Archive for February, 2012

Digital Daydreams and Networked Nightmares….and Social Media Policies

February 28, 2012

Lately, social media policies and guidance have been recurring themes in things I have been reading. Some has been wise stuff, but wise or not, a lot of it was contradictory. I thought I’d see what happened when I tried to write about it, in an attempt to get a few things straight in my mind. Note that point well, please. I am not trying to write a social media policy. I am trying to get some points clear to myself about social media policies in general.

I worked for an organisation that went several years without any formal, written “social media policy document”. That may still be in that position – I’ve not asked. I added the word “document” there quite intentionally. I think there will be many organisations like that. In reality, they do have a policy or policies about social media, but they have just never captured or consolidated them on paper. So far so good? Well, that had me thinking. If it’s not gathered, organised, drafted, refined, shared in-house and maintained, can you really call it a “policy” at all? Isn’t there, for example, the likelihood that such an organisation will just be making rules up as it goes along? And what will those be based on? Will they be related to a careful prior view of what the organisation is about, what it intends to put into social media, what it hopes to get out of it? Will they be based on, or even acknowledge, perceived best practice elsewhere? Or will those rules be a constantly moving quicksand of precedent, fears (rational or otherwise), organisational culture/hierarchy/power struggles, and even ultimately, regurgitated myths, legends and folklore?

There seemed to me at the time I was there, relatively few dis-benefits in having no single place in the organisation that one went for “chapter and verse” on how to approach social media use. Okay, social media was a little bit more of a frontier town then than it is now, and it might have taken some bold thinking, and more than a few leaps of faith, to capture the whole organisation’s needs in one document back then. However, at the same time, there were people elsewhere who felt they had managed this to their own organisation’s satisfaction, and had even made their work freely available to others. Several of these so-called social media policies were perhaps, to quote Basil Fawlty, statements of the “bleedin’ obvious”. That point was made to me several times when I started to suggest our own organisation might actually be well-served by the discipline and potential insight of constructing some form of policy, guidance, rules, or whatever.

But obvious to whom? There were all kinds of reasons, methods and motives that led to people in our organisation becoming interested in social media. Some wanted to dabble and see whether there was value. Others were already persuaded and wanted to reap the benefits. Could there ever be something that set out clearly and succinctly some adequate guidance for both camps? It goes without saying that these were not the only camps, either. If there was a need to teach skills, was that the role of a policy statement? Probably not. But if the need was to identify good practice and set boundaries around its use, was that the role of trainers? Again, in my view, no. Was it not evident that a policy document was quite a useful way to bridge theory and practice, aspiration and reality? Wasn’t it a good way to set expectations show how social media might be relevant to the many working practices of the organisation to whose stakeholders such relevance had not yet dawned?

If what you had instead was a set of tensions between “JFDI” culture and reputation-management fears, between nurturing innovation and appeasing die-hards, even between younger members of staff and their elders, how could anyone be clear what was a) expected and b) allowed (if you will again permit me to boil the issues down to their most basic)?

Looking back, I can see that not having any form of recognised social media policy statement was ultimately likely to prove a bad thing. It meant two crucial questions couldn’t be answered. They were basically “What’s allowed around here?” and “What’s not allowed around here?”. That sounds unintentionally black and white. The truth is there are many shades of grey that also went unanswered, such as “What’s expected around here?” or “Where do I go for advice?”

Having thus persuaded myself that, liberal though I am on many things, I’m in favour of social media policies, I started thinking about what sort of policy I’d favour? Not specifically what content, but what scope, tone, voice, length etc.

I’ll not embarrass those whose encyclopedic policies have come my way in the last 18 months or so, but I’m happy to share this, from the Citizenship Foundation  and this, quoted on the Forbes website . Both are at the other end of the scale, and are examples of other, briefer routes. The first of these deals specifically with issues arising when “someone” says “something” online about an organisation. It’s novel and a model for advice on other situations. I dislike the “policy” quoted in Forbes quite a lot, however. It’s a sham. It needs an article to explain what it means, and ends up basically admitting that it’s just a gimmicky way to manage an organisation’s reputation. However, what it, and the Citizenship Foundation flowchart both have in common, is that they show how social media creates a need for a multi-faceted set of advice, guidance, rules, remedies and outlooks. That is to say, I might concede that a social media statement for, say, community engagement, might need to look and feel different to one dealing with media relations.

