Social Media Fantasy

September 9, 2012

My thanks to Itir Akdogan PhD for informing the Democracies Online Exchange: http://groups.dowire.org/groups/exchange about the publication of a new report “The Use of Social Media in Finnish Parliament Elections 2011” (PDF, 32 pages, 480 Kb) by Irina Khaldarova, Salla-Maaria Laaksonen & Janne Matikainen of the Communication Research Centre CRC, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki.

Since it is reporting on the parliamentary representative democracy of a country where there is also an active use of new technologies I believe this report should give some guidance as to what can be expected elsewhere. Unfortunately it concludes by writing of politicians that “their way of using social media mostly reminds one-way mass communication”, which is something warned of on this blog earlier and then continues “In this sense it seems that despite the high hopes laid upon social media services as a tool of e-democracy, there still exists a gap between politicians and citizens. Social media will not foster deliberative democracy unless it is truly used for two-way communication and as a platform for conversation.” And it can’t come much clearer than that! This is based on the conclusions from the data that “the study shows that social media does not play the role in the Finnish politics as it is usually ascribed for. The power of social media in the recent elections has been obviously exaggerated as most of the elected MPs can hardly be considered as active or very popular social media users.”

Whether this experience is something particularly Finnish remains to be seen, but it currently appears that deliberative democracy will not be created from the representative kind through the employment of social media.


Social local

August 19, 2012

Thanks to Steven Clift at e-democracy.org for being there to enable Karen Purser from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG) to post the link to their new report on “Using Social Media in Local Government: 2011 Survey Report” (PDF, 1.16 Mb, 34 pages) published  27th June 2012. The report, as its title infers, is the product of a survey of Australian local government and the conclusions are quite clear that there can be benefits to the use of social media, particularly in the event of an emergency. However, it is acknowledged that there are a number of concerns surrounding its use – it being resource intensive, possibilities of issues around record keeping, other legal concerns and a general lack of understanding of the field. The author suggests that these might be overcome by some sector-wide training and documentation.

I sympathise with both sides on this. There are a range of opportunities for using social media well – and I emphasise the ‘well’ – from dealing with all types of civil emergencies, to broadcasting important information, but I suspect Australian public sector staff are under the same pressures as those in the UK where due to redundancy and target-focused changes they have little time to learn the new skills or confidently apply them. The solution is then down to their political leaders to create the space for staff to experiment with and use new media and technologies or see the electorate pull the rug from under their feet as they are used to their detriment.

Whilst a revolution may not be Tweeted, mass (or even small) movements will and should make use of every opportunity to grab back some power from politicians and bureaucrats who hide behind words like ‘open’ or ‘transparency’ whilst failing to be either.


Daring to be truthful?

August 9, 2012

A new report from Dare London entitled ‘Digital Britain: the truth about how we live today through technology’ (PDF, 175 pages, 7 Mb) is available from ThisisDare.com. The report analyzes usage data from a number of sources to present a view, in very pithy terms, of how the UK public is using digital media. Amongst the results they note that whilst there are less female users, those women who do use it, use it more. There are analyses of the type of things done online and the amount and time spent doing them by gender and age group, there is then the effect of e-advertsing and how it is having to change to accommodate changes in practice.

There is a similar analysis of mobile usage with a comparison of Android and Apple behaviours, along with a detailed examination of the app economy. The report also views tablet computing and the market there. Included is a lengthy study of the differing online behaviours including use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn along with opportunities for marketing people. The analysis includes buying patterns involving the various coupon offerings and even how television and other viewing, listening as well as reading is being affected by the new media in reality.

Even bloggers get a look in with a breakdown of who does what and their demographics, along with an intense look at games. The report potentially blows out of the water a number of the myths around new technology but concludes with the paragraph that:

“The internet is becoming flatter, deeper and quicker. It’s reaching more people, on more occasions, on more devices, more speedily. Brands need to prepare for that future. Specifically, they need to ready themselves for an internet that no longer lives on a desk and that is no longer run by institutions. Prepare for people and places.”

A lengthy read at 175 pages but far from dense with lots of colour graphs and charts. Yes, technology is changing things but not necessarily in the ways that were forecast or are being touted currently. Thanks for this Dare – it’s not often that everything is brought together for a panoptical view and it makes a difference!


Social media and customers

August 1, 2012

First of all I picked up from a Tweet by Jerry van Leeuwen that there was a new item on the Harvard Business Review blog network by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. Nothing particularly new there, for as they say “social media improves service by making the market for peer-to-peer opinion more efficient”. They break this up into three components – ‘service recovery’, service improvement’ and ‘customer training’.  Then a post on the Econsultancy blog on 24 July 2012 by Patricio Robles entitled “Is Twitter creating a VIP customer service channel?” repeats a similar argument with examples concluding that “social media is a supplement to existing customer service programs, not a replacement”.

This was then reinforced by the weekly news email from Gerry McGovern who stated that “many customers go to social media sites to complain”. Gerry states that “Organizations have abused words such as community and loyalty for a long time. There s a need to get real.” This is combined with an attack on the ‘sticky’ websites of old. He states that there research indicates the need to help customers:

  • trust the information they receive
  • receive clear messages at each decision stage
  • weigh the options confidently

This is equally appropriate to government and the failure to do so is why citizens continue to use multiple channels. The advise from Frei & Morriss, along with Patricio Robles, might help regain that trust. Whilst I remain less skeptical on social media for government I do think any approach needs to be done on a strategic basis and follow some of the best practice already identified.


Less skeptical on social media

July 26, 2012

John Kamensky at GoverningPeople has pointed me to a recent report from the Feis Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Rise of Social Government“. At 110 pages the 3Mb PDF download is not a light read but is a thorough study and endorsement of the use of social media across US government large and small. As an example of the numbers involved in using social media in the USA NASA has more followers than the population of Denver, Colorado, whilst The US State Department has more followers than that of Salt Lake City.

The uses highlighted include information distribution but also drawing feedback about graffiti and repairs needed, along with encouraging participation in producing policy. The report considers different ways of managing social media, either central or distributed, along with a variety of ways of getting content approved before publication. There are obviously going to be uses for social media in government, including local government, but before driving potential followers away by tedious or untargetted messages it is probably best to examine a serious report about how it has been successfully used and then considering whether that would work in your own locality.