Local councils are no longer strangers to social media. During the last years, most of them gained a clear understanding of its communication and cost-saving benefits. Councils are now actively using social networks and, as many case studies show, the sky’s the limit.
So what is the next step? After starting on social media, organisations need to identify how social networking formally fits into the organisational structure. Based on extended research, Jeremiah Owyang from Altimeter Group created a framework containing five structural models of how organisations can integrate social media. Although based on commercial organisations, I believe these models also offer good starting points for local government structures. Below are the five models (taken from Owyang's article) with a brief overview of the opportunities and risks relating to each of them.
In the Decentralised (or Organic) model, usage of social media is inconsistent across the organisation. There is no central plan and no co-ordinated approach. While multiple conversations on a personal level appeal to the public because they make the organisation seem more ‘human’, one side of the organisation will have no idea of what the other side is doing. With no guidelines or policies, messages can be very different across departments and reporting is often ignored. Also, this model has the potential to create serious troubles for the IT, data management and communications departments.
The Centralised model gives control over all social efforts to one department. This structure will offer consistency in messaging, clear established guidelines and a rapid time of response in a crisis situation. However, if the controlling department doesn’t know the needs of a variety of audiences, communications will become ‘stiff’, and there is the risk of alienating your audiences by using social media just as a broadcasting channel for ‘a faceless logo’.
For the Coordinated (Hub and Spoke) model, a cross-functional team will sit in a centralized position and help various departments with their social media. This model will allow departmental social media strategies to grow and develop under one umbrella. While it will be flexible enough to allow the organisation to answer quickly and in one voice should a crisis arise, it will also allow each department to develop strong communities both inside the institution and with external audiences. The main disadvantage of the model is its higher costs and the fact that it needs executive support, program management and cross-departmental buy in.
The last two models aren’t particularly relevant for the local government sector. The multiple Hub and Spoke is usually employed by large multi-national companies where ‘companies within companies’ act nearly autonomously from each other under a common brand. The Holistic model is adopted by smaller companies and start-ups with a particular company culture in which all employees are well literate in social media usage.
These models aren’t only organisational charts. Adopting one of them represents a cultural change which will require a lot of effort from the entire organisation. In the end, each local council striving for social media integration should weigh the advantages and disadvantages against its own internal culture and adopt a model for the long term. Regardless where the final choice will lay, they should consider how to monitor engagement with their audiences, how to control access to the social media accounts and what are the best ways to find out what’s being said online about the organisation and its topics of interest. Last, but not least, special attention should be given to minimising the risks of social media.
At CrowdControlHQ we have developed a social media monitoring and management platform that supports the roll out of social media across local government organisations no matter which structure is adopted. We are working with local councils and police forces across the UK and we are constantly improving this platform based on their feed-back. We are always happy to share share our expertise and receive feedback, so don’t hesitate to contact us.
Liz Archer, @CCHQPolice