LINKED SOCIAL: Eight steps of social media evolution in local government

It’s clear there’s been a quiet revolution. It’s not if we use social media, it’s how.

Old media is still here. But they’re now part of the landscape they used to dominate.

In the UK, 28 million are registered on Facebook, more than 5 million on Twitter and a village as small as Beer in Devon has 6,000 images of it on Flickr.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

But where are we going next?

I’ve thought a lot of late on the path we’ve taken and where we’re headed.

A few pieces I’ve read helped crystalise my thinking.

Firstly, an excellent, witty and well thought out piece in The Guardian on SXSWi the annual event that sees cutting edge geeks talk to other geeks and pitch for funding.

They took a wry pinch of salt to the current hot terms. It’s all gamification, apparently.

A conclusion? The internet is over. Well, sort of.

The internet where you actively go to do things will be. The web which is unthinkingly enmeshed in day-to-day lives is where we’re headed.

You call a friend because you saw they were having a bad time from a Facebook update you saw after you booked tickets online. All on your phone. That’s day-to-day. Twenty years ago it would be sci-fi.

But don’t let’s any of us fall into the trap that we’re all on the innovation curve frantically trying to gamify the wastebin experience. We’re simply not.

I’ve been reminded recently that so many in local government are still on the starting blocks or filled with fear at the task ahead.

It’s fine to be worried about the Himalayan range of technology ahead of you. Everyone starts at the bottom of the hill. Just relax a bit. Do it a bit at a time. Chris Bonnington started small and got bigger. He didn’t start ice climbing. Maybe all you need to do is stroll up a hill rather than Everest.

We’re all learning. You don’t need a chartered qualification or a session with a socmed guru to start climbing the curve.

So where does this all leave local government and the web?

The public sector local government is beginning to actively put out a stream of information on digital channels.

Yes, there’s open data. This will grow but this has some distance to travel before it becomes an enmeshed part of my Dad’s life.

Look at the real time experiments. Greater Manchester Police’s ground breaking live tweeting of calls to it is one.

Our own Walsall 24 is another that I’m really proud of.

Southampton University hospital’s live tweeting of a shift in the children’s heart unit took it to another level by putting a human face on what they do.

Live tweeting and streaming a village cricket match is another fun example of real time updates. The Twicket experiment in the Lancashire village of Wray drew a worldwide audience.

A Philadelphia local government blogger Jim Garrow talked this when he described how things like this are changing communications.

If we communicate so much more what we do through social media will there be a need for crisis communications? .

Here’s a scenario to consider.

Imagine a situation in local government where each department and each office had a social feed. That it would be as common as a telephone or an email address. That you could pick and choose the streams you wanted to tune into.

That an organisation could tap into those streams to tell people what it’s doing. That’s – for want of a better phrase – as linked social. As the number of smart phones in our pockets grow that’s where we’re headed in the long term. I’m sure of it.

Here’s what the local government social media evolution curve looks like to me. Because I’m fond of lists it’s in a list form and there’s eight steps.

The eight stages of local government social media evolution

1. Ignorance: We may have heard of the social web. Just. But we’ve never really heard of Facebook or if we have, we’ve not seen the film. We heard a caller to Nicky Cambell’s phone in saying it’s the worst thing ever invented. We agree with the Daily Mail. It gives you cancer.

2. Fear: We – or our boss – think we need to use it. We don’t know how to get started.

3. JFDI: The Dave Briggs rule of Just F***ing Do It. We’re experimenting. We’re not really asking much in the way of permission. It may grow into something bigger. We’re experimenting and innovating. In Dave’s axis, there’s a trade off between JFDI and being boring. You’ll get more done by JFDI but it’s far less sustainable.

4. Boring: It’s getting bigger. We need a social media strategy like this one from Wolverhampton Homes. It keeps people higher up happy. That makes people lower down happy too. We’re starting to mainstream things. Slooowly.

5. Lone social. We have a single Twitter account for the organisation. We have a single Facebook page. We’ve not heard of Flickr. Or Foursquare.

6. Chattering social. We’ve let others use digital platforms too. So long as they stick to the basic common sense advice. We have different voices talking about different things.

7. Linked social. We’re now talking on one offs about the same issue from a different perspective. Like Walsall 24. We’ve got something bigger than the sum of the parts.

