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Socitm implores public sector to use social media for citizen relationship management

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18th Jan 2010
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New report claims a failure to harness the social media trend is “tantamount to ignoring the telephone at the end of the 19th Century.”

The Society for IT Management (Socitm) has published a report on the use of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook within local government and services, warning that many were failing to see the potential citizen relationship management applications within their respective organisations.
According to the report, many local authorities are hampering possible efforts to leverage the applications, by blocking or severely restricting access to social media tools. The survey revealed around 90% of respondents have some level of restrictions in place, preventing employee access to social media in the workplace; 67% confirmed a total ban on its use.
Perhaps inevitably, a major reason to control the use of social media in the workplace is the perceived time-wasting. 64% of respondents aired the concern, but in a damning statement the report suggests productivity volumes is a management issue, and not a technology problem: "Managers should know what their team is producing, and be able to judge whether that output meets reasonable expectations. If they cannot do so, it speaks volumes about their managerial ability. This is not a technology problem, but ICT managers must be ready to rebut the assertion, and point out the real managerial issue."
The report calls for CIOs and heads of ICT to "provoke discussion and inform the debate" about how best to use social media as tools for citizen engagement and reputation management. The variety of ways social media is used across the country’s local governments is highlighted throughout the report, countering the belief amongst some local authorities that social media didn’t have applications within their organisations. The survey also revealed that many authorities grant an exception to communications personnel access to social media, recognising that "Non-engagement with social media risks ignoring comments made externally about the organisation." Service delivery and the ability to communicate achievements to the community, is another mainstay application of social media for any organisation.
For instance, Somerset County Council uses Twitter as a way to inform parents what school meals are available at the county’s schools; East Renfrewshire Council keep a Facebook page to keep its citizens up to date with the latest leisure activities news; Newcastle City Council’s Twitter feed has been ranked as one of the popular council accounts in the country, and uses it to inform people of everything from school closures to a live feed of election results.
The report also disregards claims that social media use is hampered by a lack of resources, claiming such an argument is "hardly tenable". It points to the district council at Stratford on Avon, which the reports describe as being at "the vanguard of social media adoption." The 'modest' council harnesses a number of tools, such as Twitter and image sharing site Flickr, to engage with the community – and one look at its website reflects its proactive approach to communication and social media as a whole.  Socitm argues that rather than a lack of resources, "It is more likely that managers do not understand the opportunity, and are therefore unwilling to allocate resources to invest in social media."
The report starkly issues a warning to local authorities that, "Failure to engage with the [social media] trend is tantamount to ignoring the telephone at the end of the 19th Century."
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