Right now it hasn’t. All too often it’s a tumbleweed corporate page shovelling out press releases and a handful of brave people following. Often it’s nothing at all.
That’s as social as standing outside the Town Hall waiting for someone to emerge from a window with a megaphone and then disappear. Now hear this? I’d rather not, if it’s all the same.
Since Facebook is the largest social media platform and, as the presentation cliche goes, if it were a country it would be the fourth largest in the world.
But the fact is most people just don’t want to ‘like’ the institution. It can be seen as social suicide. But if you provide interesting, targeted, social timely content they may. A page for a specific library may work. And yes, you can follow the excellent Coventry City Council route an de-brand your page so the barrier is as low as possible as a session at Hyper WM in Warwick heard directly from Ali Hook.
For instant followers, a crisis really works. The Queensland Police Facebook page saw numbers rocket when flooding struck the state.
But as Ben Proctor in the same session said:
“For me the reluctance of people to “Like” your Council’s web page is a signal that they don’t have a real relationship with your Council. Broadly Facebook is what people use to manage their real life relationships. I don’t think the solution to this is to be found within the Facebook environment.”
It’s an interesting point worth reflecting on. You can read his full round-up of Hyper WM here.
Should we pack up and go home?
I’ve written about things local government can do elsewhere. But what you do on your page is actually a really small part of the Facebook landscape. You’ve got 500 residents signed up to your corporate page? Fantastic. Think of it in terms of people coming to your meetings it’s huge. But in a borough of 300,000 they not even one per cent of it’s population.
If you believe that your reputation is what people are saying about you in the local paper, on the radio or online then this is a question you’re going to have to face.
The conclusion is actually simple. You need to go out to the big wide world and start to talking to people on Facebook itself. Not on your corporate page but actually on Facebook itself. On the Facebook group that has been set up as a protest but is actually shouting into a void.
You need to get out of the comparable safety of the corporate Facebook page.
That’s a deeply profound step to take.
So, how do we go out onto the wilds of Facebook?
1. You can don a tin hat and go on with your own profile. But that opens the whole grey area of personal and work profile and whether or not last summer’s holiday snaps from Magaluf really create that professional air.
2. You can create a work profile. Or rather you can’t. Facebook’s terms and conditions don’t allow you to and you run the risk of having the profile and maybe any page it may administer taking down.
3. You can use Facebook as your page. If you’re an admin you have the option to use Facebook as your page to comment on other pages. That’s a brilliant piece of functionality that I just never knew existed until the excellent Ben Proctor pointed it out to me.
4. And be sensible. You’re really unlikely to have a cogent debate on cultural diversity on a far right website populated by trolls. But the single issue pressure group that’s shouting about an issue the council may not be aware of is crying out to be listened to. The Citizenship Foundation’s Michael Grimes’ one page blogger engagement guide for organisations is just as important here as it is for bloggers themselves.
But has anyone actually done this?
Case studies are thin on the ground. Al Smith’s blog on how he engaged with the regulars of the Cooperage pub on Facebook using his own profile is a good starting point. You can read it here.
Far less well known is an example of Sussex Police venturing onto Facebook to talk to worried residents who joined the ‘Make Our Streets Safer Again in Bognor Regis’ Facebook group. Julia Burns, a Sussex Police communications officer, presented what she learned at a Local Government Improvement and Delivery event in Coventry a while back.
You can find the slides at the Communities of Practice site here (log in required).
In a nutshell, a Facebook group was launched by disaffected residents worried about their streets with more than 2,000 joining in three days. Advice from Julia was to engage on Facebook using a frontline officer’s profile. After overcoming some trepidation, fear and nervousness an officer did just that and got a positive response. The site’s admin became engaged offline with the police and her voice, and those of her group, started to get an audience.
Which is another mountain to climb altogether.
Creative commons credits