Social media isn’t the tools

Might sound blindingly obvious to webbies.

No doubt some of you experience the same conversations with policy colleagues. They’re desperate to have a shiny blog/wiki/forum (delete as appropriate), not interested examining interaction online with existing communities or partnering. They just WANT A BLOG, NOW!

Then you mention resourcing the initiative. Facilitation, moderation, community management. Whatever. This is the point at which you often lose them. When the realise the true scale of online engagement. They thought it was easy…

Anyway, this isn’t some rant about educating customers about the correct interactions, tools and uses of social media I promise. That can no doubt wait until another day (and another, and another…).

No, its a simple observation about how generating and keeping momentum in online engagement is absolutely paramount and not to be underestimated in its resource intensity.

Remember my post a few months back about the civil service network in Facebook? (do people still use Facebook..?). When I wrote about it, the network had reached a massive 13,022 members and was growing at a rate of around 200 per day. Full of thrusting young new faststream entrants who live online. Digital natives, if you will.

As the community built a head of steam. One of the wiser, (slightly) older heads in government who ‘gets this stuff’ asked a particularly pertinent question:

“Wow! 13,000 civil servants in one place! What do we do now?”

The response was staggering in its response – just a few dozen suggesting, variously, starting a new union, having a party, changing a lightbulb and (my favourite) forming a committee (how mandarin like)…

Can’t say I visit the network’s page very often given the staggering depth of conversation that goes on there but tonight I dipped in for a minute to discover…..

Nearly 8,000 members of the network have disappeared. Now I appreciate there’s staff turnover and all but that’s a drastic reduction in the numbers. It just goes to show that you can deploy the tools and create the spaces but without energy and enthusiasm you’re going to face an uphill struggle.

Even in Facebook with its exposure and scale. It just took me a minute to find the ‘leave this network’ link (bottom left of any network homepage if you’re interested) which leads me to conclude two things: its harder to leave than just to stay a member so its a real conscious decision to depart and I can’t believe that all those 8,000 have left Facebook in its entirety. Perhaps they really didn’t want their other ‘friends’ to know they are civil servants?

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  1. It implies a shift in resources, i think. That’s a better way of looking at it rather than as another imposition on time on top of something which will continue. Think of how other sectors have shifted resources, such as in marketing, have preempted us in some areas (though behind in others). If online engagement is as effective as we think then it should have resources including time and energy from senior people. However I also think that methods for easier use with emerge as tools match needs. things like twitter are ridiculously unusable but reading scroble twittering his son’s birth was mesmerising – that gap will close.

  2. You’re right Paul. Its not necessarily extra resources but definitely a shift – probably also a shift in mindset too. But then that has always been the case when it comes to actually implementing comms activity.

    • matthewhenty
    • November 3rd, 2007

    I joined and then left the UK Civil Service network within a few days. The main reason was that it seemed to be a complete waste of time, with nothing of interest going on there. Juvenile even. The second reason was, that if nothing useful is there, why make it so clear that I am a Civil Servant? What if someone with some sort of agenda sees a wall comment/photo of questionable taste from a friend? Hopefully a tiny risk, but no point running it when there is no value in the network anyway. The boundary of what is and is not acceptable is just too blurry.

    But then my perception of the boundary of acceptable online behaviour changes on a daily basis, as evidenced by the public/not public status of my flickr account!

  3. Fair points Matthew, I was just surprised by the sheer scale of the reduction in numbers. Its now lost another thousand members.

    • andrewlewin
    • October 5th, 2008

    Saw this post for the first time thanks to Neil’s trackback. The post itself pre-dates my time on Facebook, where I’ve been in the UK Civil Service network pretty much since I joined.

    So, update on number: there are now 8,527 people in the UK Civil Service network, which seems to imply that it rebounded somewhat – by about 3,500 members if I read the maths right?

    I can’t see why there would have been a mass exodus back then unless there was some kind of communication that put people off. While I agree with Matthew that it’s a hive of inactivity, there’s similarly nothing there that would drive people to rush back and resign, either. I wonder if there had been some call for a lot of people to sign up to FB and the network originally, and then the accounts had laid dormant and been unused and this was part of a mass cull of inactive accounts across FB?

  4. @Andrew Who knows the reasons but the fact that the numbers have increased again suggests the network is an opportunity to communicate with online savvy public servants.

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