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Social Media & Transformation

January 12, 2013

Social Media is going mainstream

I’m sure Social Media will go “mainstream” in public sector organisations in 2013. Or at least more mainstream than it has been. Which may trouble some of the “warriors of the margins”, who have enjoyed the rebellious excitement of operating below the radar  – and simultaneously, operating with a global audience.

When the corporate machine catches up with the transformational anarchists, it will send them elsewhere – which has two good outcomes. Firstly the corporate machine exploits the benefits. And secondly the transformational anarchists go find something new. That’s part of a long-standing pattern of transformation, embracing everything from the printing press to the PC to the web.  Which has driven cultural, economic and political transformations.

It seems to me that is exactly where Social Media is right in Local Government. Now is a good time for Social Media and for Local Government.

So, going mainstream is more exciting than it sounds.

What will “the corporate” do with Social Media?

Essentially social media will help organisations do less “telling” and more “listening”. And the more listening will help shape services better. Which may help spend tax payers money better. The corporate will be careful to ensure it does not listen only to the social media active, of course. That’s a skill well honed in the corporate

Not just a lot of mindless noise

I used to think that. I joined twitter a few years back and then left it again, fed up with being told what Stephen Fry had for dinner and who had lost to Chelsea. But I hadn’t used it right. Now I’m back again and its great.

Power of connections

Let me tell you an apparently irrelevant story that illustrates the power of social media. Much to the amusement of my family I recently joined a book club. A bunch of lads meet up, have a few beers and talk about a book we have all read over the previous month. The first time we met I had read the book – but had then also surfed around the web to find out what everyone else thought about it. I read critic’s reviews, watched a few interviews with the author on YouTube and even picked up a few student essays. All of that made me think differently about the book, but it made me think I was “cheating”. My family definitely thought I was just desperately trying to impress.

When the we met and started talking about the book, it slowly turned out that nearly everyone had “cheated” in the same way. Which was not only fine, but meant that we had a better, richer conversation. We still had our personal views and opinions, but they were better informed. We got to a better dialogue, faster. Ironically we had more space for more creative observations because of what we had accepted and rejected from the web. And we had plenty of time to enjoy the beer and an entertaining argument.

Being digitally connected to other people who are thinking about what you are thinking about is powerful like that. And social media gives you exactly that set of connections. So now I use many aspects of social media at work and at play. I want to know what others are doing about fine details and big picture strategic aspects of my work. It changes my thinking and improves my outcomes. Its like having the best bits of a conference at your fingertips all the time.

“Shared Thinking”

When I joined the public sector from the highly competitive and secretive world of managed services, I was amazed to see how little collaboration there is in the public sector. How little is known about how the organisation next door does the same thing. Or even who the person is in the organisation next door who does the same thing. How much reinvention and how much unnecessary struggle.

Partly, I think that’s due to rivalry and partly to do with ego and partly because its hard to find out. Social media is breaking down the cultural restrictions because you just can find out very easily who wants to talk and what they think. Not just for the organisation next door, but across a global community of people doing the same stuff. I agree with the Lean and Systems Thinking view that services need to be close to customers – which is a challenge for “shared services”. But real value can come from “shared thinking” which is what Social Media heaps upon you.

Edge of the pond

Systems theory develops the concept that it’s at the edge of a system where the interesting stuff happens. Many apparently dissimilar systems behave in similar ways, if you can get to that edge and identify whats happening. If you can model it, you can even forecast how similar systems will behave. Biologists explain that to understand a pond (or an ocean) you get much better insights from what goes on at the edge, than what goes on at the centre.

What social media does, is to make the human endeavour “edge of the pond” highly visible and highly accessible. Which accelerates the pace of change.

Exciting times indeed.

  1. Robert Halliday permalink


    You say “Essentially social media will help organisations do less ‘telling’ and more ‘listening,'” but my experience from across the pond has been the exact opposite. Corporations and organizations use social media to create a carefully crafted marketing presence in the apparently free-for-all environment. Corporate Facebook pages are only the most obvious and least subtle manifestations of that. Celebrities being paid to tweet about products or services without disclosing that they are being endorsed to do so is a more pernicious variation on the theme of existing power structures co-opting the new. And it is not only for-profits that behave that way – charities and philanthropic organizations are learning how to do the same thing (although they have to be more careful as their reputation relies on the appearance of integrity more than does the commercial enterprise.


    • Robert,

      I think that’s true for the “first wave” of social media deployment. My crystal ball says that the “second wave” of social media activity will include more listening. Why? Because organisations need to manage their brands. So they need to know what people are saying about them – both the “likes” and the dislikes. Which means litenng to customer chatter on social media. It’s a bit like running a product focus group.

      The thing is that the “telling” is very obvious, but it’s hard for an observer outside an organisation to see what’s being listened to. But there are a growing range of products and services on the market which help organisations filter, listen and analyse social media. The point of which is to help improve products and services as well as marketing messages.

      In managing the brand, some organisations need to not only listen, but also be seen to be listening. So some time soon I expect you will see publicity that does something like You said this on social media. So, we listened and now do this. Thanks for the feedback, keep on talking to us on Facebook and Twitter”.

      Which is the social media equivalent of a tried and tested “complaints box” process – but with the added advantage of hooking customers into your social media channels, where you can deliver more marketing messages to them.

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