Tom Watson MP announced the publication of social media guidance for civil servants at Cabinet Office questions in Parliament today.
This is an important step in creating the conditions for effective engagement by public servants at the interaction layer.
Any feedback on these guidelines would be of great interest to the Task Force.
RIchard Allan, Task Force Chair
PS An honourable mention in despatches for the first person to timestamp the video of Tom’s Q and A on TheyWorkForYou so we can offer a link to this.
14 responses to “Social Media Guidance”
Liked the succictness of the guidelines. Says it all without being over-prescriptive, which is what guidelines should be like (which some may argue is most un-civil service-like!).
I thought that ‘Be thorough’ would be a better label than ‘Be integrated’. The latter sounds too technical.
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At one level I’m pleased that they are so vague. I think it would have been a real mistake to try to pin down every eventuality or situation and come up with particular solutions to what will inevitably be very subtle problems and issues. Following the Microsoft -style “blog smart”, we trust you to do your job, style guidelines seems to me the only really viable way forward.
Of course for somebody obsessed with ideas of language and discourse, there are huge problems with the way these are written. Concepts such as “fair”, “honest” and “transparency” are such powerful ideologies and open to such massive amounts of discussion, debate and repositioning that arguably they become useless. I think in particular there is a problem in that clearly these guidelines are aimed at the lower levels within the civil service who are doubtless going to be paranoid about what they can and cannot say. In some ways these guidelines feed into the paranoia. What I would have liked to see is a more active and positive approach which worked on the basis of “permission” and encouragement. Rather than giving vague ideological parameters, these guidelines could actively encouraged these front-line communicators or service delivery teams to speak with real voice and to tell the business story.
Arguably what is needed is a much more strategic approach addressing the issues appropriate to and of concern to management as well as those likely to be storytellers.
This problem is particularly apparent in guideline number four. It says: “wherever possible, align online participation with other off-line communications.” This is clearly positioning social media storytelling as merely another channel for delivery of messages rather than as a conversational space. Rather than encouraging people to engage in conversation and storytelling, this guideline appears to be pushing civil servants in the direction of using these “channels” (sic) to market, promote or even “spin”.
[cross-posted from comment on Whitehall Webby ]
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This is a very positive development. Above all it should embolden those civil servants who find themselves in the position of the diplomat cited in the original Power of Information review (p.43) – unable to contribute to the Lonely Planet forum with urgent travel advice for fear of admonishment, even though he knew that’s where the travellers he was seeking to reach would be looking.
And here’s the rub – there’s nothing in the proposed guidelines that actually endorses as good practice civil servants proactively participating in user-generated social spaces (going to where the people are). In other words, I’m missing guidance about where civil servants should participate online.
Thanks for the comments so far.
These highlight the fact that there are still some important questions to work through on what would constitute good practice for proactive participation in social networks.
There are many instances where the intervention would be wholly good for all parties concerned, e.g. the pointers to correct travel advice in a forum where this is specifically being sought.
But there are other instances where intervention might be thought inappropriate or intrusive.
Another strand of Power of Information work going on in relation to how government should partner with online communities may help tease out these issues.
It looks like the volunteers have already got there – you can see video and text of the debate on TheyWorkForYou at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2008-06-18b.929.4
Definitely a positive step, but raises a few interesting questions about the traditional Yes Minister persona in a Web 2.0 world. cf.
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I agree with the above comments, particularly where we are seeking to engage people in online forums who may not be participating off line and aligning ourselves to how we would work offline. I feel that this does not lend itself to thinking of using the internet in a different way to offline activities, in developing non traditional activity. In the youth sector this is key and is something that we are looking at how we develop.
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