One of the challenges of working as a communicator in today’s world of Twitter, blogs, podcasts, vodcasts, Facebook, YouTube and other social media tools is that some organizations haven’t kept pace with the new way of doing business and living life. Take, for example, the case of Toronto’s Mayor, David Miller. Mayor Miller is on Twitter, which is good for a politician. It allows him to reach out and be a part of an ongoing conversation with the good people of “Hog Town.” Unfortunately, depending what organization you work in—including the Mayor’s own office—you might not have access to Twitter. This means the Mayor isn’t reaching a large part of his stakeholder group.
The National Post has an article on the disconnect between Mayor Miller embracing the new opportunities to connect and the challenge that comes when employers block staff from accessing these new tools at work.
Times have changed and organizations need to realize that social media provides a great opportunity, rather than viewing it as a distraction or a fad that will go away. (News bulletin: It’s not going away!) Yes, there are some potential issues in providing staff with such freedoms, but there are ways to manage the risk involved (usage policy, for example).
Let’s just give a few examples (and I mean a few because there are lots) – The U.S. State Department, Homeland Security, The U.S. Airforce, The Office of the President, West Jet, RBC and The Hospital for Sick Children – are all on Twitter. Now, if these organizations can see the value, and manage the risk, don’t you think we should all be able to get past our misconceptions and fears?
Apparently though, the social media issue at Toronto’s City Hall goes deeper than who can use it. There is a discussion going about the value of social media. In fact Councillor Rob Ford even calls it “superficial.” Ford thinks social media is of no use in his or anyone on Council’s job and is quoted as saying, “I personally don’t know how [councillors’] staff has the time to be playing on Facebook.”
From the article, it seems that Ford’s is quite old fashioned. This head in the sand approach can be damaging to an organization. In the article, Ford is quoted as saying: “I don’t see how Facebook or Twitter can get your garbage picked up or your trees pruned or your potholes fixed.” In fact, there are many applications of both Twitter and Facebook that could actually save the city time and money.
What if there was a Facebook page that showed the city’s potholes and offered a repair and maintenance schedule, and gave people the opportunity to let the city know of new potholes. Or perhaps Twitter could be used to listen—in real time—to the community. These tools could identify specific problems that could be dealt with immediately, giving the people of Toronto the sense that City Hall IS really working for them. Wouldn’t it be nice to have small issues easily and quickly dealt with BEFORE they turn into bigger problems.
If we look at social media within the context of how it can help our communications efforts and bring people together to discuss problems and challenges or to have a conversation about something specific, the value is clear. The challenge is getting people to open their minds to the potential.