PluggedIn: Social media and councils

Social media is an integral part of service provision says Alex Thomson.
 
Technology advances at a rapid pace.Few would have predicted the invention – yet alone the mass market for – smartphones and tablets just ten years ago.
 
But it is not just individuals that are turning to technology and social media; public and private sector institutions alike are using social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to make themselves more accessible – and relevant – to a population that has become increasingly adept at accessing information. The Government has certainly placed an emphasis on connectivity – and rightly so.
 
But what does the future hold for social media usage and ICT infrastructure development amongst local authorities?
 
Innovative use of social media has become an increasingly important tool for local authorities as budgets tighten. As councils drive to reduce spending and eliminate financial waste, they have used social media to connect and engage with their residents in an attempt to provide better – and more targeted – public services.
 
But how can councils ensure that their social media strategies are successful, and that such technology is being used to the most effective ends?
 
Though a truly definitive study has not yet been published, there are emerging examples of best practice. Bracknell Forest Council, for instance, has been using websites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube since 2008.
 
In addition to providing residents information about council meetings, local consultations and, among other things, school snow days, these social media tools have proved to be particularly powerful in cases of national weather emergencies.
 
The ways in which Bracknell Forest communicates with its residents have received attention beyond national borders, attracting interest from as far away as South Korea (a team from Seoul visiting the authority in November to learn from their social media strategies).
 
Building upon this lead, English local government may become a global leader in this increasingly important area.
 
Ten miles up the road, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is using Salesforce – a cloud technology platform for social enterprises – to reduce the need for ICT infrastructure while simultaneously improving engagement through better targeted communications.
 
With Sales force, employees are able to respond to residents' inquiries easily and are wired-in to Facebook and Twitter. Residents often contact their council with requests for information, and by increasing the speed and ease with which the council can respond local satisfaction rates are likely to rise.
 
Better use of social media and ICT functions offers the potential to deliver public services more efficiently, deliver savings, and engender greater faith in the democratic process. We at Localis hope to explore this important policy area further in the coming months.

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