Archive for the ‘ social media ’ Category

Julia wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention it, so…

I’m well behind the curve on this, but if you haven’t seen it yet you should check out the wonderful new DFID blogging initiative.

Drawing on the experience of the Foreign Office’s collective blogging, but with more web2.0 goodness, its an excellent example of utlising the technology, without it being about the technology.

Some of the usual suspects have been involved in its gestation. Usual suspects not because they have some kind of monopoly over government social media projects (far from it), but usual because they are all very good at what they do. So well done to them (again).

Neil has an excellent write up of the project, and also a round up of other coverage. So rather than repeat what he said, I shall point you there, here.

(P.s. if you don’t know who Julia is, she’s the top web bod at DFID and deserves lots of credit for getting this project off the ground).


Six approaches for social media adoption – 6. Embed

And finally… the end of a torturously drawn out (for you and for me) series concerning different approaches to adopting social media. Even though I had most of the thinking complete when I embarked upon this series, its taken me much longer, and its been much harder, than envisaged. If I ever hint about writing a series of posts again, please make sure that I have written them all before publishing them (or shoot me)…

If you recall, the series is based on a piece of thinking I developed during and after my work on the cabinet office review of social media in early 2007.

I set out six different approaches to using or deploying social media techniques; be that for a particular tool, channel, business need, or whole organisational approach. It is not meant to be prescriptive, but details options under three broad headings. These are:

  • Observation: Do nothing or Listen
  • Interaction: Reflect or Converse
  • Initiation: Experiment or Embed

So, without further ado, lets finish this with ’embed’.

What do I mean by embed? I mean investing in self-hosted applications and tools to allow officials to use social media tools in a corporate environment.

The advantages of this approach are that the applications selected are owned, maintained and approved by the organisation. Any niggling IT security issues are resolved and the robustness of the service pretty much guaranteed (within reason).

On the downside, its likely that the speed of implementation and deployment of a tool will be very slow and expensive compared to using a web or third party hosted tool.

But once the hosting platform is in place it will be fairly simple to deploy multiple instances of tools on a trusted platform. It also sends message to staff that the organisation takes online engagment and collaboration seriously.

One of the big threats to this approach that I have seen is that many of the ‘enterprise’ social media platforms that often become chosen in these situations are fairly inflexible in their functionality and may only be partially fit for purpose. Investment in the platform can divert funding from what I think is more important (given the free and low cost tools available via other methods) – the education and training of staff which arguably is more crucial than the technology. Its also possible that investing in tools that are available elsewhere at low cost or for free could attract criticism.

The costs of investing in self-hosted tools are significant compared to the other models. Hosting platforms from suppliers of existing government web platforms are generally high cost and may also require complex and expensive procurement exercises.

Choosing this route will likely require significant project management and IT implementation resource on top of the resources identified in previous models.

Phew, thats it. The last one. Finished. Thoughts?

Six approaches for social media adoption – 5. Experiment

Shame on me for taking almost a month to follow up the last instalment of this short series. September was possibly the worst month for blogging I have had and I apologise for stringing you along for such a long time, really.

Anyway, this is the penultimate post on the six approach  and I’ll do my best (without promising, you notice) to finish the series as soon as possible/

So, experiment. What does that mean, and why is it a good idea?

In my mind, when I was putting together this model, it meant making use of free and/or low cost online tools to assess value of social media for engagement and, perhaps, to build the rationale for wider investment in, and deployment of, online engagement tools (so called ‘enterprise solutions’).

Government faces all sorts of barriers in trying to implement these tools on existing IT platforms, and even if it could, the speed of implementation could well be slow. By adopting best of breed hosted tools, many of the drawbacks can be mitigated. There will undoubtedly be nervousness about using hosted solutions outside the corporate firewall, but they can be positioned as pilots – testing the value of the tools and minimising exposure to mistakes or reputational hits.

Using hosted tools (such as gives organisations the ability to engage and interact on a wide scale at little or no cost and test software on a hosting platform away from the primary infrastructure.

