An interesting blog post from Ingrid Koeler at the IDeA about the questions facing local government using social media and an even more interesting response prompted me to post some of my own thoughts following on from discussions happening more frequently in these parts.

What are the greatest areas of potential benefit in councils using social media?

I think it is too early to tell what the real benefits to local government might be from social media and when they do become apparent those benefits may be hard to measure due to the fluid landscape and fast evolution of the online space.My feeling at the moment is that, if adopted, it could be the beginning of a change in the way in which local government engages with communities and the way they are perceived in return.In our own case moving forward with social media is the obvious next step from the concept we ran with for the websites – information presented in plain English and a friendly tone (or in other words moving The Authority from the authority). Social media in its many forms could boil down to taking that information and making it interactive.This could encourage greater engagement as the channels into the organisation become more open, easier to find and more two-way. And this, right now, is probably my best guess about greatest potential – social media is presenting a real opportunity for the organisation to understand the community and engage with them on neutral ground in a transparent and equal manner.

How can councils support local communities and individuals in becoming digitally enabled and empowered?

I would go along the lines that local gov can support communities and individuals by inhabiting the online space themselves. By engaging in online conversation and reaping the benefits of social media local gov can empower local communities and individuals who may not have had a voice in a more traditional channel.In terms of enabling others – providing access through local gov services such as libraries and making resource available to encourage and enthuse communities and individuals to see how digital technology can benefit them is probably a good tack to start on.

How can local and hyper-local social networks increase community cohesion and empowerment?

I need to formulate my thoughts more fully on this one before I can give any kind of sentient answer!

How can councillors develop their leadership and communication skills using social media?

I think the first issue is for a councillor (in the same way as the organisation) to understand what social media tools, if any, are appropriate channels of communication with the constituents. If online communication is a relevant way then I think it is an extra dimension for councillors to add to being available and transparent in their role. The least effective way to use the online space in the current climate is as a platform for publishing ‘brag’ pieces. I think a cultural shift needs to happen where online communication is seen as two-way rather than a broadcast medium. To grasp this councillors and organisation would have to accept the conversations about or with them may not always be positive but can all be constructive.

How can social media be used for more effective social marketing encouraging the behaviour change necessary to achieve complex outcomes?

I’ve not fully formed my thoughts on this – I may come back to it at some point in the near future.

What’s the “next practice” in social media, including virtual worlds and more?

I don’t think local gov should be looking for the next thing but rather learning how to utilise the tools already available for the best service to communities and reward to themselves. In my mind local gov is more suited to evolving rather than pioneering and unless it can make best use of social media at this stage it really won’t matter too much about what the next step is!

I’m thinking about this all a lot at the moment as part of the daily buck-earning but also in choosing a thesis topic. There is likely to be more to come as thoughts form more fully…