Workshop: 6 things learned during social media training for Renfrewshire Council

Over the last six months, Gayle McPherson and I have been doing some work with Renfrewshire Council (the local authority that our campus of the University of West of Scotland sits within) around social media for event evaluation and have recently concluded introductory training for council employees. It was delivered as part of a larger evaluation report of the Paisley Spree Festival which ran in October 2012 (and is ongoing). The prezi above is what we used for the training sessions that happened at the end of March, with a follow on session this week.

I’ve done a few social media training sessions now which cross between higher education, 3rd sector, libraries and information management now but this is my first that has encountered directly the challenges and opportunities that local government employees face when using social media within their day to day work practice. Most of my experiences working with local authorities has been from the fringe, through working with librarians, some of the #localgov chat on twitter and engagement through community journalism projects.

The results from the evaluation of the Spree will be available once published, however I wanted to write a quick blog post reflecting on some of the key points that emerged during the sessions that we delivered to Renfrewshire employees.

Thinking about social media and local authorities:

Support and empower “digital champions”: I know that expression sounds totally lame (cringing as type) but bare with me. Having worked on a few projects now that have perhaps included volunteers from other sectors (such as the library or public services), through chatting and sharing similar stories, what emerges are tales of the struggle to convince their managers that social media or indeed, ‘trying something new using the internet’ is a good thing for their role/department/organisation.

Many success stories within an organisation have emerged when people have taken initiative to do their own thing, often eating into time outside of working hours, often bending the rules, often using their own devices and generally spending time experimenting with alternative ways of doing the same task more effectively. Especially if there are firewalls in place preventing the use of social media on the premises.

These are the people that should be supported (and therefore empowered) to become ‘champions’ within the organisation (who can then go on and support others ‘in-house’) rather expecting an entire workforce to want to take up this ‘social media’ thing in one go. This can often be met with criticism and turns the process from an exciting one to something that that is seen as a chore or an additional task onto top of already busy work schedules. It is much better to capitalise on enthusiasm and let it spread rather than shutting it down dead out of fear (rather than the managing) of risk. This is because it…

The Internet cannot be ignored: This should be an obvious one – but even in 2013, increasingly hearing more stories about the layers of reporting that is required before an employee is allowed to set up social media accounts for the department or event they are organising or managing – then there is still every chance that particular services are not allowed to be used, even thought there is evidence of a core audience of service users present on them. I’m not saying that controlling the message is necessary a bad thing, but as the information flow only increases, allowing for decentralisation across departments (or even to an individual level) means that the central communication team are much more likely to be provided with up to date information “from the horses mouth” and the message can spread and be more targeted to appropriate networks. It’s ok to have multiple accounts for different services, that’s the beautiful of the platform – and these can be monitored just as effectively as requests to share individual stories.

Start small, deliver them well: One of the common issues when embedding social media within an organisation such as a university or a local authority is overcoming the fear of it becoming a massive task, often delegated to a specific job, often within corporate communications. It is positive to hear that  steps are being taken to try out new things, often with a reporting procedure attached. This is all good news and allows for records to be kept of progress. I guess the best advice I can give is baby steps. Small projects, delivered well – often as pilots, are much better than trying to take on every network, every platform, every new fangled technology. Success means becoming the ‘cutting edge of mundane’ – the process will become so seamless you’ll wonder whatever the fuss was about.

Archives can be used to develop wider case studies: Using tools like Storify to archive content produced by audiences and service users allow for employees to pull together case studies of user populations around their particular job role. These can remain private and simple enough to pull together, contextualise in order to hold together a report and as a referencing system for a particular event or context. I love using the