Some of the drawbacks of this option include questions about supplier reliability, the stability and scalability for new online tools, security/ownership of data,  and uptime  / availability of service could be less reliable than hosting it yourself.

If you decide to pursue this option, you will undo need some dedicated resource to set up and support , either in house or outsourced.  You need to think about building, ongoing support, moderation / facilitation, and online marketing. These are significant human resource costs.

Five down, one to go…

On my (relative) silence, some good events, and upcoming speaking gigs

For regular readers I’m sorry that its been a bit quiet around here lately – especially as I embarked on a series of six posts about models of social media adoption but have only managed to write four of them so far (I promise I will do my best to get the final two completed in the next few days). Work colleagues (and my mother) would tell you this is nothing new.

There are several reasons why its all gone a bit tumbleweed:

  • My summer holiday – last year I also found it hard to get back into the groove of writing when I returned from my break (despite – this year as well as last – resolving to write prolifically whilst away).
  • Returning to a groaning intray – been trying to get a number of projects off the ground, and been thrown several new pieces of work – they all get in the way of thinking / posting time.
  • Another recent short weekend break – disrupted my attempts to get ‘back in the groove’.
  • Most importantly, suffering from social media overload – nothing I have read recently has inspired me or drawn me to do anything. In fact, there seems to have been an awful lot of social media navel gazing going on at the moment. Its not like I have nothing to say, but when all I hear is noise, I don’t really want to add to it (this despite the fact that there are plenty of things I want to write about. But if I’m not inspired, it doesn’t feel right to be broadcasting my thoughts either).

So, let’s hope I snap out of it soon. Not for your sake (necessarily) but for mine. If this all sounds a bit sorrowful, hey – it’s my party!

Anyway, whilst I remember there are three events taking place shortly that you should think about participating in (if you don’t know about them already).

Two are taking place this Saturday (27th September), both in London. First up is the UK Youth online, run by Tim Davies. Its being held at DIUS in Victoria Street. Second is Barcamp London 5 overspill, organised by Harry Metcalfe (a brilliant idea, might I add). Both of these events look like they are going to be cracking. I was hoping to go to both (don’t ask) but sadly family obligations have got in the way so I may only be able to pop in for a short time, if at all. But I recommend them both to you.

A little further away (both in time and in distance from London) is Scot Web 2, being held in Edinburgh on 30th October. Organised by the ever resourceful Alex Stobart from the Scottish Executive/Government. It’s a barcamp style type event focusing on social media in the public sector. I’m trying to work out how to get there myself.

Also, I’ve reluctantly (because I don’t really enjoy it) agreed to speak at a few upcoming events. If you’re planning to attend any of these, please do say hello and either settle my nerves before the event, or tell me I was fabulous afterwards (I hate to hear the truth..). These include:

  • Mashup* event – Government 2.0 on 7th October – not really sure what I am doing here as it looks quite ‘techie’ but I guess I will find out shortly.
  • Public Sector online on 21st October at Inmarsat – talking about ‘web2.0 and beyond’ with other speakers (so hoping this will be some kind of panel thing).
  • Online Information on 2nd December at Olympia, London. I’ll be participating in a panel discussion here about ‘web2.0 after the buzz’.

There, so i finally wrote something…. 🙂

Six approaches for social media adoption – 4. converse

I’m back from holiday, relatively refreshed, and feeling bad with the realisation of how long I have been stringing this series out. This wasn’t deliberate on my part and I will try and bang the last three out in quick order (not easy for a blogger as lazy as I).

So, to ‘converse’, the fourth approach.

When I was pulling the approaches to social media paper together over eighteen months ago,  I imagined this to be the real meaty opportunity – devolving discretion to policy owners (thought leaders) and press officers to join existing conversations. To give them the opportunity to offer their thoughts or advice and correct any misconceptions or factual errors.

I say ‘devolving discretion’ (or should I say, said) rather than ’empower’ because then, as now, there was considerable nervousness higher up in the towers of Whitehall about completely letting go and signalling a free for all for civil servants to dive into participating. Devolving discretion in this context means a more measured approach – providing guidelines, setting operating parameters etc.