But I will admit to not yet having reached any conclusion about how to balance “length vs brevity”, “generality vs specificity” or even “rules vs guidance”. The journey continues.

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It’s Not The End Of The World….

February 17, 2012

It’s a little while since I blogged wearing the “athlete” hat. I’ve started an occasional blog linked to some other things I’m doing. These appear under the heading “Digital Dreams and Networked Nightmares…” That’ll help my athlete readers skip the weird stuff. That writing has perhaps drained my imagination a bit. But I’m back.

Sort of. The main news is that in the last few months, the training has been going well. I decided quite early on that I just couldn’t raise enough enthusiasm to have a big indoor competition diary. Not having the target of the World Masters Indoors in Finland was contributory to that. I’ve mentioned before that I regarded the trip there as likely to cost me too much for too little. Entry numbers suggest many others have come to the same conclusion, by the way. No, I decided to limit myself to about three indoor meets, with the probability of doing a couple of events at each, with heats and finals if necessary.

I’d managed to get into a pretty good training routine, too. Being a much free-er agent than ever before has meant I can train during the day, when facilities are quiet. I train alone, so the availability of partners wasn’t an issue. Not now being in full time work also meant that I got good time to rest before and after sessions. That was something that seemed to be making a big difference. I was getting to training feeling ready to do some solid work, and not needing to squeeze sessions in between work commitments etc, which was the reality of the past few years. I was also getting a solid 90 minute session in each time.

Then it went wrong. I’ve been free of significant back problems for a couple of years, but the pain I got when standing up one day in January was a familiar one. Tightness on my left hip, discomfort when walking. Big pain next day, and over the next fortnight a series of useful but un-budgeted sessions with the very able Ben, new chiropractor at Southcote. I’d been faffing around about whether to go to the Scottish Masters in Glasgow. The recurrence of back trouble solved that one for me. It was surprisingly easy to let it go, too. I could tell myself “Its not the end of the world..” I’d said that about Finland too, though I suspect Jyvaskyla is actually a bit closer to the end of the world than Glasgow.

So, I began to focus on having a good outing at the inaugural South of England Masters event in mid February. For a week or so, my right calf would have none of it, but the deep massage, from which I still carry the bruises as I type this, sorted me.

And so we got to the Thursday before the Sunday competition. And my back went again. Today’s Friday. I’ve spent it alternating between walking around the house and lying flat on my face on the floor. The walking keeps my back loose for about 15 minutes, the lying down seems to put things back into alignment and free me up for a little more walking. I’m on alternating ice and hot packs, anti-inflammatories, every relaxation and therapeutic breathing technique I know, and for luck, I have my fingers crossed.

And yes, I can lie there and think “It’s not the end of the world if you don’t race on Sunday”, but it does worry me that on this third occasion I’ve needed to think that, the thought perhaps came to me just a little too easily. I’ve not given up hope of racing yet. I’ll be there anyway to take photos to go on my revitalised and redesigned web site. And you never know. Crossing my fingers might do the trick.

Oh, and by the way, the title of this blog is a song, in case you wondered. Full title is “It’s Not the End of the World, But I Can See It from Here” and it’s by Super Furry Animals.

I’m really hoping it’s just a song, and not a prediction in my case.

There is a sequel to this tale…..

The Friday and Saturday were painful. On the Sunday morning I spent 15 minutes lying on the floor before going to Lee Valley My intention by then was just (ha, ha “just”) going and working as photographer. When I stood up, several parts of my lower back clicked a bit, and really felt quite good. The hour’s drive there was ok, so I decided I’d go through my warm up routines and then go off and take photos. You know what’s coming, don’t you? The warm up was ok. I felt pretty good, in fact. So, I reported to race my 60 metres event. I was slow but second. That was well above my expectations. The 200 metres was not all that long after that, so I kept warm and mobile, and hey, raced to a third place! I probably would have been happier with the time if I’d raced it properly from lane 6. When will I ever learn?

