Socitm Public Sector Social Media Report

Failure to harness the social media trend is “tantamount to ignoring the telephone at the end of the 19th Century.”

As reported earlier, Socitm has published a report on the use of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook within local government and services, warning that many were failing to see the potential applications within their respective organisations.

Fuller analysis of the report includes feedback from 57 respondents from across local government, such as unitary authorities and borough councils, as well as a small number of fire and rescue services.

One of the defining conclusions of the report is the argument that social media could be “instrumental in shaping organisations as commerce emerges from recession, and the public sector struggles to cope with its severest test in living memory.”

Despite this, around 90% of respondents revealed some level of restrictions were in place to prevent employees to access social media in the workplace, with 67% confirming a total ban on its use. The top reason for applying such a policy is security, with two-thirds of respondents citing it as a concern. The report counters the argument however, pointing out that whilst security risks do pose a threat “they are as manageable as security risks from any other activity involving access to the internet.”

Perhaps inevitably, another major reason to control the use of social media in the workplace is the perceived time-wasting. 64% of respondents aired the concern, but in a damning statement the report suggests productivity volumes is a management issue, and not a technology problem: “Managers should know what their team is producing, and be able to judge whether that output meets reasonable expectations. If they cannot do so, it speaks volumes about their managerial ability. This is not a technology problem, but ICT managers must be ready to rebut the assertion, and point out the real managerial issue.”

The report calls for CIOs and heads of ICT to “provoke discussion and inform the debate” about how best to use social media as tools for citizen engagement and reputation management. The variety of ways social media is used across the country’s local governments is highlighted throughout the report, countering the belief amongst some local authorities that social media didn’t have applications within their organisations. Service delivery and the ability to communicate achievements to the community, is one of the mainstay applications of social media for any organisation.

For instance, Somerset County Council use Twitter as a way to inform parents what school meals are available at the county’s schools; East Renfrewshire Council keep a Facebook page to keep its citizens up to date with the latest leisure activities news; Newcastle City Council’s Twitter feed has been ranked as one of the popular council accounts in the country, and uses it to inform people of everything from school closures to a live feed of election results.

The report also disregards claims that social media use is hampered by a lack of resources, claiming such an argument is “hardly tenable.” It points to the district council at Stratford on Avon, which the reports describe as being at “the vanguard of social media adoption.” The ‘modest’ council harnesses a number of tools, such as Twitter and image sharing site Flickr, to engage with the community – and one look at its website reflects its proactive approach to communication and social media as a whole. Socitm argues that rather than a lack of resources, “It is more likely that managers do not understand the opportunity, and are therefore unwilling to allocate resources to invest in social media.”

The report starkly issues a warning to local authorities that, “Failure to engage with the [social media] trend is tantamount to ignoring the telephone at the end of the 19th Century.”

The public sector will face a tough test of budget cuts in the coming months, and as such will have to become increasingly more inventive. Socitm adds that, “Whilst the full picture of hollowed-out public service organisations will only emerge over time, we can be sure that ICT will play a crucial role in the design. However, the impact of social media is so broadly spread across the organisation that it is essential to take a comprehensive and coordinated approach to adoption. In short, the organisation needs a social media strategy.”

It concludes, that a shift in attitude will have to take place amongst authorities lagging behind the social media curve, and that local public sector organisations should relax restrictions on employee access to such tools, adding: “By monitoring the topic and joining some of the relevant social media channels, CIOs and heads of ICT can provoke discussion and inform the debate about how to tackle the challenges. For traditionalists, it demands a new outlook. It will not be easy for some.”

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