8. Mainstream linked social: We’re doing this as routine. We have a stream on what the countryside ranger is doing at a nature reserve. And what the litter hit squad are doing at the same site. We’re using the same hashtag. Some of this is automated. For example, there’s an RSS feed linked to bin wagons. Ten days a year in the snow it really comes into it’s own.

That’s my map of where we’ve been and where we’re going. Feel free to disagree.

Creative commons credits:

Smiling man and woman



Twicket by Mike Ashton

The JFDI versus Boring axis by Dave Briggs.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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  1. I agree (& indeed always have done, since being a regular user of mobile content via avant-go on my Cassiopeia mobile pda in 1999!) with the notion of the increased importance of mobile over the coming years, but I think it’s going to be a *lot* longer before mobile represents a mainstream customer experience than those of us in the digerati are often wont to say.

    In the digerati we do tend to think that because we, and all the people we see socially, are sporting high end mobile devices then everybody else is too – it comes as a shock to us to see somebody with a phone that doesn’t even have a colour screen, let alone a camera. But next time you’re on a bus, take a good look at the phones you see people carrying, and see that high end devices are still very much in the minority – have a look at the mobile phone stand in Tesco, or down the market, and look at what’s on offer and the prices being charged. & then consider the target customers of much of local government’s services, the people we hope to channel shift online, and think about the likelihood of each of those customer groups to have both the tech *and inclination* to make the further shift to mobile.

    Which isn’t remotely to say we should put a brake on innovation, and not remotely to say we should not follow Dave Briggs’ example of jfdi – but that when those of us in the digerati are getting excited by our shiny things, we shouldn’t forget that a large number of our customers won’t be as excited as us, and that we shouldn’t forget to reverse-engineer (for want of a better term) our innovations into the mainstream online experience for several years to come.

    1. That’s a really thoughtful comment. Cheers for that.

      I really couldn’t agree more that if you talk to lots of people with iphones you think the whole world has an iphone. The truth is that they haven’t. In fact, they’re often barely digitally connected.

      Even if the trend is towards mobile internet I think you are dead right to say this will take time before this is a day to day experience.

  2. Nice post Mr Slee,

    A few observations and a slightly different perspective perhaps.

    I agree with Simon above that there is a long way to go in some areas before we see the pervasive nature of social media really become ubiquitous to what everyone does – there are quite a few large areas of Devon without any signal of any kind yet…

    I agree that smartphones will change our view of mobile communications and service delivery – People won’t actually seek to buy a smartphone but they will simply be the default standard in about 12-18 months if you read the IT analysts.

    With regard to social media and wider social technologies there are lots and lots and lots of people using them and very much engaged in them and they are part of an unwritten future we are heading towards. The potential application of the variety of social technologies are creating a unique set of opportunities to transform not just the public sector but generally our way of life….from broadcast to conversations to collectively decisions to location based services to event driven location services to a seamless offering of content and services based on who and where i am. And the role of local government and the web in this context looks different to me.

    So I’d suggest something like this in terms of an evolution which simply places your view into a slightly different context and one i think you may have eluded to before, but can’t seem to find a link…

    I don’t really see these as a hierarchy or a straight path from 1 through to 6, more a set of themes which have different approaches and challenges depending on where your ambition is and where your current state is….

    1) Ignorance and defiance
    2) One way communication
    3) Dialogue and conversation
    4) Collective decision making
    5) “check in” for content and services around me and for me
    6) “push notification” for content and services around me and for me

    The above applies for internal (staff) and external (residents and citizens) delivery

    Much of what you say above would be included in one or more of these themes, but i personally tend to look at all of this in this context…


    1. Cheers, Carl.

      You raise a really good point about rural mobile signals. Living and working in the Qwesty Midlands it’s something I take for granted here. A few days in Wales a while back and I was pacing up down in frustration trying to catch the non-existent mobile signal.

      That’s a really interesting take with your six themes. It’s certainly true that you can move from one to the other skipping out one of the conventional stepping stones entirely.

      Just can’t but look around at the realy interesting stuff and think that the linked social is the direction we’re – eventually- headed. A single Twitter account for an organisation is great. But limiting. It’s like having just one telephone in the Town Hall when there is so much more to local government than the receptionist.

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