Digital communication isn’t about websites

Went to an interesting session today, where GCN and the Henley Centre were presenting their second report on media and communication trends. You may remember the first iteration of this research did the rounds around government about 18 months ago.

My recollection of the first report was that it was full of fascinating stuff but there was so much to take in it was almost impossible to know where to start. This time it was different – slicker, more digestible and seemingly more authoritative because it had the baseline from 18 months ago to compare against.

One clear message this time is the rise of social media and the implications of this for government. The audience, who were mainly heads of marketing or similar, were alert to this and there was some lively discussion afterwards about the implications of all this for them.

Some of the points made included:

  • This stuff is all great, everyone is talking about it and its sexy BUT its going to take time, money and expertise that we haven’t got in the current climate. How do we temper the rising expectation against these real problems?
  • The tools are perceived as cheap but IT infrastructures can get in the way and the support costs (moderation etc) can be significant.
  • We need to quickly identify examples of good practice across government to help inform decision making (this is part of the remit of the social media review). Getting practitioners to share experience is important.
  • This stuff is important, but then so is a lot of stuff that we are already doing. We shouldn’t forget what we are good at and social media shouldn’t be seen in isolation but as a complement with its own special qualities and opportunities for reaching out.
  • Measurement and evaluation models will be important for business case development and monitoring success.

What I think was significant, in the shadow of website rationalisation, was the realisation in the room that websites, as government currently does them, are not the future. That is, in the main, digital publishing not digital communication. But the world is moving on, users are becoming more sophisticated in the tools available to them and government communicators need to be alive to that.

Its also brilliant that they were just thinking about this stuff.

A big challenge is the resource issue. Much of the ‘digital’ resource in government (people and money) is devoted to website management and development, whatever an individual or team’s actual job title. Many of them would love to be doing more interesting stuff online (and plenty do in their spare time) but its difficult to leverage that expertise when they are already overladen with work (and web rationalisation is a significant work burden for some on top of existing responsibilities). This is going to require new people, new ideas and new money – none of which are in abundance at present.

GCN will be rolling out presentations to members and interested departments over the next few months. Its well worth viewing – not just for the ‘state of the market’ view it provides but also because it shows real movement in social trends online and that is a powerful message for all of us working in government communications.

On a related point Tara Hunt, a Canadian web and “unmarketing” guru and co-founder of the Citizen Agency consultancy, spoke at a conference in Wellington, New Zealand about how Web 2.0 requires ‘Govt 2.0’ for citizen engagement. This just reinforces for me that we in government really need to get our heads around this and think beyond our portfolios of websites more strategically.

  1. Jeremy

    I think I may have asked elsewhere – are you going to GC Expo on June 12 and 13 ?


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