The strength in allowing civil servants to take part in conversations is obvious. Intervention to correct factual errors could prevent stories unreasonably gaining a life of their own. Its also a great opportunity to build relationships and trust with stakeholders by demonstrating transparency and honesty through conversations.

On the flip-side its important that this is not seen as an outlet for formal rebuttal. Attempts to use the tools for this purpose could seriously impact an organisation’s credibility. From a corporate perspective, its also important to recognise that many staff will need some kind of training or help to give them the skills for the job.

So, some great opportunities to ‘humanise ‘government, increase engagement, to crowdsource and develop early stage policy ideas – garnering opinions from activists and communities before narrowing down to formal policy options.

But there are dangers. Adopting an informal approach could backfire if the correct conversational and personal tone is not adopted and/or perceived to be insincere – especially around emotive and high profile issues. Identification of individuals or groups of civil servants online could also make them open to personal attack and flaming from those with malicious intent.

In terms of cost and resource, I think by this point some dedicated specialist resource is  essential to support, guide and mentor officials engaging in debate. Certainly people will probably require some support at set up and need to know someone is available to help them if they have concerns or problems.

So, that’s four down. Two to go.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 3. reflect

First of all, I’ve been really enthused by the interest so far in this short series of posts. Its always gratifying to see some evidence that people are actually taking notice of what I write. But in this case its particularly helpful – I’m throwing out some ideas and really relying on feedback to improve the model so that it can be of use to others.

So, onto approach three, reflect.

When I was kicking these ideas around eighteen months or so ago there was much less awareness of social media in government than there is now. Consequently there was understandable nervousness about active participation. I was trying to identify low risk options that would demonstrate the value of social media to officials.

Reflect in this particular instance means acknowledgement. A step on from simply listening, it means identifying network(s), activities/conversations or communities of interest, then raising their profile by giving them recognition. I guess a good example would be the number of times that Netmums has been mentioned by and across government in the last year or so.

Its not necessarily about granting legitimacy but simply demonstrating that government is taking notice and listening. Government is able to demonstrate that it is ‘switched on’ to wider public opinion. Hopefully this action can encourage future debate and response from people by the acknowledgement that their views will be recognised.

Of course there are some potential drawbacks to this approach:

  • Its not active engagement in debate
  • Activists may not appreciate being associated with government
  • Can unwittingly give legitimacy to groups that government wouldn’t wish to confer it on

On the other hand it can help to create a positive environment with activists / groups for future engagement and/or collaboration.

Importantly, this approach needs to be careful to give balanced recognition to parties with different or opposing views.

There is no real cost over and above the listening approach but the key here is that acknowledgement requires better embedding of using listening tools with policymakers – those who might advise ministers or draft speaking notes, letters etc. It won’t work if it isn’t close to the people developing the thinking about a particular issue.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 2. listen

Listening is a much underrated skill, not just online but in the real world too (or so my mother keeps telling me when she whines on…).

In the social media space, and with all the noise going on in government about creating blogs and wikis, I think the value of using social media tools to observe the conversations taking place around us is rather overlooked.

Making use of the variety of personalised news services, blog searches, RSS feeds etc to create focused alerts around issues or initiatives could in my mind have the biggest impact on the way government develops its thinking. If all those in government who are planning social media initiatives did in the next year was help policy teams to set up well crafted and targeted news and blog alert systems, that would be a massive step change in the way we do things. Forget building blogs, wikis, social networks and the like – help them to listen.

Opening up officials’ eyes to the conversations taking place will help them to easily gain a wider perspective on what people out there are thinking and experiencing. Imagine the impact that could have.

The tools can also encourage collaborative knowledge sharing across teams and organisations – when items of interest are identified, they can quickly be forwarded on to others.

Many of the tools are freely available on the web and require little investment (other than time) to set up. And they’re pretty easy to maintain once up and running.

