This blog post was inspired by #ukgc10’s local government hug session where one person asked for help in how to get started with social media. Some good pieces of advice came out. Here are some from the session and some that struck me afterwards…
You’ve read about social media. You may have thought it was a fad. Now you’ve been waking up at 3am with the gnawing thought that you’ll have to do something.
If you’re at this stage. Congratulations. You’re sharp. You’ve seen which way the wind is blowing. And, yes, it’s only going to blow harder.
So what to do?
Here’s some thoughts on how to go about turning your organisation into something fit for the 21st century.
It’s simply not enough to say that you must do it because Steven Fry does it. Or because it’s cool.
You need to construct a cohesive and persuasive argument backed by figures that will work with people who look on digital with the suspicious eye of a Daily Mail reader.
Step 1 – Look at the national picture.
More than 30 million people use social media in the UK, according to the most recent figures. Clicky Media’s figures are a good starting point.
You can compare this to national and local newspaper figures.
Locally, a 20 per cent dip in local papers is predicted by 2012 in weekly papers. In regional daily papers it’s more like 30 per cent.
In short: If you’ve always relied on your local paper to get your message out then think again.
Step 2 – Have a look at the sites.
There are dozens of social media sites.
For the sake of argument, look at six of the most popular sites.
YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr all do different things. For blogging, WordPress and Blogspot are key.
Don’t worry if it all looks an unclimbable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Anyway, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has only just got round to joining Twitter himself. So, relax.
Join one if you like. See how it works. Get to know it.
In short: Don’t worry about not getting your head around all of them.
Get your head around them one at a time.
Dive in! That water is great….
Step 3 – See what some inspired people say.
All you need is out there on the internet. The trick is, like anything, knowing where to look. You’ll find it a creative, inspiring and sharing place if you choose to join.
There are some quality blog posts on the subject. Michelle Ide-Smith recently wrote a post that nails how to construct an argument in favour.
Have a look at these blogs for ideas an inspiration:
If you join Twitter – and I’ve learned so much from it I’d seriously recommend it – I’d also recommend these:
@sarahlay – Derbyshire webbie.
@alncl – Alastair Smith, Newcastle web man.
@davebriggs – Local government social media specialist.
@timesjoanna – Former Birmingham Post reporter turned Times writer. Great for links.
@liz_azyan – Lives and breathes local government and social media.
@gecko84 – Teckie Arsenal fan.
@abeeken – Lincolnshire webbie.
@mmmmmmcake – A stream about cake, believe it or not.
@pezholio – Local gov webbie from Staffordshire who is borderline genius. Also likes real ale.
@talkaboutlocal – a window into the amazing world of hyperlocal blogs that can serve a town or even a housing estate.
@wv11 – a hyperlocal blog based in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton. Shows how a local site can use it.
@philipjohn – a website developer who is a useful font of information.
@mashable – the Twitter version of the social media blog.
@doristhecow – Anchor butter’s well judged use of Twitter. I love it.
@scobleiser – Silicon Valley geek who writes about tech news.
@walsallcouncil – Because their use of social media is really, really, really inspired (disclaimer: I help write it).
Work out what activity there is in your area. These figures are a clincher so take an afternoon out to build this picture.
Paul Cole and Tim Cooper in Derbyshire did one for their area. They used mindmeister although you could use an exercise book. It’s just as good and you don’t have to re-boot it. It lists all trhe social media activity they could find.
Before you do, I’d find out the circulation figures for newspapers in your area. This is good to compare and contrast. The Walsall edition of the Express & Star, for example has sales of around 22,000.
For Facebook, there are 23 million users as of January 2010. Want to see how many are local to you? Log onto Facebook, then click the button marked ‘advertising’. Fill out an ad. Don’t worry you won’t get charged just yet. It’s then you reach the section that gets really interesting.
Here, you can ask Facebook how many people are registered within a 10 mile radius of a town. This gives some staggering figures. Click the box marked ‘location’ and put in the town you want to aim at.
In Walsall, in January 2010 there are 170,000 people on Facebook within 10 miles of the town. The population of the borough is around 250,000 and the 10 mile radius also spills out into part of Staffordshire, Birmingham and Wolverhampton. But, you get the picture.
There are therefore, around eight times as many Facebook users as buy copies of the Express & Star in the wider Walsall area, you may argue.
For Twitter, it’s harder to work out your area’s figure. Nationally, by November 2009 there are 5.5 million UK users. You’ll have to work out your area’s percentage of the national population, then divide the Twitter users by that percentage.
For YouTube, log on and search for your area or town. You’ll be surprised. Using the keyword ‘Walsall’ gave just less than 5,000 clips.
Same with Flickr. This is a photo sharing website. Count how many images of your patch there are. The Walsall Flickr group of more than 80 members, for example have around 5,000 iamges of their home borough.
WordPress and Blogspot. Search for your areas and they’ll crop up on blogs.
Step 5 – Get your arguments ready
There’s a brilliant few resources online with the most common arguments against social media and the counter arguments to deploy.
They work a treat.
Now, if you are particularly brave you can cut to this one skipping step four entirely.
The argument goes like this. Just flipping do it. By the time anyone important notices it’ll have reached critical mass and harder to close down.
It’s not something I’ve done but other far braver people have and with great success. Will Perrin – @willperrin on Twitter – often talks about how he deliberately avoided asking permission to launch Downing Street’s petition site.
Step 7 – Call in an expert.
There’s a good quote about a Prophet never being recognised in his own land.
The translation of this is if you think they won’t listen to you they may listen to someone from outside.
It’s worked on several occasions with local authorities who have called in Nick Booth’s Podnosh company. Dave Briggs and Simon Wakeman from Medway Council have done similar jobs.
However, do be careful of people who call themselves social media experts. Or ninjas. Or any such rot. They’re almost certainly not and there are plenty of snake oil salesmen about right now.
Now you are up and running as nobody will be able to counter such stunning arguments it doesn’t end there. No, sir.
The social media head of one of Britain’s main parties once said that up to half his job is taken up with winning the internal argument.
Report back progress and keep a measure of followers and activity.
Banning social media is rather like trying to outlaw the telephone in the 19th century.
It’s a communications channel. We need to embrace it. Smile. It’s the future. And your children’s.