a green light. This boiled down to eight steps. It was written with someone from Lancashire in mind who at UK Govcamp made a plea for help. What did I learn? It’s good to share.
A post whose success surprises me
The post on helping colleagues understanding Twitter that’s also my most popular. It was a bit surprising was that.
A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
There’s some stinkers that don’t deserve a wider audience. This one about what Turkish football team Galatasaray can teach local government probably deserves a wider re-pimp.
Not for it’s immediate impact. A handful of people read it. But the post wondering aloud a conversation I’d had with Si Whitehouse if we should have a hyperlocalgovcamp led to some good things that I’m hugely proud we did. It’s here. I suppose that’s the point. It’s not the numbers. It’s what a handful of readers can do with it that counts.
Here are five – from lots – that I rate highly and really do urge you explore:
Chie Elliott is brilliant. There is a tonne of good learning on her blog Blaggetty, Blogetty Bragitee. As a publishing person who packed it in to get NCTJ training as a journalist she has a different perspective on news and the media. She’s always bang on the money, always engaging and always thoughtful. That she is job hunting means she is writing a blog of quiet rage at the system she finds herself. Some people sink when hit with the invisible brick walls of the JobCentre. Not Chie. You can read here unemployment blog here.
I’ve probably learned more from Liz Azyan than any other local government blogger. There is more pearls of wisdom per square inch at her blog LGEO Research than almost anywhere else online. The other week I dropped her an email on behalf of a colleague asking her for 100 words on her thoughts on user testing websites. She didn’t just reply to the email, she wrote a blog on it. That one act sums up the generosity of spirit and willingness to share that endlessly inspires me about the local government community online.
When I was starting to get my head around social media there were a few people I badgered for help. I rang them up in the manner of a cold caller. Alastair Smith patiently listened and explained. He was the first person to tell me about Flickr. His work at Newcastle City Council has been trailblazing and his blog on engaging with an angry community on Facebook set a standard. You can read him here and now he’s back in local government I’m kinda hoping he’ll pick up the blogging baton again.
Jim Garrow works in emergency management in Philadelphia. That’s emergency planning in the UK. But wait. It’s not a blog about hi-vis jackets and tabards. It’s big picture stuff. There isn’t a blog like it for stopping me in my tracks and making me think. You can read it here and I urge you to.
Kate Hughes is doing some brilliant stuff quietly in a corner of the Black Country. As a press officer for Wolverhampton Homes she is innovating in an area where you wouldn’t imagine there is the ability to innovate. If it works in Wolvo, it can work anywhere. You can read her blog here.
Over to you I think …
Creative commons credits
Stop Erica Marshall of muddyboots.org http://www.flickr.com/photos/erica_marshall/2669075603/sizes/z/in/photostream/