Selling the benefits

I attended the session by Liz Azyan and Simon Hume at Socitm09 on social media – which was ostensibly about the blocking of social networking sites in the workplace but which was also a general discussion around the benefits of this new way of working.

As a follow up, a brief discussion took place on Twitter last night around how senior management can be engaged and convinced of the necessity of using this technology. Carl Haggerty at Devon County Council always points to the fact that he got his Chief Exec on board early on, and the role this played in getting adoption throughout the organisation.

Various web tools were discussed, then I rather grumpily responded:

I would say that if you want to engage senior m’ment on a large scale, you’re unlikely to succeed with any web tool

Which sounds very negative, but wasn’t really meant to be so – my point was more that there are more effective ways of going about things. Basically, you have to talk to them.

Get a spot on a meeting agenda, and make the most out of the time you have, by focusing on what you can achieve. Don’t go into detail about how to set up a blog, or how to tag a link in Delicious. Instead, focus your energy on whipping up some enthusiasm, and inspiring a bit of curiosity.

Also, focus on what the benefits are for them, and for their organisation. Don’t make the mistake of putting all this stuff into a box marked ‘web’ or ‘communications’. Make it clear that this is less about marketing and a whole lot more about forging a new relationship between the organisation and citizens, or customers.

In other words, before you even mention technology, make sure you have some idea of what the point of all this is. For local government, this is about opening councils to conversations between authorities and the people, businesses and organisations it serves. It’s about bringing together communications, customer service and service design into one iterative process, each one informing the other. It’s about local government choosing the right delivery method for each service it provides, whether doing it itself, getting a social enterprise involved or handing it over to the private sector. It’s about government at all levels taking a more forward thinking attitude to its information assets and making them available to those who can do useful things with them.

The web, and social media, is just a means to an end, after all. Anyone who tells any organisation that they are golden if they just start a blog, or twitter account, is doing that organisation a massive disservice. At best the web, social or otherwise, is an enabler to a bigger change and one that benefits everyone.

Because, of course, websites don’t change the world, people do.

14 thoughts on “Selling the benefits”

  1. Interesting post Dave. From the research PSF has done on internet access in councils I don’t think we should underestimate the resistance out there. I’m becoming increasingly convinced the real key to unblocking and getting skeptical senior management on-side is for staff to demonstrate a clear business case for workplace access – eg showing how this help achieves councils’ priorities (links to LG National Indicator sets would help).

    I’m referring for instance to recent commments by Portsmouth City Council’s Chief Executive (who recently instituted a blanket ban): ‘Any member of staff may, under this revised policy, make a business case to have these sites unblocked if they need to use them for council business.”

    Has any LA produced such a business case? If not, how difficult would it be for the social media community to crowdsource a boilerplate document that could be whipped out? How and where can socmed save councils money? The folk behind the CivilPages pilot (‘Facebook of the Civil Service’) should have this nailed – Andrew Stott himself said back in July: “We think it is going to save money”.

  2. The resistance is there because no one has properly explained to managers what this is about. There’s a demonisation of IT managers, network administrators and middle managers, which I think is unfair. They might get folk telling them they ought to blog, or ought to be on twitter, but is anybody telling them the big picture stuff? In other words – in the future, the council will work in a radically different way. You can be a part of the development of this, or play catch up.

    My view on blocking is that in time, it will fix itself. When I first got a job after Uni, I had to specially request an email address, outlining how I would use it – just like people have to now to get access to Facebook or YouTube. Ina few years, it will be a non-issue. There is, though, an opportunity for councils to get ahead of the rest of the pack if they take a more forward thinking attitude sooner rather than later.

    Half the problem is that the business case hasn’t been written yet, and I suspect the reason is that it still doesn’t actually stack up. Of the work that has been done so far, little has been properly evaluated – and again part of the reason is that take up hasn’t been huge. We are still in medium rather than message territory here a lot of the time, and demonstrating that it can be done is as important as whether or not it really has any major effect.

    So, the business case is hard to write. The benefits are way down along the line, and this is as much about culture change as it is tangible results. In other words, start doing this stuff now so that you are in a strong position when the majority will want to interact in this way – but don’t expect too much immediately.

  3. Explaining this stuff is actually quite difficult – seeing it in action, around something connected to the interests of the people you are speaking to, is the thing.

    When I talked about doing a blogsite for Socitm 2009 before the event, this didn’t generate much enthusiasm. Fortunately I was able to do it anyway. But when I showed the site to hitherto sceptical IT managers at the conference, and they could see the conversation being developed inside and (really important) outside the conference, they got it straightaway.

    Of course there is a business case to be made, and for the activity around our conference, its about the huge additional reach and exposure for Socitm, which can be evaluated in cash and other terms.

    But I guess my advice to people trying to get their organisations to embrace social media would be to spend resources actually doing something to demonstrate its power (it can be cheap and cheerful) rather than spend those resources talking about it.

    1. Vicky – spot on. “Start small and prototype” are always things I recommend. A lot of this work is hard to explain in the abstract, having something to point to is often very useful.

  4. Carl Haggerty is right.

    Get the people at the top of board and it’s just amazing how many middle management obstacles later on fall by the wayside.

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