Over the past eighteen months or so I’ve seen a couple of social media and Web 2.0 evangelists trying to engage public sector workers in the world of social media. It usually runs along the lines of…. “Hey people put your hands in the air if you have: a Twitter account?; a blog?; are on LinkedIn?; are part of an online community of practice ?…….”. At this point a look of panic will start to spread across their faces as they often get an almost zero response to each question. Then, they usually get desperate and throw in things like You Tube and Facebook. Then it all ends up with a rather feeble, “does anyone here use the Internet……? I will confess to having tried something similar myself and suffered those tumbleweed moments.
Within the workplace there is generally a low-level of participation in social media by public servants when compared with engagement by other groups. This is a real shame as social media is giving some organisations a real advantage and helping them to improve service delivery through much better learning and sharing of wisdom, knowledge, information and data (DIKW). Don’t take my word for it,have a look at The New Social Learning website or read the excellent book .
So why this lack of engagement with social media? There is probably a long list of the reasons why, but here are my personal views* on the top two:
- The organisational fear factor. Lots of organisations block access
to anything that looks suspiciously like social media. It’s bizarre but you
hear many people say, “our organisation is on Twitter but I don’t know what we say because it’s blocked”. Even higher on the daftness scale is some departments who blog as part of their public engagement work yet, others in the same organisation cannot read what they say – unless they login at home. The blocking of access to social media seems to be based upon concerns about “IT security” (whatever that means) and a perception that staff “waste their time on the internet when they should be doing their job”.
- Individual fear of being exposed, caught out and punished. It’s a brave employee that will identify themselves in a post on a public forum using their works email account. There is a deep-seated fear that your viewpoint or comments will be ‘used’ by the unscrupulous person or someone with an agenda. This fear runs very deep and is not without a fair bit of justification from what I’ve seen.
There are however some shining beacons of hope like Monmouthshire Council. People are treated like adults and have access to social media. They are doing things differently and improving the quality of services they deliver, they also get recognised for their efforts. They are clear about their position and things like their Digital Deal document makes a commitment to “using social media platforms to promote new forms of citizen engagement and inclusion”, good stuff!
So, what’s the PONT?
- The structural IT and security barriers seem to be huge, but they shouldn’t be. Lots of organisations have already engaged successfully with social media, there must be a way around the barriers.
- Lack of confidence and fear of being punished are huge barriers for people at an individual level. The answer here might lie in accepting there will be some ‘failures’ as part of the learning process and Leaders need to ‘lead the way’.
- Treat people like adults and trust them. Both of the issues above have a great deal to do with trust and how we treat each other.
(* please see disclaimer on my blog Home page)