Where does social media belong?

Well done Ingrid, whose post has caused a number of interesting discussions to kick off. One is around where social media activity belongs within an organisation. She writes (on her newish personal blog, which you really ought to subscribe to)

2. Social media in local gov become the domain of Comms

A lot of comms people in local government have been resistant to social media, but 2011 marks the end of that. Hurray, you say. Danger! I say. Social media works best where it’s a conversation between real people. Comms teams work under a model of communication that facilitated messages going between monolithic entities – the council and the local newspaper. Or where it was a more disperse model, it’s the council and broadcast only mechanisms like advertising and newsletters to a passive public. This is the year that councils comms catches on to the free to use (but labour intensive) social media scene, but attempts to control the messages even more tightly.

Of course central communications must play a role, but the benefits of social media can only really be achieved when there’s a more federated model of communications. Councillors communicating more easily with their constituents. Local people sharing information among themselves and council officers sharing matters of fact and pointers to more information with local people.

Ingrid is broadly right here, and I don’t mean to be, well, mean to any of the loyal DavePress readers who work within communications teams.

The thing is, the value of social media isn’t just about communicating – it’s also about sharing, collaborating and being open. The danger in putting responsibility for all this activity in one department is that it threatens to make it a silo, something that isn’t the job for anyone else in the organisation.

This is another reason why I think the occasional appointments of ‘social media officers’ is probably misguided.

A handy analogy would be from my work in local government as a risk manager (yes, really). What I found was that an awful lot of people thought my job was to manage their risk. In fact, it was supposed to be about enabling them to manage their own risks, by providing tools and training.

The same I suspect would happen with a social media officer, or where people within a specific department (comms or elsewhere) control social media activity.

It’s vital to have champions of this activity, but try to have several, and for them to belong to different parts of the organisation to ensure no one department is seen to be in control.

There is an awful lot of good that can be done by communications teams with social media, but the opportunities in emerging web technology go far beyond marketing, PR and the like. For an organisation to get the most out of it, a more holistic approach is needed.

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Dave Briggs

I'm an experienced senior manager in digital and ICT, looking for interim engagements to modernise technology teams to help organisations transform.

5 thoughts on “Where does social media belong?”

  1. Us comms folk have been saying precisely this all along! We strive to make digital engagement part of everyone’s job, but struggle with how.

    Very nicely expressed here and by Ingrid though. Thanks for the pointer to her excellent new blog which I hadn’t spotted

  2. I understand the potential for problems but it was only this winter in the uk that Walsall Council used social media (apparently effectively) to keep people informed and updated with regard to the inclement weather. I was impressed.

  3. “The thing is, the value of social media isn’t just about communicating – it’s also about sharing, collaborating and being open. The danger in putting responsibility for all this activity in one department is that it threatens to make it a silo, something that isn’t the job for anyone else in the organisation.”

    Exactly! This sentiment is shared by many comms people. Like Neil said, many organizations are striving to involve all employees in the conversation. The struggle is managing one cohesive message between all social media managers in different departments. Despite confusion in the past, I think organizations will be able to streamline their social media messages in the future while making use of a number of managers.

  4. In my experience many people right across organisations are already using social media to support their work, but they frequently don’t realise they are doing so. For example, they might engage on forums or have an active LinkedIn profile. This is often because they only equate social media with Twitter or Facebook.
    Wherever social media lives in an organisation, it is incumbant on that team to draw the threads together and empower their colleagues to make digital part of their day-to-day work.

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