Don't create a social network for your council

SimonGeneral7 Comments

Once in a while I have a discussion with a council officer about creating social networks.

Usually someone says “I’d like to create a social network. You know, a forum. Like a Facebook for [insert name of any service here]”.

When probed on why they’d like this, it’s because they know social networks are popular and they believe it’ll create a group of people who are willing recipients for messages about their particular service.

I’ve met people at events who have created their own social networks for councils, image sharing sites for councils etc. I’ve yet to meet anyone that’s created their own video sharing site though.

And what most of these sites that have been created in this way have in common is that they have very few users. Sometimes none at all.

Why is this?

Lots of reasons probably, but the key one is that just because you create a platform for a community doesn’t mean a community will form.

There are plenty of places where people congregate in online communities already – they range from mass networks to small, niche networks.

Creating a community of your own requires significant resource to set up and even more to keep going through community facilitation.

So instead of thinking about creating their own networks, councils need to focus on how they can use existing sites to best effect.

That’s where residents are engaging with each other already, so public sector organisations need to think of innovative and creative ways to engage with people there, rather than creating their own presences in the hope people will want to engage there too.

That could mean presences like pages on Facebook or channels on YouTube, but it could mean other things too. How can you widget-ise your organisation’s content to make it possible for other people to share it through their own networks? Is there a role for the public sector in enabling local social media activism to help develop online engagement with the public sector?

Sometimes I think public sector communicators become too concerned with doing everything themselves when there are people out in the community that are keen to get involved – the challenge for communicators is about learning to work with these people and giving up the perception of message control that still exists among many communicators.

7 Comments on “Don't create a social network for your council”

  1. You’re right of course. People already use facebook, you tube and other social sites, so it’s less effort for them to view your stuff if they are on there already, whereas you’d hardly ever get anyone joining a council specific social network.

    However, I think the reason councils seem to want this is because of control. They fear a perceived loss of control, risk of negative comments and the like if they don’t “own” the site, and it’s hosted on a third-party platform. In addition, they worry about being dependent upon the whims and changing rules of that platform.

    How would you suggest alleviating these concerns? (just out of interest, of course, as I say, I believe you are correct, but those are arguments against that I would expect to hear)

    1. Hi Jack,
      There’s definitely a degree of nervousness among many councils I talk to about using a social space where “someone else’s” rules apply. There are often also (with some justification) concerns about accessibility on the popular platforms that need consideration (but shouldn’t prevent their use).

      I think the “ownership” issue needs balancing against the positives of using third party tools – it’s the usual risk vs benefit case that needs applying when councils consider any new tool.

      The percpetion of “control” is often overstated anyway I think – even on a council-owned social space the council still can’t “control” the conversation. Yes, they can state some ground rules, but any attempt to control the conversation beyond that changes it from being social media to something closer to propaganda!

      Using external platforms is a new experience for councils that are used to a greater degree of ownership/perceived control – I think this is one of the fundamental shifts that social media is causing in organisational communications.

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  3. Other point worth mentioning is that most councils have specifically developed IT policies which forbid access to these social networking sites from their machines. Obviously plans hatched by IT and HR sides of the business to ensure staff are not wasting time, but needs strong pressure from the Communications team to ensure these free resources are used. I would go down the route that you are protecting the public purse by using existing platforms!

    1. Hi Caroline – thanks for the comment – we really must meet face to face soon as I’m working on a project with KCC to network people who are using social media in Kent.

      Anyhow quite agree re access. I remember my first job 11 years ago (private sector) where use of the internet was a special privilege – nowadays you can’t imagine working without the web – I suspect we may go through a similar process with social media.

  4. You have great points there. For me i think we must create social network through building relationship. We build our wealth through building personal relationship. After all, no man is an island. Thanks for sharing..

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