Which council workers would not benefit from using social media?


Question:   Are there council jobs which would not benefit from what social media types know?

Answers below please.

Image Gavin Anderson.


  1. Jon Bounds says:

    Simple, glib, answer — none, as all jobs benefit from a greater understanding of the people you work with and for (and vice versa). That’s what social media can do.

  2. Pete says:

    Ill informed answer: Accounting and general admin. Those which don’t have direct contact with society.

    That said, connecting up “dry” departments with the ones on the front line has, I think, been proven to improve things as they understand the importance of their work better. So what Jon said, even if it’s just a social inTRAnet.

  3. Tim Davies says:

    In so far as social media allows for professional development opportunities in just about any profession, and allows for the idealised council employee to connect better with their work and with the citizens it relates to – not really.

    And in so far as social media can allow the council to listen and engage better with citizen views of what it should be doing overall – and in so far as this has an impact on what is done in activity in the whole range of council jobs – again – there is clearly a role for the knowledge of social media types to have a positive impact.

    However, if we’re talking about putting social media tools in the hands of every single staff member in those jobs then:

    – There may be a benefit to someone in the job / team / department actively using social media – but ultimately directly engaging with social media tools may not be for everyone.

    – Social media may have a lot to offer… but there may be other things which we need to sort out first (send in the organisational development types, the conflict-resolution types etc. first*)

    (*Of course, by all means get the social media types talking to these other ‘types’…)

  4. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks Jon and Pete, nice idea Tim. I would like my bin person and the accounts person to know the joys of understanding particle physics. I’m not certain I need them to be able to name quarks to get their job done or to be able to split an atom.

    So the question remains, do I need them to know ow to use social media to share what they know and join/start conversations about what they do? Who couldn’t benefit from some of that?

  5. Jon Bounds says:

    >A thought experiment & ‘control’ question: Are there council jobs which would not benefit from what particle physics types know?

    @Tim While all knowledge is good, I think there’s a separation between knowledge — and knowledge/skills that give rise to understanding and communication. They don’t need to know how the internet works to get the benefits of communication, just as they not need to understand strong an weak forces to understand why welding the pipes back together works. (if indeed that’s how welding actually works)

  6. I’ve worked in Birmingham City Council and a lot of the problems I encountered there seemed to do with poor or broken down communication, internally and externally. Hardly surprising as it’s such a massive organisation. Obviously social media would be a massive help in combatting that. It already is – tools such as FixMyStreet make communicating with local authorities a lot easier.

    It would be great if they engaged with it further – being able to quickly directly message who I knew to be the right person about the litter/fly tipping problems in Digbeth would mean I’d report instances more so things would get sorted quicker. As it is I only report things when they seriously get to me rather than just occur to me because I don’t think letting the relevant person know will be as easy as reeling off one quickly typed message. I may be wrong but if I am and I don’t know, that kind of proves my point.

    Local authorities need to converese with each other asnd their customers by having a prescence where those people are. So in answer to your question – I can’t think of any council workers who couldn’t do their jobs a bit more effectively with a spot of social media.

  7. paul canning says:

    All, of course. For example, the various social groups (LGBT, mothers, BME … )

    But IME councils have a lot of other stuff which they haven’t done right yet. From very simple things like usable forms.

    there’s also a huge variety of councils and some large ones get lots right whilst a mass of small ones get loads wrong.

  8. Grave diggers?

    No but seriously, having working in a local authority in a campaigning role it can be quite difficult to make sure everyone is “on message”. That’s the same for any large organisation, but particularly important in local authorities which by their nature are extremely political – and there’s nothing more cut throat than local politics. So, I’d love it if all council staff were encouraged to make more use of social media. On the other hand, some people might be great administrators/policy wonks/number crunchers or whatever, but terrible communicators. And the web has a very, very long memory. And then there’s the statutory duties councils have… one wrong bit of advice from someone on the web and the council is liable for all sorts of stuff. I can see why people in Local authorities are wary.

  9. Jon Hickman says:

    Picking up on Nicky’s comment about large organisations and internal comms, #bcutweetup (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=bcutweetup) was an interesting experiment because it brought together a disparate bunch of Birmingham City University staff who wouldn’t normally have met up.

    That’s interesting and useful of its self, but what’s really interesting is that there might be some real outcomes from it (we are planning a social media project – when we get the time).

