Councillors need to get down with the Social Media Disco

Hip Young Councillors Are After Your Seat

Chances are that newcomers to the local political playground will be social media savvy. Younger, faster, slicker than their long established peers? Maybe! Better politicians? Perhaps not, yet, but given time and the benefit of advice and guidance of their peers and they have the potential to be. The combination of this ongoig political education and use of social media tools, will over time strengthen the potential for the newbies to reach out further to their constituents. In the annual game of political musical chairs, those who can play the social media tune alongside the doorstep dancing, will find they’re the ones more likely to be sitting on the chair when DJ Purdah stops the music.

That said, not all long established councillors are social media ignorant, nor all young inaugurals aware of the real value or potential of social media tools. Just because you have a Facebook page or blog, or Twitter account, doesn’t automatically give you one-up-man-ship on an opponent who does without.

Maybe I have over-egged the impact use of social media tools can have on wooing the electorate, as you still cannot beat that face to face door step discussion, where your potential voter gets to see you and listen to you in the flesh. Human to human interaction, even for social media advocates, is not something dismissed as outdated and wasteful use of time. However, the way society is shaping up and technology allowing for swathes of citizens to access the internet and develop their own online presence, as we see commercial organisations beginning to utilise these tools for marketing and developing stronger customer bases, councillors need to also recognise the opportunities to develop and connect with their own customers in this very same way.

By having a blog, using twitter, setting up a facebook page, all and any councillor can begin to tap into the online communities that exist, and which are spreading all the time. Councillors are pretty blooming good at doing social: Listening, discussing, supporting, and taking up issues on behalf of residents or groups in the community. Social media tools therefore should hold little fear, although they do seem to in many cases.

The fact is that, even if you just have basic IT skills, it’s enough to be able to use a range of online tools. The biggest barrier is having the confidence to use them, or find out which one (if not all) is for you. Yet, it’s not just confidence about the tools themselves, rather how they can be used effectively.

CllrSocMed

Last year the CllrSocMed team undertook a number of social media group sessions across the Yorkshire and Humber region. These sessions were purely for councillors who wanted to know more about the ins and outs of social media, what it meant, the potential pit falls, saying the wrong thing, why should they use it, how will it make their life easier as surely its just something else they have tolearn but don’t have time for!

In excess of 50 councillors attended those sessions. Each of them took something positive away. The age range varied, as did the political hue.

The best thing about those sessions though was that they were not run by council officers, but fronted by councillors already using social media. Who better for a councillor to talk to, listen to, debate the range of issues that the words ‘social media’ raise, than with a peer who already uses them? So, whilst the officers offered technical support, Cllr Cooke (@SimonMagus), Cllr Cheetham (@CllrTim) and Cllr Cooper (@clrandrewcooper) were at the forefront of discussion, debate, advice and encouragement.

Some learning resources you just can’t buy…because they’re FREE!

What the CllrSocMed team were able to do was to capture a lot of learning from these sessions, developing resources that could be used by councillors anywhere across the country. They were generated as a direct result of questions raised and debates had by and between councillors.

This particular link will direct you to a range of material, to give you a flavour of what is on offer.

Where can CllrSocMed next be found?

The CllrSocMed team will next be found at Local Gov Camp North West, on 4 February 2012, and are very much looking forward to hopping over the border into the red rose county.

The role councillors play in the lives of their communities can be pivotal, especially in terms of planning, environment, community safety, health and education. If you had the option to make an even greater impact by reaching more people in your community, morereadily, that can only be a good thing, a quite powerful thing. Social media is the means by which this can happen!

Oh, the humanity!

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Social media really is the future. I mean, I know it’s here now, but it’s development across our society is not going to diminish, but continue to broaden and advance at exponential pace. It’s not easy to keep up with, as everyday somebody seems to come up with a new way to use even the more established online tools.

Those involved with social media, either through personal interest, work or both, have managed to create overlapping networks that have created a social space without geographic boundary (not withstanding those living in some rural parts of the country/world) . I find it difficult to get my head around how all this works and fits together, this virtual entity technology has allowed us to create.

The only way I can describe it, or make sense of it, is thinking of it as one huge living library. And I like that concept. A library, where all the books are online, mostly biographies, all telling their own story as time progresses; sometimes directly, other times indirectly just through your own reading; interactive imaginations that you link to, a virtual social world, that can even influence your own story. It’s getting away from me, this little concept…

Despite the social nature of those who sign up to these things, whether Twitter or Facebook, etc, for me there is still missing that real human element, whether that is through a face to face meeting, or a phone call.

A number of months ago I had a telephone conversation with somebody on a topic of personal importance to me. By today’s standards of communication, what was actually said could have been done using one of the aforementioned social media tools, more than adequately.

More recently, just the other week actually, I have had two separate lunch appointments with colleagues/friends. Did we need to? No, not really. Were there topics we could have discussed privately online? Yes, of course.

The point is, the phone call, the lunch meetings, meant a whole lot more. Each of us in someway had to make a bit of an effort; maybe brush our hair or something; walk somewhere; spend a few pounds. It was a real commitment, rather than it being all a bit #lazyweb.

Human contact, a handshake, sounds, expressions, laughs have a warmth about them that cannot easily (if at all) be truly expressed via words in social media. I took something from each of those ‘traditional’ communications I wouldn’t have been able to get elsewhere…and have used the wisdom of my opposite in each of those meetings since (whether they were aware of their wisdom, is really not the point).

Use social media, use it well, expand your knowledge and your range, break down the geographic boundaries; but where you get reasonable chance or opportunity, phone somebody or go out for lunch.

That is all.