I do a fair bit of training on digital engagement to public sector bodies up and down the country and most of the time it means very different things to very different people.
To some, it means running a corporate Twitter account or Facebook page – which, of course, it does.
To others it means teams delivering services making use of digital tools to engage with service users, to improve the quality of the service being provided – which, of course, it does.
To another group, it means bringing social technology into the organisation, to improve the way people work, learn and generally get stuff done – which, of course, it does.
Then there are those to whom it means an approach to consultation on a particular decision, policy, campaign or project – which, of course, it does.
So all of these things, and a fair few others as well, are a part of what digital engagement means. Often the trouble is that they aren’t always considered by those looking to implement digital engagement.
So, if people bring me in to deliver some training on this, it’s usually because they have one of the above things in mind.
Rarely do they want to take a step back and put into place a kind of framework so that everything that digital engagement can mean can happen, in a sensible and well-governed way.
In other words, setting up and maintaining corporate Twitter and Facebook presences matter and are important. Equally important, however, is the use by people in service delivery roles, and indeed the other forms of engagement I mention above.
One shouldn’t preclude the others, and nor should they necessarily take precedence over others.
So what does this mean for organisations wanting to start to engage digitally?
As part of the book I’m still writing, I’ve broken digital engagement down into three main elements which should be considered by anyone undertaking some digital engagement work.
The first is strategy – whether organisation-wide, within a team or teams, partnership working with other organisations or even as an individuals. External or internal is another strategic consideration.
The second is tools and techniques, which includes the big platforms like Twitter and Facebook, but also non platform-centric stuff like blogs, email newsletters, web chats, crowdsourcing, mapping and so on.
Finally there are the skills such as curation, community management, social reporting, user centred design approaches etc.
Overall, organisations need to take an approach where:
- Every piece of work undertaken is encouraged to have a digital element unless there’s a good reason not to
- Anyone within the organisation can make use of a documented suite of digital tools and techniques to support this
- A policy sets out people’s responsibilities and what they ought to be doing
- Training is provided to fill in skills gaps
It just seems a shame to me when so much effort is put into working out how just one part of an organisation can make effective use of digital tools. Building a framework that the whole organisation can use strikes me as a much better use of time.
4 thoughts on “What I’m talking about when I’m talking about digital engagement”
Good piece, Dave. A couple of observations from my experience in local gov and the voluntary sector, if I may.
I agree with you about the stages of any proper approach to digital engagement, but I think it would be wise not unwittingly to give the impression that these stages are completely sequential. My experience is that they are inevitably not, and often without serious problem.
Many organisations or teams’ first experience of social media will come from someone having a good dabble, often quite unofficially. This will inevitably inform both training and strategy development, though it will, of course, almost always precede anything called policy, except maybe in very large organisations. It’s my experience that organisations tend then to move towards some kind of training, bought in, or in-house, on the general basis that “if we’re going to do this, we may as well learn to do it properly”.
Awareness that this new way of envisaging and carrying out business actually needs to be guided by some form of strategy, and regulated by a policy, will either be recognised in training, or become an inevitable course to avoid mayhem or a free for all. I think it is rare for an organisation to sit down and draft a social media strategy before any other stages have begun.
Some organisations struggle to understand the difference between a social media strategy and a social media policy. I think it is common, therefore,for the development of a policy to come along quite late on in an organisation’s initial experiences of social media. The best policy will usually be informed by first-hand experience, including experience of getting it wrong.
I’m generalising as much, if not more than you, of course, but I think it’s important to recognise that the stages you identify are not sequential.
Those final bullet points aren’t intended as a sequence – rather all the bits that need to be in place from the get-go. I’ll elaborate on the ideal setup – to my mind – in a future post.
The points you make though are really helpful though – thanks for contributing!
My comments weren’t really aimed at the final bullet points but at how the piece came across to me overall, and your comment mid way through that “the first is strategy”. An ideal perhaps, but I wanted to point out that it’s one I think is seldom achieved.
I look forward to that future post.
Enjoyed the post.
I think “Digital Engagement” in the context being discussed here, is best looked at as a capability (or core competency), that an organisation needs to establish within it’s organisation’s ‘DNA’. In the same way as other new capabilities, such as collaboration and data literacy.
It’s then a case of thinking about what this is made up of and how this capability is built, or evolved, over time – strategies, rules (design principles), processes, technology, people (skills, behaviours, etc).
As you say, “organisations need to take a step back”. And in terms of all this happening after a bit of ‘play’, all well and good. This should be part of the organisation’s DNA as well!