  10. Clare says:

    I think the barrier is the phrase social media (and I say that as someone who owns Social Media CIC, *nobody* except ‘us’ + social entrepeneurs has any clue what that is)

    If social media is:
    sharing, letting go of power/ownership/hierachy, doing little things that contribute to something you feel passionate about, communicating constantly, engaging in dialogues, being prepared to change your thinking several times in a day or even hour, creating ways of doing things more efficiently because you want to and not because anyone’s telling you, being in touch with a much wider group of people than you can physically communicate with and finding ways that people can find you intuitively when they want you…
    then, no, there are no jobs that wouldn’t benefit from a bit of that.

    But if it’s just a few managers contributing to an atmosphere of fear by making their minions use Twitter to ‘engage’ cheaply without any understanding of why, then it’s not really going to add much value for anyone. God forbid we get a wave of finance administrators following in the wake of marketers and reluctant journalists 🙄

  11. Grave diggers?

    No but seriously, Despite the fact that I agree with the principle, I can understand why local authorities are wary of opening up to social media in some situations. For example Local authorities have statutory duties to enforce various laws. If a council employee gives the wrong advice in a comment on Facebook, or Twitter or something, does that constitute ‘official’ advice? And if it does, given the extremely long memory of the internet imagine the implications of one wee slip? There some aspects of Local Authority work that probably need to remain more ‘formal’ – that’s not to say they need to stay on paper though 🙂

  12. Nick Booth says:

    Claire, I too shudder at that wave of finance managers, a ripple would be more than enough. Thanks adopted – agreed. It may the even the very formal stuff works when you are meeting people in their own conversational space and offering them links to more formal information – helping them through the systems faster.

    I’m not sugegsted all coucnil employees should be using this stuff, I m curious though if we can think of any that couldn’t/oughtn’t. Grave diggers would make great twitteres ” digging a grave” “oiling my shovel” ” taking a spot of tea”.

  13. Tim Davies says:

    A few quick reflections drawing together threads from the above:

    There are different ways for employees to benefit – any probably every employee can benefit in at least one way (but this comes from the fact we can give social media a very large reading… it covers a significant number of tools and phenomena). Local authority employees could:

    * Benefit as consumers (RSS reading; professional development opportunities etc.)

    * Benefit as producers (Sharing news through social media; providing public data for innovation; using rich media (video etc.) to get beyond plain text documents)

    * Benefit as conversationalists / communicators (Either in small close networks, or in open social media spaces)

    But, there may be costs to engagement. For example, the grave digger could twitter – but he would need access to a mobile phone capable of easy twittering. The detached youth worker would really benefit from having access to online video and an online network from a smart-phone whilst out on the streets on a Friday night… but that’s got significant budget implications. When we think of the staff who are not already seated at desks where unblocking social media access is the only issue – we end up with a lot more of a cost-benefit analysis to work through.

    The other implication of imagining a social media-enabled local authority I’m struck by is the power of social media in breaking down organisational barriers and hierarchies. You might ask the question “Which council workers would no longer need to be council workers if social media were adopted?” (ambiguity of question intended…)

  14. I don’t think that grave diggers need necessarily use social media themselves in order to benefit from it. And because not every singe council worker is au fait with social media doesn’t mean that there are few services which wouldn’t improve from a touch of the social.

    I live next to a cemetery. I see a lot of problems in the service which could be addressed through better communication. The cems&crems is always trying to do awareness raising with cemetery open days (once a year) and other things. (We do go to these, we’re weird we know.) But rather than put on bizarre hearse parades, maybe an interactive website? Maybe the grave maintenance guys could Twitter, I dunno. But certainly local people would benefit from having clearer information about what’s ok in terms of graveside tributes. Lots of people come looking for information on their ancestors, I bet a little more info online wouldn’t hurt and would channel a lot of requests elsewhere. And my local happens to be packed with minor celebs from the music hall days, there could be a lot of local history interest and more information that people could share.

  15. Nick Booth says:

    The grave digger example seems to have stuck. the key thing here is that giving those who want to share what they know the skills and tools to do so must be a ositive way forward. Empowered and engaged people provide a better service – if they also get feedback from the public that must surely create a virtuous cycle.

    I don’t believe in requiring all council staff to communicate when they would prefer not too.

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