Social media is really about conversation, sharing formal and informal information. Gossip may seem trivial, but it&#x2019;s an important part of the social fabric. Much of what takes place on social media may seem trivial, too &#x2013; but a lot of it&#x2019;s not...and when it&#x2019;s about you, your organisation, your councillors &#x2013; then it&#x2019;s not trivial at all.
Social media is radically transforming where conversations can take place. It&#x2019;s puts the power of publishing into anyone&#x2019;s hands &#x2013; a huge shift in the control of information. So we shouldn&#x2019;t underestimate its importance, but we can&#x2019;t imagine that it will solve everything either. Just as the printing press shook up power and information, it didn&#x2019;t mean the world became rosy. And just as it&#x2019;s easier to publish great things...it&#x2019;s easier to publish nasty things too.
Too often the types of interaction that we see online are described by the tool name as shorthand, a bit like hoovering for vacuuming. But it isn&#x2019;t about the tools.
But the important thing is that social media isn&#x2019;t necessarily Facebook or Twitter, it&#x2019;s about extending connections and conversations. Making views more accessible and discoverable. But that doesn&#x2019;t mean you don&#x2019;t need to understand the tools to get the most out of them.
Like the printing press, social media is transformational. And like the printing press, we can imagine but we cannot predict how social media will change the world that we live in. But you can bet it will be disruptive, it will lead to change in the way that power flows if not who holds it.
Each of these transformational Ts are being changed by social media. Sometimes, social media is a driving force in bringing new transparency or ways to save money - and sometimes social media is being used as a tool to promote concepts or convene action around concepts like togetherness (co-production, community cohesion) - and sometimes we need to change the way WE do things. We need to trust people more, we need to trust that citizens are capable, that staff won&#x2019;t bring down the entire reputation of a council with an ill-judged Tweet, and we need to trust politicians to act politically.
Despite lack of media coverage, Nashvillians took to Facebook and Twitter and blogs and wrote and communicated about the situation. With typical black humour, they described it as the &#x2018;other situation&#x2019; on social networks - a reference both to a previous storm and to the fact that mainstream media was preoccupied by an attempted bombing in Times Square and the oil well rupture in the gulf around the same time.
Nashville was devastated by these floods. Areas which have never flooded in living memory were covered in water. Whole neighbourhoods were essentially destroyed. (This photo was taken 3 days after the initial flooding)
Although local media covered the situation, national media really didn&#x2019;t much. Blogs, Twitter, and images like these on Flickr were used to raise awareness of the situation and provide a vent for feelings of frustration - as Nashvillians were left to recover....
But Nashville is a town built on creative industries and in less than a week, graphic artists were producing limited edition posters and other products which were marketed and sold through social networks, raising money for disaster relief.
But posters and fundraising concerts and donations of cash by country music stars (some of whom lost their own homes) couldn&#x2019;t tackle the scale of the disaster on their own.
They don&#x2019;t call Tennessee the volunteer state for nothing Organisations like HandsOn Nashville used their networks and resources to recruit, equip and organise volunteers for the cleanup. Social media played a vital role in promoting their presence and in organising volunteers. It reduced the cost and effort of telling people where to go or what skills were needed. It meant people like my brother could show up and know where they were needed. Or the story of kids on their way to a music festival who spent an extra day volunteering in Nashville - but the cost of discovery was zero.
So like the story of the Nashville floods, how are councils using or engaging with social media to share information about services, to support the ideals of Big Society, to engage with communities and enable greater accountability and greater local decision making? Where are the concepts of transparency, thrift, togetherness, and trust being played out online.
Critics argue that Big Society is about covering cuts. But the cuts are coming no matter what. Big Society is an opportunity to do things radically differently so the cuts hurt less. Social media is an ideal tool to help convene and support citizens to act positively. Councils can do this themselves around some services or participate when others take a convening role.