There are some potential pitfalls in embarking on setting up listening services:

  • You might need to resolve IT security limitations that prevent access to online tools and sources (this is the case in my department by and large – hopefully not for long).
  • Generating helpful and relevant RSS feeds takes some skill and time to set up, if they’re not carefully focused at initiation they can become a burdensome task, especially if the monitoring effort is not shared.
  • The free online monitoring tools can be a little inflexible and slow to return results from obscure sources (especially if using niche keywords).
  • There is not yet a perfect automated method of extracting and sharing the results in a user friendly format, like email.

Because this is a fairly new thing, the skills set is unlikely to be found internally and will likely require freelance resource to oversee setting up and training staff to use the tools.

So, the next option on my list is ‘reflect’.

Six approaches for social media adoption – 1. do nothing

So I promised in my post last week to set out the six approaches to using social media tools that I developed during my work on the GCN social media review, The first is – do nothing.

Despite all the innovation and good examples of use of social media tools in large organisations over the last year or so, investing in is still a tricky decision for many. In government, budgets and headcount allocations are tight and shrinking. The return on investment of social media is largely unproven. Many large organisations are naturally risk averse.

So it would be a legitimate tactic at this point in time for an organisation to do nothing.

This isn’t necessarily a strategy of avoidance, ignorance or even procrastination. But it is a short term position and not sustainable in the longer term.

While the skills remain relatively rare and the investment in time and people to embed the skills high, its natural to take a back seat and watch others innovate so that you can learn from their relative successes and failures. As more and more good examples of using social media tools for business are evaluated and shared, a consensus on good practice will develop and organisations will become more comfortable with the idea of investing in this area.

Meanwhile, you avoid the pain of early adoption.

On the downside, user adoption of the conversational opportunities afforded by social media is much faster than for the early web. They may well expect to be able to engage with you before you are ready for it. There’s also the risk of being left behind by the speed of others’ innovation.

Doing nothing costs nothing in monetary terms but the opportunity costs could be high if the strategy is sustained for too long and you have to play catch-up.

Neil Williams hits the blogosphere

Another civil servant geek has started a blog, hurrah. Neil Williams leads the web team at DCLG, sorry Communities and Local Government. He’s a proper techie webbie too and has been involved in lots of cool stuff both in government and before he was lured into Whitehall.

I’ll watch his blog with interest, Neil has lots of great ideas and is active in the conversations taking place around Whitehall about the opportunities for government presented by all this social media stuff.

Six models / approaches for social media adoption or implementation

The title of this post refers to a piece of work I did as part of the GCN social media review about a a year and a half ago. Unfortunately it never got into the final document (and in fact it was cruelly taken from me and remodelled without attribution. But that’s another story….).

I’ve been revisiting it recently for all sorts of reasons and thought it would be worth posting up here, partly because of the conversations that have been going on recently about deploying social media tools in government (Emma’s musings about creating social media toolkits in particular), partly because I think its still relevant, and partly because – although I in no way claim the content of this work is original (it’s not) – its a distillation of my thoughts at the time that I thought may be useful to someone now.

This model is an attempt to set out six different approaches to using or deploying social media techniques; be that for a particular tool, channel, business need, or whole organisational approach. It is not meant to be prescriptive, neither does it necessarily describe a roadmap that must be followed from early stage adoption through to embedding organisationally. It is based on wide reading, observation and practice but – primarily – mainly – my personal opinion.

It really just sets out options, six in total. My concern at the time of writing was that government is good at the first or the last – either do nothing or do everything. Of course, this loses sight of the opportunities that the other options might present. So I’ll deal with each option separately – and I’m grateful for any thoughts or criticisms. After all, this has been knocking around in my head for a long while as a concept without sharing it widely and i’d welcome ideas on how to improve it.

So, the six options to the modelfall under three overarching principles: observation – interaction – initiation.

  • Observation: Do nothing or Listen
  • Interaction: Reflect or Converse
  • Initiation: Experiment or Embed

In the next few posts, I’ll set out what I mean by each of these options (ooh, what a tease).