I did spend the rest of the afternoon taking photos. They are here  I even felt not too bad the following morning. We live to fight another day. In my case, 11 March.

Digital Dreams and Networked Nightmares…and the death of hope.

February 10, 2012

I think part of me died today.

Let me explain, but at the same time, try to keep it general, because there’s a general point at issue here, not just one specific to where I live or to what I’ve been involved with myself.

For many years, in one role or another, I have been involved with local authority elected representatives. I have had no regrets about that at all. Many of them are great people, with vision and a real social conscience (as I think we used to call it). However, the breed contains its fair share of overly self-opinionated, moralising throwbacks, too. Most work hard for few rewards. Some do very little and expect the world to fawn at their feet.

For many years, the aura in local authorities attaching to the status of elected representatives was out of all proportion. For the genuine, no-nonsense, task-focused councillors, it was easy to make far too much fuss. These were straight with the officers with whom they worked, open to being briefed, and prepared to be persuaded by facts. At the other end of the scale, though, were those for whom the local authority was no more nor less some form of “gentleman’s club” (for they were mostly male), and officers no more than bidden servants.

I did an induction event once for newly elected councillors. My theme was “Your journey starts here…” This went down well with most, but my good reception was spoiled, by five or six out of the dozen, who wanted to leave me, and their colleagues, in no doubt that they thought, having been elected, they had “arrived”.

It is a truism of democracy that the people get what the people voted for. I still chuckle at that line that says “It doesn’t matter who you vote for in General Elections, because it’s always the government that gets in.”. It’s also true (although more than a little theoretical in some areas) that if you don’t like what you got, the only recourse is to vote them out next time. But in the meantime, those in place are accountable to the electorate as a whole, and need to be seen to be so.

My own work in the field of community engagement gave me opportunities to try to make this so. I was well aware that the job would throw up issues of public apathy or  things like  the sense of powerlessness that can go with living in a traditionally downtrodden area. What I was much less prepared for was the force with which some elected representatives loudly, and often, (though seldom in public) voiced the view that the electorate could “take it or leave it”. Having voted, they were seen as having no more rights to be involved, engaged, consulted or otherwise encouraged to participate in decision-shaping, much less to be involved in decision-making.

Small wonder that many of these “representative”people were virtually unknown, even in their own electoral areas, or that many local authorities found themselves needing launch profile-raising initiatives for them. Sadly, some of these ventures simply had the effect of pandering to the egos of those who saw themselves as some form of neo-squirearchy, and  for whom personal recognition was a fruit of having (let’s be kind) 15% of a local population vote for you.

One battleground in which I seemed to find myself frequently involved was the issue of whether consideration of Issue A, or Development B etc should take place in public, or behind closed doors. It always surprised me too, that where electoral majorities were most secure, one would find the strongest desires to keep the press and public well out of the frame, and certainly out of the room.

The qualified rights of the public to observe local authority business have been with us for many years. The right of the public actually to take part in discussion about an issue as part of decision making, or even to help shape an outcome through things like participatory budgeting, are far newer in most areas. As such, they are delicate and vulnerable concepts which I, my colleagues and our managers often trod eggshells to nurture and help to take root. Some of us have even been trying to encourage those we voted for, as well as those we didn’t, to take social media seriously. After all, what better than to be able to have on-line dialogue about local matters with the people who put themselves forward as your representatives? Heavens; didn’t that nice Mr Pickles even exhort local authorities to be more open like this, barely a year ago?

But always, there was a sense of reluctance. The “just let us get on with it our way” voices seemed to grow louder. Some of those dedicated to social media in public engagement began to look (or rather, were made to look) a nerdy minority. Public meetings began to falter. It was always “the wrong time”, “too soon”, “too late”, “too difficult”, “too token”, “too cold” for them, especially if a feisty and pertinent debate was pretty much assured.

And then it happened.

Today. The senior politician responsible for localism and community engagement in my local authority decreed that the new partnerships created across the patch, to discuss and decide on a wide range of vital local issues, would not be open to the public. That was bad, really bad. But then, when not a single elected representative in the whole local authority raised any objection to that travesty, part of me died.