Southwark Circle is an organisation much like HandsOn Nashville - it uses social media and the web to convene and support &#x2018;face to face&#x2019; volunteering and sharing of skills and support in local communities. Although part of its purpose is to help older people in independent living. Many of the people who participate are getting as much out of it as the people they help - keeping them active - creating social ties in the community and engendering reciprocity.
Chicago use of interactive crime mapping was cited in NESTA&#x2019;s recent Radical Efficiency publication - and not only allows the public to see crime, but also to share information. Importantly it also allows information sharing between departments, it&#x2019;s allowed significant savings in back office support.
In San Francisco, a new website dedicated to documenting the city&#x2019;s trees allows anyone to become a citizen urban forester. Starting with available public data (which usually only covers trees on public property), the website asks citizens to add or update information about a tree (or trees) in their neighborhood &#x2013; including location, species, truck diameter and height. Visitors to the site can browse a map of all the trees in the constantly evolving database, and the site uses tree data to calculate the environmental benefits of a particular tree, or the entire city&#x2019;s urban forest.
Most of the uses of social media so far in the UK have been about a subtle change from broadcast media to a bit more interactive media. Social media can be used to make communications and information more cost effective or it can be used to really engage with people. Different situations require different solutions.
Kirklees information sharing on school closures, open data in Sutton about grit bins, getting citizens with 4X4s to transport people in Brighton - all of these used social media - more ambitious uses for social media in Washington DC, where user generated content directed snow plows - identifying missed routes, providing coordination for citizen volunteering or providing information to public services.
Harringay Online is one of growing number of &#x2018;hyper-local&#x2019; social networks, Capital Ambition is currently funding some very interesting research on this which should be published in the Autumn (Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris researchers). Early findings show that public service interaction in these networks can have positive impacts on perception and engagement.
Councils need not run these social networks - in fact there are many good reasons why you shouldn&#x2019;t - but officers should be permitted to contribute to these networks - providing information and councils can publish information through RSS feeds which means that these social networks and local bloggers can share official information - providing free additional channels for communication and engagement.
Patient Opinion was started by pro-social &#x2018;entrepreneurs&#x2019; including health care professionals. It&#x2019;s a place for people to share their good stories and their bad about health care. I myself have used it when I couldn&#x2019;t get redress over poor treatment from the NHS. But now the NHS is bringing PatientOpinion for service improvement using both the positve and the negative feedback.
Two recent examples of crowdsourcing policy solutions - savings in the public sector and abolishing &#x2018;rubbish&#x2019; laws. Interestingly the spending challenge site has been gamed and sabotaged, so although you can still submit ideas, they aren&#x2019;t open to public view (for now) or comment. Shame really. The other working on the same principle is still going.
We&#x2019;re supporting new ways of working through advice and guidenace like Local by Social and Connected Councillors, our communities of practice that support new ways of working - like Social Media, Local Open Data and events like these. We believe that new technology can help councils work more effectively with citizens and from our own business perspective, with each other.
The Knowledge Hub is replacing our existing communities of practice, bringing tried and tested social tools up to date. Opening up the platform to allow people to share what they&#x2019;re doing on Twitter and blogs and Facebook (where they want to).
And the Knowledge Hub will use semantic connections for all kinds of information - from linked data like data.gov.uk and from unstructured data and semi-structured data. The Knowledge Hub will be smart - the more that practitioners use it, the more it will help people make connections and find information based on their social graph.
Crisis and opportunity for social media in local government
Local by social
crisis and opportunity for social media in local public
LG Improvement and Development
Don’t be fooled by the tools
Social media is
It’s a new way of
The 4 Transformational
Ts of social media
But ﬁrst, a story of another T
The Nashville Floods
• 13 inches of rain in just over a day
• 2000 homes destroyed
• around a dozen people died
• over $1.5 billion in damages
• 500 year ﬂood
• 8 feet of water
• almost no media coverage
Photo: Rain drops on calm water by cosmonautirussi on Flickr