Simon Wakeman: Local gov shoudn’t be on Facebook

Simon Wakeman has a thought-provoking post on whether Councils should maintain corporate presences in social networking sites like Facebook at all:

People using social networks befriend (or fan, whatever the appropriate phrase is) organisations, movements, clubs etc on Facebook and other social networks because they have an emotional bond of some description with that entity.

They might be fans in the muscial or film sense (eg by signing up to a band’s page), be replicating membership of an offline group (eg by signing up to a sports club’s page) or be part of a shared interest movement (eg by signing up to a campaign or political group’s page).

All of these conscious choices by individuals using social networks are done because they have some empathetic or emotional relationship with the entity to which the page belongs. They become a fan because they want to and because they care in some way.

How does this sit with a local council? In the real world I’m not convinced people have such a bond with their council as a corporate body – yes, they have that emotional or empathetic reaction about many of the services that their local council provides them, but not about the council as a whole. There’s no real world basis for the creation of an online community.

As Liz’s research shows, one can see where Simon is coming from. Councils, at the moment, are not fairing terribly well on social networks.

I’d agree, as I have noted before, that making people become friends or fans of public bodies probably isn’t going to work. I commented on Simon’s piece:

However, there is a convincing argument for me that public bodies should be providing information to people in a format and in a location that suits them. There are many people who wouldn’t ever dream of visiting a council website who none-the-less might find the information available there useful. The trick is to present that information where they are likely to find it.

I think I’ve identified a way in which local authority, indeed any government organisation, can approach Facebook presence in a way that won’t embarrass those that use it. More soon.

Friendless council

A tweet from the Public Sector Forums Twitter feed alerted me to this story of Stockport Council’s Facebook presence, which, at the time the article was written, wasn’t particularly popular:

A LOCAL authority which reached out to the Facebook generation has suffered an embarrassing snub.

Stockport council set up a page on the social networking site with the aim of spreading the word about its services.

But six months on, the authority has been exposed as an online pariah – after it attracted only six ‘fans’.

I’m delighted to say that as a result of this publicity, the Council now has 46 fans – almost as many as DavePress!

What can be learned from this? That if you build it, they won’t come.

Anything that a council, or any other organisation, does on the web needs to be pushed, promoted and managed. These are the human elements which are so important in engagement excercises. An online project like this will not succeed if you just put it together and then sit back expecting people to join in droves.

This is partly an online marketing issue, and partly one of community management. I doubt there are many in local government who have these skills listed as being required for their jobs, but they are becoming more and more necessary.

There is another issue, peculiar to Facebook, which is one of vocabulary. Does anyone really want to become a ‘fan’ of their local council? Surely there is some more appropriate wording that could be used…