A friend at the very useful National Library for Health recently sent me the Government Review of Social Media Use, which reflects my research findings into the use of social media and which is, in reality, a fine description of the problem of electing individuals who crave power to represent us.
The Social Media Review was commissioned in March 2007 by the Permanent Secretary for Government Communication, to provide information on the current and planned use of social media in government. Its aims were to
- assess the strengths and weaknesses of government communication activity in this area
- identify examples of good practice within the wider communication network
- identify barriers and opportunities
- make recommendations on how government communicators can build their capability to
engage more effectively with the public using social media
- identify communication structures, processes and resources that may need to be
enhanced or refocused to facilitate better working
A couple of things caught my attention when reading it...
It mentions the command and control culture prevents them civil servants from
"having access to the tools and networks they have come to expect in their private lives."
This I found in my own research, that my organisation was wary of losing control of its communications with "the masses", leading to negative media attention and public uproar. This is very clearly demonstrated in the review, where it states
Again, the media impacts negatively on the culture of the public sector, leading to the opposite of what is required, a culture of open and transparent debate and communication.
"...the use of some social media – particularly blogs and social networking sites – could open up individuals, departments, the Civil Service and Ministers to extreme scrutiny, criticism and negative media comment."
It amused me that this report stated that public servants are warey of social media due to the fact that it "puts communication into the hands of the many" and for every gain to the reputation of a department, there is the danger that policy differences be exposed or misinterpreted and "circulated widely". Funny...I always thought the government was based on on electing representatives of the "many" to voice their opinion? I thought that that was what representative meant? Is that wrong?
Maybe this is a chance to develop policy WITH the electorate? The reality of it all seems the wrong way around to me...but then I am only one of the "many".
The report also notes the lack of understanding of the skills and resources required to manage online communities, blogs etc, another misconception about online communities and social networking....it takes some very refined skills to make it work effectively.
Jeremy Gould. a civil servant running websites for a UK government department notes also, that government colleagues are blind to the value that could be gained from joining in with existing debate, and bemoans the fact that they are just
"... desperate to have a shiny blog/wiki/forum (delete as appropriate), not interested in examining interaction online with existing communities or partnering. They just WANT A BLOG, NOW!"
This to me is a complete failing to maximise on a potential collaboration between the people and the people elected to represent them and a misunderstanding of the true nature of social media. David Milliband may have a popular blog, have been interviewed on Second Life, and wax lyrical about the potential of Web 2.0, but his colleagues it seems, are still living in the dark ages (but we all knew that now didn't we).